Outside of the QB competition, the biggest question the Pittsburgh Steelers have faced this offseason has pertained to how the run defense will look like in 2022. The narrative is widely known that Pittsburgh was dreadful against the run last year as they surrendered a league-worst 146 rushing yards per game and 5.0 yards per carry which also topped the league. Injuries factored into Pittsburgh’s drastic decline from their performance against the run the last few years, but also the lack of execution of fundamentals like shedding blocks, filling gaps, and missed tackles also plagued the defense, allowing ballcarriers to run free in the second and third levels of the defense.
Bengals RB Joe Mixon particularly enjoyed ample success against Pittsburgh’s defense last season, toting the rock 46 times for 255 yards and two TDs. Mixon had some strong runs against Pittsburgh in their first matchup in Week 3, but really took over when the two met a second time in Cincinnati, ripping off long run after long run as he saw little resistance against the Steelers front seven.
Now, Cincinnati looks to keep that trend going and have Mixon be the perfect complement on the ground to Joe Burrow and a dynamic passing attack. They attacked their big weakness along the offensive line, adding four new starters upfront by signing C Ted Karras, RG, Alex Cappa, and RT La’el Collins in free agency while also drafting LG Cordell Volson in the fourth-round of the 2022 NFL Draft to start of incumbent Jackson Carman.
With a fortified offensive line, the Bengals will look to keep their success going on the ground from last season against Pittsburgh. However, the Steelers have also added reinforcements to the defense in attempt to improve their run defense. The return Tyson Alualu who was one of the best run-stopping interior defensive linemen in the league the last two years before suffering a season-ending ankle injury in Week 2 last year.
They also signed DL Larry Ogunjobi, LB Myles Jack, and CB Levi Wallace who all have shown to add value to run defense at their respective positions. Pittsburgh also selected DeMarvin Leal in the third-round of the 2022 NFL Draft who may factor in as a rotational piece and recently traded for OLB Malik Reed who have been disruptive during his time in Denver and should provide adequate depth behind T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith.
Compared to last season, Pittsburgh will walk into their Week 1 matchup with Cincinnati with a roster that is fairly healthy. They have made the run defense the focus this offseason and in training camp, having coaches and players constantly refer to the issues they had last year and focus on the execution of the scheme and fundamentals to better defend opposing run games in 2022.
Prior to last season, Pittsburgh has done a respectable job against Mixon and the Bengals’ rushing attack. He missed Cincinnati’s two appearances against Pittsburgh in 2020 due to injury but totaled 62 yards on 15 carries and 79 yards on 18 carries in his two appearances against the Steelers in 2019, failing to get into the end zone. Obviously, the Bengals are a much-improved team since then and Pittsburgh’s defense was an extremely stout unit in 2019, but the team has shown they are capable of containing Mixon in the past.
If Pittsburgh hopes to keep the game close against the reigning AFC Champions, they will have to keep a lid on Mixon and the running game. It will be a difficult task that could set the stage of what is to come in the 2022 season, but given the additions Pittsburgh has made, they appear to be in a better spot than they were in 2021.
What are your thoughts on the Cincinnati running game heading into Pittsburgh’s Week 1 matchup? Do you think that they will be able to contain Joe Mixon, or do you think that he will have similar success to what he did last year? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!