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James Conner leaps for a TD in the Oct. 7 victory vs. the Falcons. (Photo by Courier photographer Brian Cook)

The Steelers have one of the best quarterbacks in football with Ben Roethlisberger.  It’s undeniable.

They also have the best wide receiver in football, with Antonio Brown.  Another fact that can’t be argued.

Yet, the key to their success comes from rushing the ball with James Conner and when he returns, Le’Veon Bell and playing defense with fury.

When the Black and Gold do that, they win football games. Period.  And that’s what they’ll need to do again this upcoming week, Oct. 14, against the Cincinnati Bengals if they want to win the game. I don’t see it any other way.

I understand that Roethlisberger can put up gaudy numbers but those numbers don’t always translate to putting up the “W.”  And that’s all that he, or anyone affiliated with the Pittsburgh Steelers, wants.

Before I go further, let me be clear; I’m not suggesting the Steelers turn Roethlisberger into a game manager, far from it. I’m merely suggesting the Steelers reduce his throws, control the clock by utilizing the rushing attack and get their defense going.

It’s their secret formula to winning ball games.

In the Steelers games this season, this is how it broke down in their two wins and one tie.

Week 1 at Cleveland, tied 21-21: 159 Rushing yards, 135 rushing yards by Conner. 41 Roethlisberger throws. Seven defensive sacks.

Week 3 at Tampa Bay, won 30-27:  78 rushing yards, 61 rushing yards by Conner. 38 Roethlisberger throws. Three defensive sacks.

Week 5 vs. Atlanta, won 41-17:  131 rushing yards, 110 rushing yards by Conner. 29 Roethlisberger throws. Six defensive sacks.

Do you see the trend?  Rushing yards higher, sacks up, Roethlisberger’s attempts were more limited (the Cleveland game was a bit high on the throws, but they didn’t win, they escaped with a tie)

In their two losses this season so far, here’s what happened.

Week 2 vs. Kansas City, loss 42-37:  33 rushing yards, 19 rushing yards by Conner. 60 Roethlisberger throws. One defensive sack.

Week 4 vs. Baltimore, loss 26-14: 19 rushing yards, 19 rushing yards by Conner. 47 Roethlisberger throws. Two defensive sacks.

Do you see the trend there?  Far less rushing yards, far more Roethlisberger throws and a limitation on the defensive sacks.

If the Steelers plan to go into Cincinnati this week, Oct. 14, and come out victorious, which they normally do when going into Ohio, they need to follow the formula above.

They’ll need to allow Conner to rush the ball around 25 times, gaining 100 yards, or more.  They’ll need to keep Roethlisberger’s pass attempts to around 35, allowing him to still distribute the ball to Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster, still getting close to 300 yards and a couple of TDs, but not throwing it so often that the clock doesn’t move. You may love the passing yards in today’s NFL but I don’t believe Ben needs 450 yards for this team to win. I think Roethlisberger is more effective, and more dangerous for that matter, when he has the ability to run some play-action, which, if this team effectively runs the ball, he can do.

Play-action will allow Brown more opportunities and this entire offense will run more smoothly.

What they’ll also need to do is get after Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton on Sunday afternoon and put him to the ground four or five times. When this Steelers defense is getting to the quarterback, they protect a weak secondary. The secondary didn’t look bad against Atlanta and when playing against guys like Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley, good secondaries are made to look foolish, let alone ones that are down right bad (with the exception of Joe Haden).

They’ll face a challenge in Bengals receiver AJ Green this week so once again, I believe, the best defense they can put out is one that rushes the quarterback frequently and doesn’t allow plays to extend.  Keeping the ball away from AJ Green and the Bengals offense, via the pass rush as well as keeping the Steelers defense off the field through a ball control offense, is the way this team will find its way to the win column this coming Sunday and every other Sunday onwards.

I believe this is the game plan that will be implemented and executed.

Steelers 27, Bengals 23 

Rushing the ball and defense, that’s what Pittsburgh does.

 

MIKE PELAIA
COURIER STEELERS CENTRAL

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