Steelers still keep opponents grounded
There is, as it turns out, a way to run the ball against the Steelers.
“You’ve got to put about 14 guys out there,” Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said with a chuckle this week.
Considering such a strategy is strictly prohibited, the Bengals will have to find another way to grind out rushing yards Monday night at Paul Brown Stadium.
The dilemma the Bengals face as they try to recapture the offensive balance that served them so well in 2009 is this: A game against the Steelers may not be the best time to try to establish the run.
This season, the Steelers, as usual, have been harder on opposing running backs than Astroturf. They are on pace to lead the NFL in rushing defense for the third consecutive season and the sixth time since 2001.
The Steelers are so proficient at shutting down opposing ground games that teams rarely try to pound them with the run. Through seven games, Steelers opponents have run the ball just 37 percent of the time.
If the 2-5 Bengals, who need to beat the Steelers to take their season off life support, want to run the ball, they will have to be patient.
“You can’t just have three or four carries for 3 or 4 yards and say, ‘OK, well, we can’t run the ball today,’ ” quarterback Carson Palmer said. “You’re not going to rip off a 30-yarder here and a 25-yarder here. You’ve got to hope for 2, 3 here and then 8 there and 9 there and hope you stick with that all game long.”
Unlike last season, when they won the AFC North and swept every team in the division, the Bengals have not shown a commitment to the run. They have run the ball less than 40 percent of the time after running it just over 51 percent in 2009.
The Bengals have fallen behind often this season. That is why Palmer has thrown the ball considerably more than he has stuck it in the belly of running back Cedric Benson. Even if they are not forced into passing situations because of an early deficit Monday, the Bengals may have to air it out anyway: The Steelers’ top priority on defense has long been to take away the run.
“That’s just the way it is around here,” nose tackle Casey Hampton said. “We work on fundamentals every day, and I don’t think a lot of teams do that. Nobody tries to make an extra play that’s not their play. Everybody’s unselfish.”
That is ingrained in young players such as second-year man Ziggy Hood, who is trying to help fill the void at left defensive end with Aaron Smith out. Smith epitomizes the no-frills approach that the Steelers’ defensive linemen take into games.
“He’s not really known for splash plays, but he knows to control his man and free up all the linebackers,” said Hood, who received pointers from Smith at practice Wednesday. “I respect that and look up to that more than anything else. Hopefully, I can become something like Aaron Smith.”
The Steelers are more vulnerable against the run without Smith, who hopes to return from a partially torn tricep in mid- to late December. It remains to be seen whether Benson, who rushed for 98 yards and a touchdown in two games against the Steelers last season, can take advantage of his absence.
“They’re No. 1 (in rushing defense) for a reason, and they pride themselves on it,” Palmer said. “We pride ourselves on running the ball against good run defenses.”
Running on empty?
The Steelers lead the NFL in rushing defense (58.9 yards per game) and have allowed just one 100-yard rusher in the past 41 games. How opposing teams have fared on the ground this season:
Falcons : 25 attempts, 58 yards, 2.3 average, 0 TDs
Titans : 22, 46, 2.1, 0
Buccaneers : 21, 75, 3.6, 1
Ravens : 27, 70, 2.6, 1
Browns : 21, 69, 3.2, 0
Dolphins : 21, 64, 3.0, 0
Saints : 21, 30, 1.4, 0