Run Defense The Ugliest Product On Field Monday Night

The Cincinnati Bengals have been one of the least successful teams in the league running the ball. Yet they have found success running the ball against the Pittsburgh Steelers in both of their meetings. They consistently gashed the defense in particularly on Monday night in an effort that I find more concerning than even the 200-yard games.

On 22 total runs on the night, the Bengals ran 14 successful plays, a success rate of 64 percent. That’s not too far from double the success rate you would like to see your defense allow against an opposing offense.

Both Joe Mixon and then Giovanni Bernard had their opportunities to gash the Steelers’ front seven, which even in the absence of Ryan Shazier had no business performing as poorly in this department as they did.

Just five of the Bengals running plays gained fewer than four yards, with only one run of negative yardage, that a loss of one yard. Four runs when for 10 or more yards, while another five picked up at least eight yards, and another two went for seven. So exactly half of their carries went for seven or more yards.

This sort of success from down to down is something that I find more concerning than the occasional big running play allowed. The Steelers did not allow a run of longer than 13 yards, but they didn’t need to in order to find success. Well, they did lose, I suppose, but I digress…

Complicating matters for the Bengals was the fact that Mixon was injured during the second quarter. They essentially only had Bernard left to work with for more than half of the game, and he is not your prototypical featured runner. He is also coming off of a torn ACL, so they were probably more cautious.

Given the success that they had running, however, they frankly should have done more of it, because the Steelers were not prepared to stop it. The front seven routinely allowed penetration to the second and third level, allowing the linebackers to be blocked at the second level with bothersome frequency.

They even managed to convert a third and three with a seven-yard run. The Steelers may have ‘only’ allowed 130 yards on the ground on 22 carries, but, at nearly six yards per clip, the Bengals could have done a lot more damage if they were committed to it.

Fortunately for the Steelers, certain circumstances—namely being shorthanded at the position—made running the ball more frequently a difficult ask, and so they didn’t. Andy Dalton did not even average much more per dropback, just a bit over 6.1 yards per, than they got on the ground.

I don’t know how much of this ugly showing could be attributed to the shocking loss of Shazier, and then the subsequent injury to Tyler Matakevich as well, but they cannot afford to repeat the failures in this area that we saw during that game. Both the Ravens and Patriots would gladly exploit those weaknesses.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • charles

    The NY Giants have shown that great defense beats great offense (notwithstanding the best ever Steel Curtain). Ask any Patriot.
    It IS POSSIBLE, if O can take opposition out of their game plan. The secret hope is that the 4 Bs can outdo even the classic 49ers O with Montana, Rice, and Craig. They will, if Ben can achieve 67% completion. And that is where Munch becomes true team MVP.

  • pittfan

    Gints did it with a strong 4 man front that got pressure on its own. 3 wont consistently beat 5/6. But 4 active linemen (Cam, Tuitt, Hargrave, Alualu) can wreak havoc on a QB when you run twists and occasional LB/CB blitzs. I’m not a big fan of how much 2-4-5 they run. BWDIK?

  • charles

    That was how the Steel Curtain dominated, as the Shehawks do now. Besides franchise qb, most important is front 4 and why gimmicky 3-4 has multiple holes in its thinking. LT or Alualu or veteran off the waiver wire might be answer to Shazier loss, although it is hard to reinvent D at game 13.

  • AndyR34

    Charles…in case you haven’t noticed, the game has changed significantly since the Steel Curtain was so dominant…passing game vs. running game and free agency being among the biggest differences. Very, very hard to collect 4 dominant linemen in today’s FA atmosphere. Secondly, if the 3-4 is so “gimmicky” and has so many “holes in its thinking”, please explain why more than half of NFL teams use it as their base defense.

  • Ken Krampert

    I agree. We seem to overrun alot of run plays up the middle. No gap discipline. It happens every year, then we focus on it and correct it. Here’s to hoping we focus on it now.

  • Alan Tman

    The Steelers were bothered by Shazier’s injury, especially Vince Williams in the first half. I will give them a pass, because of the situation. They came out in the second half, and took control.

  • nutty32

    At first blush, it seemed like we were storming off tackle/from the slot a lot all night & Gio took advantage of the lanes created up the middle with some nifty hitters against this D. Didn’t seem like we cared about guard to guard.

  • John Pennington

    Missed tackles and poor coverage will be the death of this team.The steelers cant afford to continue not to get people on the ground.Missed tackles will cost this team sooner or later.Time to fix the problem even if some players have to sit until they figure it out.

  • treeher

    According to NFL stats, Steelers D sucks in the 1st and 3rd quarters and sucks it up in the 2nd and 4th quarters. In fact, in the 4th quarter, we are the #2 defense in fewest points allowed. This tells me we come out of the gate slow but are able to to adjust to what the opposition is doing.

  • GravityWon

    I wonder if the Bengals fans are venting. Pretty sure most here would be thinking why did Steelers only rush 22 times when having so much success.

    Especially on a rainy night where they adjusted to stop AJ Green in 2nd half.

  • GravityWon

    The D does seem to perform some better at the end of halves. However the data could be skewed by how well the offense seems to perform in the same quarters.

  • Conserv_58

    It’s actually hard to believe that a Steelers defense has been this bad at tackling all season long. IMO, it’s not predicated on scheme or weather conditions, but rather it comes down to simple technique and poor execution of the basic art of tackling, especially amongst the DB’s. The limitations placed on team’s access to their players by the CBA plays a huge role, but that’s only part of a bigger problem. That problem being defensive players should not be entering the NFL draft so woefully inept at tackling.

  • treeher

    No. In points scored, Steelers rank 18th in 1st q, 14th in 2nd q, 12th in 3rd q, and 18th in 4th q. By contrast, Pats are 2nd in 1st q, 1st in 2nd q, 5th in 3rd q, and 30th in 4th q only because they’ve scored so many points in the first three that the games are out of reach.

  • Woodsworld

    Notice there is no setting the edge on the left side of the defense? Bud Dupree is almost worthless for most of the game, then he finally gets a sack, that I could have got, once I put my remote control down ;-). Most of our opponents running plays go to the right side , because Dupree just rushes up the arc on every play, without considering all the running plays ran where he just departed. I can see why he dropped in the draft…..an athlete, but very questionable football instincts.

  • Woodsworld

    The 2-4-5 defense is exactly what I thoughts it would be, an invitation to run the ball. The 3-4 is about as lean as you can get to stop the run,and with zone blocking, it’s not always effective. If you’re getting double-teamed all day, you’re not going to beat all of them, and I’d venture to say, most of them. We don’t have enough physically dominant players in the front seven! This is the problem gentlemen.

  • charles

    Andy, you are absolutely correct when you say it is hard to find 4 capable DL. By same thinking, it is just as hard to find talent at LB. Or on O. Clearly demonstrating Haley genius. Steel Curtain was the force earlier, today that D is Seattle. They have led the league in scoring D with 4 DL the last 6 years. As said above Giants stopped modern Era best O twice with 4. I also have said in this forum over and over that maybe front 4 more important than franchise qb. In overwhelming majority of SB defense prevails. That is being lessened, as you say, by the NFL wanting more home run plays, and that is how the NFL will ruin the game. Finally, football is a game won or lost on the LOS and 3-4 forgets this fact!

  • charles

    BentGals media putting it all on G Bernard hold on Green TD that was called back.