While the Pittsburgh Steelers might be feeling pretty good about themselves at the moment after taking down the final unbeaten team in the NFL, they know that they can’t rest on their laurels any time soon. Their next opponent is one that is about as familiar as they get—and yet, as Head Coach Mike Tomlin explains, not.
“We’ve got AFC North ball, the Cincinnati Bengals coming in, and we know what that means, we know the significance of this rivalry”, he said while discussing the upcoming game yesterday during his press conference. “We know where they are in their season. They got off to a slow start; they made necessary adjustments”.
He also understands that they are heading into this game with a bit of an advantage, as well as momentum. “They’re marching and marching fast in a hurry. They had an opportunity to gather themselves last week with a bye”, he told reporters. “We understand and respect what that is. A team gets an opportunity to take a step back and look at themselves and maybe look at you and prepare for you”.
But for as familiar as they might be with the Bengals, Tomlin also understands that there are some things, especially on offense, that are different, that are variables that they can’t fully account for yet. He talked about having just three games’ body of work watching them under Bill Lazor’s offense as the new play-caller, for example.
“They’ve got some new components to the equation that make preparation more difficult for us, not only in terms of their playcalling but just significant pieces to the puzzle”, he added. “What’s going on on offense with Joe Mixon and how he’s being utilized I think is a significant element of the equation for us”.
The Bengals’ second-round draft pick, Mixon has slowly become the featured runner in a crowded backfield filled with second-rounders. He has 67 carries through the first five games, with at least 15 in each of the past three.
“I think it’s been a significant element of the equation for them”, he said of figuring out the juggling of the backfield. “Oftentimes when you have a plethora of talent it takes some time to sort out a division of labor”.
“Defining the division of labor between Hill and Bernard and Mixon, I’m seeing the picture become clearer now the more games they play”, he went on. “Mixon appears to be a featured runner type. We’ve got to acclimate ourselves to him and his running style and minimize his impact on the game”.
Still, it’s been tough sledding for the rookie, averaging just 2.8 yards per rush so far, with one touchdown. He also has 11 receptions for another 78 yards.