CINCINNATI – From Ryan Clark's perspective, the stat sheet was as much of an indictment as the scoreboard at Paul Brown Stadium.
"If we can't stop the run, if teams are able to run the ball on us – which is an 11-man stat – then there's nothing to build on," Clark said after the Steelers fell to 0-2 via a 20-10 loss to the Bengals on Monday night.
"That's the foundation, that's the rock every good defense has to be built on. And right now we're not doing that, which in turn makes us not stop anything."
It's not as if the Steelers are being run over. But nor have they been impenetrable.
And whatever they've been in between hasn't been good enough this season
In the opener the Tennessee Titans averaged just 2.7 yards per carry but ran the ball 42 times and wound up with 112 rushing yards. And the Bengals were able to better the Titans' total by piling up 127 rushing yards on 34 attempts (3.7 yards per carry).
By comparison, the Steelers allowed a team to rush for 100 yards five times in 16 games in 2012.
"It's deceiving because they're not breaking long runs," Clark continued. "They're not getting 20- and 40-yard runs but they are getting 5 yards, they are getting 4 yards. So teams are staying ahead of the sticks on us, and then you gotta play everything. When a team gets a third-and-4, if they're at second-and-5, second-and-6, you have to play everything. You can't zero in on what you think they're going to do because you have no idea because all options are open.
"We need to find a way to stop it. It's getting to the point it seems like we're going to have to sell out to stop the run on the early downs. And if that's what we have to do then the DBs have to cover up."
Tennessee's longest run against the Steelers was 11 yards and Cincinnati's was 14. But both of those teams also were able to rush for a touchdown against a Steelers defense that had permitted just nine such scoring plays a season ago.
Cincinnati's 127 rushing yards on Monday night bettered by 33 yards the total the Bengals had managed in two games against the Steelers in 2012 (94).
Eight of Cincinnati's 22 first downs were achieved on the ground.
"We have to do a better job," linebacker LaMarr Woodley acknowledged. "They came out and blocked us good up front. We have to go back to the drawing board and clear those mistakes up and not allow a team to run the ball like that.
"We're still going to play within character. When Coach (Dick) LeBeau makes the call it's up to us to go out there and get the job done. It's up to us to go out there and execute the play. They did a good job running the ball. We have to do a better job of stopping the run."