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How can the Steelers stop Tyler Eifert?

How fitting it is that in late October the Pittsburgh Steelers are being taken for a haunted hayride by tight ends.

Tyler Eifert and the Cincinnati Bengals, clad in the black and orange of Halloween, bring their 6-0 record to Heinz Field just a week after the Steelers’ ghoulish performance against Travis Kelce.

The Steelers had narrowed a 16-3 deficit to 16-13 and had momentum on their side in the fourth quarter on Sunday when Alex Smith threw a 26-yard pass to Kelce on third down, keeping alive a touchdown drive that secured the win for the Chiefs.

It was Kelce’s sixth reception of the day for a total of 73 yards.The Steelers have allowed 44 receptions to tight ends this season. Only the Giants (48) have allowed more. The Steelers have yielded six touchdowns to tight ends this season. Only the Raiders (seven) have allowed more.

The Steelers (4-3) have to put an end to this horror show on Sunday. They can pretty much forget about winning the AFC North if they fall at home to the Bengals. If they don’t conjure up some tricks to stop Eifert, the game won’t be a treat for Steelers fans.

Eifert is 11th among tight ends with 28 receptions, but tied with Rob Gronkowski for first on the list with six touchdowns. Gronkowski had half of those touchdowns, of course, in the Patriots’ 28-21 win over the Steelers in the season opener.

Pro Football Focus ranks Gronkowski the league’s top tight end. No shocker there. But Eifert is ranked second on that list. That metric puts him ahead of Kelce and Antonio Gates, who returned from a four-game suspension in Week 5 and caught nine passes for 92 yards and two touchdowns in the Chargers’ 24-20 loss to the Steelers.

So if the Steelers can’t stop Gronkowski, Kelce and Gates how are they going to stop Eifert?

For starters, they need to clog up the middle of the field.

Eifert caught eight passes for 90 yards and two touchdowns in the Bengals’ 27-24 home win over the Seahawks in Week 6. Six of Eifert’s 12 targets came in the short middle part of the field. Steelers linebackers can’t let Eifert roam free in that area. Ryan Shazier must use his athleticism to stay with the 6’6″, 250-pounder, but he’ll need some help from Arthur Moats, Sean Spence and Lawrence Timmons. Moats and Spence have been involved with tight end coverage, and Timmons was exposed badly on Kelce’s 26-yard catch in Kansas City. No Steeler seems to be able to cover a tight end one-on-one. It’s going to take a group effort.

It also would behoove the Steelers to spy Eifert in the red zone, where he has scored all six of his touchdowns. His first catch against the Seahawks was a 14-yard touchdown in which he ran past safety Earl Thomas, who had no one behind him.

Home-field advantage could help the Steelers. All six of those TDs by opposing tight ends have come on the road. Last season, tight ends scored 11 touchdowns on the Steelers, tied for third in the league. Only three of those touchdowns were scored in Pittsburgh.

Jermaine Gresham, now a Cardinal, scored one touchdown in each of the Bengals’ games against the Steelers last year. The Bengals are hip to that particular weakness in the Steelers defense.

Of course, there’s a chance the Steelers could shut down Eifert but the Bengals still walk out of Heinz Field 7-0. Drew Brees didn’t throw to Jimmy Graham once when the Saints visited Pittsburgh last year, but the Saints still dominated the Steelers. They led 35-16 in the fourth quarter before a couple of garbage-time touchdowns made the final score 35-32.

Brees didn’t need to look for Graham in that game because Kenny Stills torched an aging Ike Taylor for six catches, 162 yards and a touchdown.

And Stills is no A.J. Green.

Green, who’s made the Pro Bowl all four years he’s played in the league, leads the NFL’s fifth-ranked passing offense with 35 catches for 531 yards. Andy Dalton’s passer rating of 116.1 is tops among starting quarterbacks. He’s thrown 14 touchdowns and two interceptions.

Dalton seems to have matured as a quarterback, but it remains to be seen if the Bengals are better than the Steelers.

We do know that the Patriots are several notches above the Steelers right now, but if the Steelers didn’t occasionally leave Gronkowski uncovered in Week 1, they’d have had a shot to win that game.

If it weren’t for Le’Veon Bell’s last-second touchdown in San Diego, the Gates-charred Steelers would have lost that game.

Stopping Eifert doesn’t guarantee a win Sunday. But getting burned by him will make winning the game, and the AFC North, very difficult.

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets

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1 comment

  1. frank

    if all the cheatriots could manage was 28 points, im not all that concerned, gronk or not, afterall, it’s a passing league, players like gronk or brady, et al, would be nothing under rules that allow a defense to play defense consistently without fear of penalties, that being said, the steelers dee has been like this for years….i dont understand the soft coverage, or the lack of coverage on tightends….i thought butler would close that loophole that lebeau had left open, but so far, he hasnt.

    and again, on the gronk td’s in game one, they fall by the wayside of our moron kicker at the time hits the FG’s, and i believe, was it DHB who stepped out of bounds in the endzone on an easy td from ben? that’s the winning points and the steelers are off and running…..

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