The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2021 season is underway, and they are hoping for a better outcome in comparison to last season. After starting out 11-0, they finished the year 1-4 in the regular season, and then lost in the Wildcard Round to the Cleveland Browns, ignited by a 0-28 first quarter.
They have lost a large number of key players in the offseason, like Maurkice Pouncey, Bud Dupree, Alejandro Villanueva, David DeCastro, Mike Hilton, and Steven Nelson, but they’ve also made significant additions as the months have gone on, notably Trai Turner, Melvin Ingram, Joe Schobert, and Ahkello Witherspoon. They also added Najee Harris, Pat Freiermuth, Kendrick Green, and Dan Moore Jr., all of whom are starting.
There isn’t much left to do but to play the games at this point. Even if they play them poorly. They still have a lot to figure out, though, such as what Matt Canada’s offense is going to look like in any given week, or how the new-look secondary and offensive line is going to play.
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. There is rarely a concrete answer, but this is your venue for exploring the topics we present through all their uncertainty.
Question: Is stopping Joe Mixon the key to beating the Bengals?
The Steelers haven’t won a game in a few weeks now. They’re playing a division opponent who is ahead of them in the standings today, and who has already beaten them. And they are playing them on the road. That would be the Cincinnati Bengals, who have had a bit of a seesaw of a season, but finally have a winning record after half a decade of marginality and futility.
Yeah, a lot of that has to do with their shiny new passing game with Joe Burrow at quarterback and Tee Higgins and star rookie Ja’Marr Chase at wide receiver. But don’t be fooled to think that this offense doesn’t operate through the running game.
Joe Mixon is up to 180 carries on the season for 759 yards. He already has a career-high nine rushing touchdowns, and has another two as a receiver, as well. He is fourth in the league in rushing, with the fourth-most rushing touchdowns.
And the Bengals are 6-0 when he rushes for 4.0 yards per carry or better, 0-4 when he doesn’t. That’s a vast oversimplification, but the point is, they win when he runs better, lose when he doesn’t. Four of his five lowest rushing totals were the losses, ditto with rushing attempts; yet they did win one of the two games in which he did not score, and that was the game against the Steelers, when they benefited from two interceptions that they turned into touchdowns.
That’s not to say that if they slow Mixon down, Burrow won’t be able to attack them. Having Joe Haden absent at cornerback isn’t going to make the secondary’s job any easier, either. But the Steelers like to go into a game with a focus on taking out their opponents’ best weapon. In the case of the Bengals, is that Mixon?