2020 South Side Questions: Is Cincinnati’s Battered Rushing Attack The Elixir The Run Defense Needs To Get Right?

Mike Hilton against the Bengals

The Pittsburgh Steelers are now into the regular season, following the most unique offseason in the NFL since at least World War II. While it didn’t involve a player lockout, teams still did not have physical access to their players, though they were at least able to meet with them virtually.

Even training camp looked much different from the norm, and a big part of that was the fact that there will be no games along the way to prepare for. Their first football game of the year was to be the opener against the New York Giants.

As the season progresses, however, there will be a number of questions that arise on a daily basis, and we will do our best to try to raise attention to them as they come along, in an effort to both point them out and to create discussion

Questions like, how will the players who are in new positions this year going to perform? Will the rookies be able to contribute significantly? How will Ben Roethlisberger look—and the other quarterbacks as well? Now, we even have questions about whether or not players will be in quarantine.

These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.

Question: Is the Bengals’ weakened running game the elixir the Steelers’ run defense needs to get itself right?

Following two weeks of poor performances against the run, today’s game sets up to be a nice changeup for the Pittsburgh Steelers, on multiple fronts. On the one hand, they are getting one of their best and most important run defenders back after missing almost all of the past two games, that being defensive tackle Tyson Alualu.

On the other, the Steelers get to face middling rushing offense that is quite understaffed. Starting running back Joe Mixon and right tackle Bobby Hart have already been ruled out for the game. Left tackle Jonah Williams is apparently expected to play but nevertheless is recovering from a stinger, and was only limited in practice during the week. Their backup tackle, Fred Johnson, is on the Reserve/Covid-19 List.

Basically, if the Steelers have trouble stopping the Cincinnati Bengals’ running game under these conditions, including the fact that the game is at home, then they have a bigger problem on their hands than we realized.

Let’s assume that they get the job done, though, and they hold Cincinnati to say, under 90 yards rushing while averaging 3.6 yards per carry, no rushing touchdowns, and a rushing success rate of about 35 percent. So what?

Does that suddenly mean that everything is fixed? That they’ll have a handle on James Robinson next week, Mark Ingram and company after that, and so on? They get Nick Chubb this time in the season finale in Cleveland. They dodged that bullet the first time.

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