Normally this would be a no brainer question, the Steelers under Dick Lebeau have always taken the mentality that you stop the run first and make the team one dimensional. This allows you make them more predictable and in theory easier to defend. This year the Steelers defense is ranked 4th overall, allowing 295 yds per game, but things aren’t always as they seem. That stat is deceiving because in the 2nd half and more precisely, the 4th quarter our Steelers haven’t proven they can hang onto a 10 point lead to save their lives.
So how does the #4 defense vs the pass, and #9th against the run plan to stop the Bengals this Sunday night at Paul Brown stadium in Cincinnati? This isn’t your typical AFC North, black and blue division any longer. The Steelers, Brown, Bengals, and Ravens have all shown an ability to score a lot of points on offense and give up big yards on defense.
Stopping the pass: Given the struggles of the Steelers best cover man, Ike Taylor, and the strength of the Bengals top receiver AJ Green, this is definitely an area of concern. Green is not the only receiver the Steelers have to worry about though; Jermaine Gresham plays a position, tight end, that always gives the Steelers defense fits. As my blog partner Marc pointed out earlier this week: “
Taylor must face a young guy in A.J. Green who is averaging seven receptions per game so far in 2012. At 6’4″ 211 lbs., Green is long and lean and very fast. He is also coming off a monster game in Cleveland where he had 135 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
Taylor will have his hands full even more knowing the Bengals like to stretch the field with tight end Jermaine Gresham who will occupy a safety who might normally be helping Taylor over the top.”
I can only hope that Pittsburgh does not keep Lawrence Timmons in coverage all day long unless they absolutely need too. Timmons is having too good of a year creating pressure to just hang back 20 yds off the line of scrimmage all day.
Without Troy Polamalu again, who is likely to be out until at least mid-November, Will Allen and/or Ryan Mundy will be responsible for helping out Taylor should he need it. Dick Lebeau has never had an issue with putting Taylor one on one with the oppositions’ best receiver but so far that hasn’t worked out so well in 2012. With 7 penalties already counted towards Taylor, he’s on pace for a career high in that category.
So do you let Taylor alone and hope he responds like a champion; a guy with a chip on his shoulder and wanting to show his teammates he’s still got “it”? Be certain that Andy Dalton will go after Taylor early on Sunday night to see where his head is at. I would also bet that the Steelers will let Taylor alone early to again, see if he is up to the challenge, and then adjust accordingly if he struggles. That last statement though opens you up to allowing Gresham to have a big game or the run game with BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
Stopping the rush: The Bengals rushing offense is ranked 21st in the league, running for 99.3 yds per game, compared to the Steelers defense ranked 9th in that category as we mentioned before. So in theory this looks like a matchup that favors the Steelers, but given their woes late in games you can’t assume anything. The Bengals will be more than happy to throw the ball all day if they have success early, but they will still test the Steelers on the ground and Pittsburgh needs to shut down Green-Ellis early so they can concentrate on getting after Dalton and minimizing the time their DB’s must hold coverage.
With Lamarr Woodley joining James Harrison back on the field, it should definitely help their cause since we know that pressure is everything in the Steelers 34 defense. If both players can make a living in the Bengals backfield on Sunday night then the Steelers greatly increase their chance of winning. If they don’t, and Cincinnati gets into a rhythm throwing the ball, it could be a long night.
It’s time for the Steelers to step up and play with the heart of a champion in this must win game.