The Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive success against the Cincinnati Bengals came after a series of strange decisions by the Bengals defense that put the Steelers in positions they haven’t been in many games this season.
While Kenny Pickett and company certainly deserve credit for picking apart the Cincinnati defense, it brings into question how sustainable the success against the Bengals will be if other teams don’t make the same choices the Cincinnati coaches did.
The first strange decision was to not ever stack the box against the run, even as Najee Harris was in the process of gashing the Cincinnati defense. Harris ran 15 times for 99 yards, a 6.6 yards per carry average, but was one of 11 running backs league-wide (including Jaylen Warren) that didn’t face a single stacked box in Week 12, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.
Harris ran for 33 yard over expectation on the day, so he did well, regardless of the number of defenders. His RYOE was the fifth-best in the league last week. Warren was at -6 RYOE, or the ninth lowest. He carried the ball 13 times for 49 yards in Cincinnati.
What the Bengals were doing with those players that weren’t in the box was playing a lot of two-deep safety, which opened the middle of the field for tight end Pat Freiermuth. Freiermuth was target 11 times on 23 routes, which was the second-highest target rate of a tight end in any game this season.
The Bengals have weirdly been enacting that plan all season, which has led to them being tied for first with an average of 6.36 tight end receptions per game against. They’re second with an average of 70.82 yards per game against by a tight end. Freiermuth gained 120 yards on his nine catches, which was +32 over expectation.
So the new-look Steelers offense under Eddie Faulkner, Mike Sullivan and company can dominate a defense that leaves tight ends wide open and never stacks line against the run, but it remains to be seen if they’ll be able to replicate that success against defenses that take different approaches to stopping the Steelers.
FILM ROOM: Pat Freiermuth Solving Steelers Problems