The Pittsburgh Steelers have played essentially the past two games without Tyson Alualu, their starting nose tackle, who suffered a knee injury early in the game against the Baltimore Ravens. It’s not entirely a coincidence that they proceeded to have their two worst games of the year against the run.
With Alualu unavailable, they have had to find help in other sources, and have turned primarily to second-year Isaiah Buggs, but also to a pair of first-year players, including rookie Carlos Davis, who made his NFL debut Sunday. Henry Mondeaux, who was called up from the practice squad a few weeks ago, has also been active for the past three weeks. He talked to reporters earlier this week about the young linemen trying to step up in Alualu’s absence.
“It’s a big challenge when a guy like Tyson goes down because he’s such a good player, especially stopping the run. He’s a veteran and he does a great job”, he said. “I think me and Buggs and Carlos Davis have stepped in and helped out as much as we can”.
“We’ve played two great running opponents. It’s always a tough challenge when you go against the Cowboys offensive line and Ezekiel Elliott, and then you have the Ravens with Lamar and all their options running the ball”, he added. “I think we’re doing our best and trying to fill some big shoes from a guy that’s been playing for a long time, but we’re gonna be excited to have him back when he does come back”.
The Ravens in particular ran all over them to the tune of 265 yards, the most that they have given up in a single game since 1993, nearly going back to the tail end of the Chuck Noll era. Baltimore had three players rush for over 50 yards, including the first-career 100-yard game for rookie second-round pick J.K. Dobbins.
It didn’t get heaps better on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys, particularly early, as they were able to run the ball effectively in spurts. Even though the Steelers did land several run stops, when they weren’t making stops, they were failing to squeeze the gaps. Ezekiel Elliott converted a number of short-yardage plays, while Tony Pollard broke a couple of explosive runs, and quarterback Garrett Gilbert was an effective scrambler on top of that.
Up next is the Cincinnati Bengals, coming off of a bye week, who have the 23rd-ranked rushing offense based on yardage. They are only averaging 3.7 yards per carry, but do have nine rushing touchdowns. The game availability of starting tackles Jonah Williams and Bobby Hart, as well as backup Fred Johnson, who is positive on the Covid-19 list, is up in the air for Sunday.
Joe Mixon has 428 rushing yards on the season so far on 119 carries, averaging 3.6 yards per carry with three touchdowns. Giovani Bernard also has 143 rushing yards on 40 attempts with two touchdowns, also averaging 3.6 yards per carry.