The last time the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals met up at Heinz Field in late September, the Bengals’ defense put the clamps on Pittsburgh’s new-look rushing attack, holding rookie running back Najee Harris to just 40 yards rushing and the Steelers to just 45 yards rushing in a 24-10 Cincinnati win.
Granted, Harris caught the football 14 times out of the backfield for 102 yards, setting a career high, but that late September loss was one of the lowest points of the season to date for the Steelers’ rebuilt offensive line.
Now, just days ahead of an AFC North rematch at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati at 1 p.m. Sunday, Steelers’ offensive coordinator Matt Canada is confident the Steelers’ rushing attack will be much better against a good Bengals’ front seven, largely due to the growth the Steelers have undergone in recent weeks.
Speaking to reporters Thursday ahead of the Week 12 matchup with the Bengals, Canada praised the Bengals’ front seven but said that the Steelers are “better” than they were in the Week 3 matchup.
“I think they’re a really, really good defense. They’ve got a lot of really good players that they’ve invested in, all the things you do,” Canada said to reporters Thursday, according to the official transcript provided by the team. “They’re playing at a high level. They’re a really good defense in all aspects. To the second part of your question, I do think we’re better. I don’t think that necessarily translates. I’m not saying like that’s gonna make a big difference, but I do think if you look at where we were to where we are now as an offense, we’re better on offense. We’re nowhere near where we wanna be. We’re not a finished product, but we are better.”
The Steelers’ offensive line and overall run game certainly isn’t a finished product, but it is improving overall. Though it is coming off of a rough week in Los Angeles against the Chargers — largely due to injuries — the group is starting to gel overall and is becoming more comfortable in Canada’s scheme, which has led to success on the ground, providing more balance overall for the offense in general.
Cincinnati currently sits No. 10 in Football Outsiders’ Run Defense DVOA, which is right around where they were projected to finish this season, so there’s no real surprise how strong the Bengals’ run defense is.
If Pittsburgh wants to have a shot at beating a tough Bengals’ team, the Steelers will have to successfully run the football early and often against a stout rush defense. Doing so will open everything else up offensively for Canada and the Steelers.