It sounds cliche at this point in Keith Butler’s long career as defensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but on Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, Butler is focused on one thing with the Bengals’ high-flying offense: Stopping the run.
Yes, the Bengals are known for having as impressive of a trio at receiver that you’ll find in the NFL with veteran Tyler Boyd, second-year receiver Tee Higgins, and rookie sensation Ja’Marr Chase catching passes from Joe Burrow, but as always, the real key cog in the engine that is the Bengals’ offense is running back Joe Mixon and a strong Bengals’ rushing attack.
That’s why Butler is focused on stopping the run early and often against the Bengals, putting Cincinnati in second and long and third and long situations in hopes of creating issues for Burrow and the Bengals’ offense, leading to sacks, turnovers, and — hopefully — a much-needed win.
“I mean, if you look at them two years ago, they led the league in rushing, you know, so I’m sure if you can come up with second and five or second and four – stuff like that — you’re ahead of the game,” Butler said during his media session Thursday. “If they can run the ball early and create those types of things where they’re second and four, second and five, then you really don’t know what they’re going to do. You know, if you get them in a second and nine and stuff like that, you pretty much know what they’re going to do so that they become predictable. If they start running the football, they keep your offense off the field. So, you know, time possession is big in this league. You know, if you got guys that you’re playing against and they’re holding the ball two-thirds more than you are, then it’s going to be tough to win the football game. So for us, we gotta make sure that we can stop the run and get them in passing situations and see if we can get some turnovers.”
Seems pretty basic and obvious from Butler, but the Bengals are viewed as more of a passing team, thanks to the weaponry at receiver that they have, along with the young, developing quarterback in Burrow who put together one of the greatest single seasons in college football passing the ball at LSU. All that said, the Bengals are still a ground-based offense where Mixon is the bellcow, allowing the rebuilt offensive line to get downhill early and often, establishing the run and creating more throwing lanes and time in the pocket for Burrow.
That could all go away on Sunday if the Steelers can consistently stop the run and force the Bengals to be come one dimensional, teeing off of Burrow much like they did in the Week 10 matchup in 2020 at Heinz Field.