The Pittsburgh Steelers, it is fair to say, have a bit of a run-defense problem on their hands at the moment, after allowing nearly as many yards in the past two games as they did in the first six. Part of that has been a lack of availability of personnel, but it certainly was not the only problem.
Getting those players back on the field, which is still on the table for this upcoming game, is still on the table, but perhaps a shortcut toward a better run defense is simply playing a run offense that is decimated by injuries, which the Cincinnati Bengals may prove to be by the time that they kick off on Sunday.
For starters, it remains in play that they will be down all three of their top tackles. Right tackle Bobby Hart has not yet practiced this week due to a knee injury. Left tackle Jonah Williams is recovering from a stinger and has only been a limited participant. Meanwhile, Fred Johnson tested positive for Covid-19 and is on the reserve list. I do not believe he would be eligible to be cleared in time to play on Sunday even if he were to test positive for several days in a row prior to that.
On top of all of that, their leading runner, Joe Mixon, may not be available, either. That would not exactly be a revelation. He has, in fact, missed the past two games due to a foot injury. Through the first two days of practice this week, he has still been unable to return to practice.
A team down it’s leading running back and top three tackles that has already been struggling to a degree to move the ball is one that is ripe to be made one-dimensional, at least on paper. Over the past two games, Giovani Bernard has totaled 99 rushing yards on 28 carries, averaging 3.54 yards per attempt, with one touchdown. He also has 75 yards on eight receptions with two more touchdowns, so there is that.
The Bengals have not beaten the Steelers, either in Cincinnati or Pittsburgh, over the course of their past 10 meetings. While they now have Joe Burrow in hand, who has thrown for over 300 yards in five of the past seven games, this does not feel like the time at which they will finally break up that streak.
Complicating matters for the Steelers, of course, is the fact that they may still not have defensive tackle Tyson Alualu and cornerback Mike Hilton available to them this week, as both were only limited in practice yesterday, as was defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs. Linebacker Vince Williams, meanwhile, will be unable to practice this week while on the Reserve/Covid-19 List, though he is expected to be cleared in time to play in the game.