One aspect that will always hold true in football, is the importance of winning battles in the trenches. Whether it is on offense or on defense, a team's ability to dictate the physical tone in the trenches, is usually the deciding factor between a win and a loss.
For the Pittsburgh Steelers, a major reason for the demise in Sunday's loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, was their inability to consistently win battles in these areas; this unfortunately was seen on both sides of the ball.
As a consequence, the Steelers failed to dictate time of possession and create space for rookie running back Najee Harris on offense, while the defense was inconsistent in stopping the run. For this team to have any semblance of success this season, it starts and ends with winning battles in the trenches.
Issues Stopping Joe Mixon
In their first offensive series of the third quarter, the Bengals offensive line dominated the Steelers defensive line in shocking fashion. At one point, the Steelers defensive front seemed overwhelmed physically, which was surprising considering they played relatively well up to that point. All this did was make it easier for a talented running back like Joe Mixon to gain large chunks of yards in a short period of time.
In this sequence, the Bengals offense employs a zone blocking scheme. Notice how the Bengals offensive line redirects the entire Steelers defensive front to the outside, leaving the B gap open for Mixon to run through. The manner in which the Bengals offensive line were able to move the defense to one side, looked seamless. This was one of many first-down runs Mixon was able to achieve in this series.
Issues Stopping Joe Mixon (Part 2)
Later in the same offensive series, the Mixon pulls off another first-down run, this time on the right side, courtesy of a tremendous block by the Bengals left tackle on Steelers defensive lineman, Henri Mondeaux. This play in many ways, encapsulates the fashion in which the Bengals offensive line imposed themselves physically, albeit against a depleted Steelers defensive line.
Pressure Coming From The Edges
At this point, the issues that have plagued the Steelers offensive line are well documented. One of the notable issues with the offensive line, in relation to pass protection, is the continuous pressures allowed from the edges.
In this particular sequence, replacement right tackle Joe Haeg is promptly beaten around the edge by Sam Hubbard. At the same time, rookie left tackle Dan Moore Jr. failed to anchor Trey Hendrickson, resulting in him getting pushed backwards. The result is no room to escape the oncoming pressures, resulting in the Bengals fourth sack on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
There is no hiding the fact that this year's Steelers team is struggling in ways that have not been seen in recent memory. If they look to turn their fortunes around, it starts by winning in the trenches on both sides of the ball. Luckily, the season is as young as the team itself. Yet, if they do not take the measures necessary to remedy this issue, they could find themselves on the outside of the playoff picture very soon.