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Watt Expresses Need For Steelers To Improve After Another Poor Performance In Defending Run

Joe Mixon

Both the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals came in to Sunday’s Week 12 game needing to establish themselves as the dominant team early, with the game carrying major playoff implications. The Bengals got the first opportunity to do so by receiving the opening kickoff, and they came through. On the first drive of a 41-10 victory over the Steelers, Cincinnati marched it 75 yards over 10 plays, running it eight times and finishing the drive with a touchdown.

That set the tone for the rest of the game, where the Bengals would take 38 carries for 198 yards and three touchdowns. The ground game was the central pillar of Cincinnati’s success, and added another sub-par entry to a recent stretch for the Pittsburgh run defense. In a postgame press conference shared by the team, All-Pro defender T.J. Watt spoke about the problems his defense has had combatting the run as of late.

“We’re trying to solve it, and clearly we’re not doing a good enough job, and we have to go back to the film and everyone has to look at the film and watch themselves critically, and figure out how to stop this thing, because it’s continuous,” Watt said.

The 198 yards allowed on the ground is the second-most given up in a game by the Steelers this season, trailing only the 229 surrendered to the Detroit Lions in a 16-16 tie.

That game came two weeks prior to Sunday’s loss to the Bengals, and those two games are the biggest examples of a stretch where Pittsburgh has allowed 100-plus yards on the ground to seven of eight opponents, only barely keeping the Cleveland Browns (96) below the century mark.

Of those seven games allowing over 100 yards, the three worst gave come in the last three weeks. Between the 229 yards of Detroit and the 198 of Cincinnati, Pittsburgh allowed 159 to the Los Angeles Chargers, as well as four total touchdowns (two rushing) to L.A. running back Austin Ekeler. Cincinnati back Joe Mixon finished with 165 yards and two touchdowns in Sunday’s win, making it back-to-back weeks Pittsburgh has allowed multiple touchdowns to the opponent’s top running back.

Mixon took Cincinnati’s first carry 25 yards on that opening drive. And as he and the Bengals were on their way to scoring on each of their first four drives, the Steeler defense’s performance earned a speech from defensive coordinator to try unsuccessfully to right the ship and prevent the outcome that occurred.

“When stuff like that has happened, you just are trying to find a spark to galvanize the defense and make a play that can kind of lift everybody up and continue to get guys to play hard,” Watt said. “And I think that’s just what we were searching for that whole game, and we just couldn’t stop the run. And I think that’s just been a common theme for way, way too long.”

Asked if there were any positives for the team’s run defense after the game, Watt indicated that Pittsburgh hasn’t “been able to do much at all in stopping the run,” adding that the team has to figure it out. Now 5-5-1 and outside the three Wild Card spots, Pittsburgh faces a tough opponent to try and make improvements in that area. The team faces the Baltimore Ravens next Sunday, Baltimore leading the AFC North at 7-3 entering Week 12, and possessing one of the NFL’s three best rushing attacks thus far this season.

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