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Alex Highsmith Credits Resiliency, Intensity Instilled In Training Camp For Fueling Defense Through 94-Play Marathon

The Cincinnati Bengals offense ran 94 plays against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday afternoon, compared to the 61 run by the Steelers’ offense. A pick-six did spare Pittsburgh’s offense one possession, but the disparity comes in between drives.

The Bengals, for example, had seven drives that spanned at least nine plays. The Steelers had zero. Their longest was their final drive, which lasted eight. They had only three drives of seven or more plays. It was taxing on Pittsburgh’s defenders to have to play so much in the first game of the year.

“Yeah, for sure, but I think it shows the resiliency of our team”, outside linebacker Alex Highsmith said of his group playing 94 snaps and the burden that it presented, via transcript. “The coaches did a great job of getting us in shape over the last four weeks during camp for these moments, and it showed today, because the game was really long today”.

The Steelers are known for carrying out perhaps the most physical training camp in the entire league—so say the veterans who come here from other teams, routinely—including frequent live tackling sessions, which remain rare. Head coach Mike Tomlin is also not afraid to play his starters, even when fans and local media think he’s crazy for doing so.

So what was the key that allowed them to last 70 minutes, and to sustain their energy for so many extended drives? The Bengals had five drives that spanned over four minutes of game clock, and the offense didn’t provide them with must respite. They had only two drives longer than 2:32, almost all of them under two minutes long.

“Just keep the intensity. That’s all that matters”, Highsmith said. “Being a rusher, you can never let down. It’s something you’ve always got to bring, and the moment you let off the gas, and they can gas you. We just have to keep our foot on the pedal, and I think we did that today, and we just have to do the same thing every single game”.

To his credit, he did finish the game with three sacks, a career high and half of the season-long mark that he had a year ago. In the indefinite absence of T.J. Watt, the burden of the pass rush is going to fall on his shoulders, along with the defensive line.

If the offense cannot pick up more first downs, convert more third downs, and begin sustaining drives, then the defense is going to have its hands full with offenses such as Cincinnati’s, who can make those key situational plays.

It’s one thing to make it through one game with that kind of workload, but too many will have a cumulative effect, as will injuries, which reduces your rotational depth and places an even greater burden on your key players. They’re already in midseason form. Let’s hope they’re not gassing soon enough due to too many extended drives without adequate breaks in between.

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