The topic of conversation for the Pittsburgh Steelers on the defensive side of the football this preseason has been how they plan to stop the run this year.
Pittsburgh got gashed by opposing running games last season, surrendering 146 yards per game on the ground in 2021, which was worst in the NFL. The Cincinnati Bengals specifically took it to Pittsburgh in the running game last season, nearly topping 200 rushing yards led by RB Joe Mixon’s 165 yards on the ground with two scores in a 41-10 shellacking.
The defense has taken it personal this offseason to revert back to what the Pittsburgh Steelers have traditionally been as a run defense, stifling opposing running games and forcing offenses to pass against them. DC Teryl Austin, along with players like T.J. Watt, Cam Heyward, and Minkah Fitzpatrick, has stressed the importance of fundamentals and each man doing his job to stop the run and make offenses one-dimensional.
T.J. Watt was asked about the Bengals’ offense prior to the team’s regular season opener, and how they plan to limit what Mixon will do on the ground. Watt responded, noting that it will be a challenge due to the multitude of ways they can hurt you offensively.
“They are a very well-balanced offense and obviously they have a new offensive line, so they feel very confident with them to run behind them or pass as well,” Watt said to the media Friday according to video from the team’s website. “You can’t be too caught up in keeping Joe Burrow in the pocket and make sure he doesn’t throw forever because then Mixon will get out and run like he did last year.”
Mixon ran for 255 yards in two games against the Steelers last season, seemingly getting loose into the second and third levels of the defense due to the team’s inability to get off blocks and fill gaps. Now, Mixon will have the benefit of running behind an improved offensive line while also having the threat of Joe Burrow at QB, who can make any defense pay for trying to sell out to stop the run. Having the trio of Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd at his disposal, the Bengals have the firepower in the passing game to shred most defenses through the air as well as attack them on the ground.
Still, Pittsburgh has made improvements of their own, adding the likes of Larry Ogunjobi, Myles Jack, Malik Reed, and Levi Wallace this offseason to hopefully improve as a defense as a whole, especially in the run stopping department, which will have the chance at redemption come Sunday at Cincinnati.
“We’re going to have to find out,” Watt said on if this defense is improved from a year ago. “Like I said before, I feel very confident with where we are as a team. I like the new guys that we brought in. I feel like we’re continuing to get better day by day, having good meeting sessions, which lead to good practices and hopefully good games.”