When it was announced that the Pittsburgh Steelers would be without the services of Stephon Tuitt for their week seven matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals, worry began to set in. Tuitt had already missed two games earlier this season, with the Steelers giving up 91 and 222 rushing yards in those contests. Dating back to last season, the Steelers defense has given up an average of 166 rushing yards per game in games that Tuitt had missed, leaving big shoes to fill for Tyson Aluala against the Bengals.
Alualu and the Steelers run defense silenced the doubters in Sunday’s victory over the Bengals, holding the Bengals to just 71 rushing yards on 17 carries. The Steelers held Bengals running back Giovanni Bernard to just eight yards on three carries and Jeremy Hill to just seven yards on four carries. The only blemish on the defense’s performance was a 25-yard carry by Bengals’ rookie running back Joe Mixon. But still the Steelers and Alualu held the Bengals to just 4.2 yards per carry, not only an improvement over the team’s 4.7 yards allowed per carry average but also a personal improvement for Alualu.
Coming into the Bengals game, Alualu had been on the field for 195 snaps this season with 78 of those snaps being traditional running plays not affected by penalties. On those 78 running back handoffs that Alualu had been a part of, the Steelers defense was allowing a whopping 4.7 yards per carry. Seven of those carries went for 15 yards or more with Alualu on the field.
Not only did Alualu rise to occasion in filling Tuitt’s shoes in stopping the run but the veteran defensive lineman also did something that Tuitt has been unable to accomplish yet this season – sack the quarterback. Alualu’s sack was not only his first as a Steeler but was instrumental in ensuring that the Bengals could not mount a comeback.
With Tuitt dealing with his fair share of injuries this season, the acquisition of Alualu this offseason is shaping up to be an invaluable addition for the defense. And while the former Jacksonville Jaguar may have had a slow start as a Steeler, Sunday’s performance proved Alualu’s worth.
It remains to be seen if Tuitt will return for next Sunday’s matchup against the Detroit Lions, but if he’s unable to go, it will once again be Alualu filling in. If this is the case, Alualu and the run defense could be in store for another stellar performance as the Lions rushing offense is ranked 26th in the NFL, only averaging 84 rushing yards per game.