Easier said than done

The challenges awaiting the Steelers' defense in Cincinnati include covering wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase and getting to quarterback Joe Burrow, but neither will be Job One on Sunday.

"It starts up front, trying to stop (running back) Joe Mixon," Steelers defensive tackle and defensive captain Cam Heyward maintained. "If you can take care of the running game, which is a feat in itself, then you can get after Joe Burrow and that receiving core."

The Steelers didn't do either very well a season ago.

Mixon carried 18 times for 90 yards (a 5.0-yard average per carry) in the Bengals' 24-10 victory over the Steelers on Sept. 26 at Heinz Field.

And he rumbled for 165 yards and two touchdowns on 28 attempts (5.9 per) in the Bengals' 41-10 thumping of the Steelers on Nov. 28 at Paul Brown Stadium.

Such difficulty stopping the run wasn't atypical for the Steelers in 2021.

They're all too familiar with how big of a problem an inability to do so can become.

"When people are able to run the ball on you it demoralizes you as a defense, they're able to impose their will on you," defensive coordinator Teryl Austin emphasized. "There's a lot of things that go on when people run the ball on you.

"It's important that we stand up to that, we knock that run down, we get them into second-and-long, third-and-longs, and get some negative plays and then let our pass rush work. Stoping that run game is a big component of a successful defense."

The Steelers have been emphasizing becoming more proficient in that area since last season ended.

Changes have included an alteration of the defensive staff and the addition of potential run-stuffing components in the front seven, defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi and inside linebacker Myles Jack among them.

Nose tackle Tyson Alualu is also back healthy and positioned to become an impactful part of the solution up front.

On the other side of the line of scrimmage will be a Bengals' offensive line that has undergone almost a complete makeover.

New starters in Cincinnati include right tackle La'el Collins, right guard Alex Cappa, center Ted Karras and left guard Cordell Volson.

Collins (Dallas), Cappa (Tampa Bay) and Karras (New England and Miami) are NFL veterans.

Volson was a fourth-round pick out of North Dakota State in April.

The revamped starting fivesome that also includes holdover left tackle Jonah Williams didn't play together in the preseason.

It's a matchup the Steelers can potentially exploit.

"We definitely need to," Ogunjobi said. "I know there is a level of continuity that you need to have among the offensive line."

Ogunjobi has been trying and will continue trying to build that with his new Steelers teammates after playing with the Bengals last season.

"That's one of the things we're gonna work on," he said. "We're building that chemistry. We've played together now a little bit. Just continue to find that stride. This weekend will be a real important test to that."

Head coach Mike Tomlin had announced in training camp expectations for the Steelers' defense to be "dominant" this season.

Austin addressed what that might look like in action prior to practice today.

"To me, a dominant defense is one that stops the run, stops a team from scoring points and gives our offense the ball in good field position by turning it over," he said.

Heyward wants the same things for the defense.

But he's also aware wanting and achieving are two different things.

"Words have been said, the work has been put in but it doesn't matter until you take care of it on Sunday," he said.