The Cincinnati Bengals boast one of the league's best offensive lines. In turn, they lead an excellent ground game, spearheaded by talented rookie running back Jeremy Hill.
Hill and the Bengals went after Tuitt repeatedly in the Steelers' Week 17 win over Cincinnati. The Steelers' secondary played perhaps its best game of the season, capitalizing on a few mistakes in the Bengals' passing game, which helped the Steelers overcome a strong ground-and-pound performance by the Bengals.
Much of the Bengals' offensive game plan was to attack rookie defensive end Stephon Tuitt - an understandable strategy, especially considering Tuitt stands on the other side of the defense from run enforcer James Harrison and Cameron Heyward, probably the Steelers' best defensive player.
The Steelers earned a hard-fought victory, and they'll host the Baltimore Ravens in the Wild Card round of the AFC Playoffs. The Ravens also boast an outstanding offensive line, and this will be Tuitt's first start against the Steelers' rival. He expects Baltimore to mirror what the Bengals did, according to Tribune Review reporter Mark Kaboly.
"I definitely know teams are going to try to run my way because I am the rookie," Tuitt said. "They are trying to put me out like I am the duck on the team. I go out there every day, and I will be prepared for that. I am ready to stand up and shut it down."
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Kaboly also noted the Steelers have allowed 84 rushing yards per game since Tuitt was inserted into the starting lineup in Week 14. Prior to that, in a 35-32 loss to New Orleans in which regular starter Brett Keisel was lost for the season with a triceps injury, the Steelers allowed 143 yards on 26 rushes.
The challenge for Tuitt largely rests in the form of Ravens' offensive lineman Marshal Yanda, one of the league's best. Using movement in their stretch-zone scheme, running back Justin Forsett has had a career year aiming off Yanda's backside to move down the offensive right side. Yanda is quick, strong and smart, backing up claims he's among the best guards in the NFL.
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Ravens right tackle Rick Wagner has been the key to a resurgent Ravens' offensive line. He was placed on injured reserve with a foot injury in the team's loss to Houston in Week 16. It's a big loss for Baltimore, and one that forced Yanda's transition to right tackle - against the Browns, at least - and thrusting rookie John Urshel into the right guard spot.
The Ravens rushes for 129 yards on 28 carries, suggesting they haven't lost much, if any, of their ground attack.
Baltimore will look to run the ball and open things up deep. While the Steelers' secondary has its hands full with a potent, vertically-attacking, passing game, Tuitt and the rest of the Steelers' front-seven will have to contain the run if they want to move on to a trip to Denver in the AFC Divisional round.