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After a lackluster performance in Week 2 against the Las Vegas Raiders, the Pittsburgh Steelers return home to face the Cincinnati Bengals in their first AFC North showdown of the season. Not only did the Steelers lose to the Raiders last week, but the following injury report was filled with key starters. At the conclusion of this week’s game preparation, the Steelers will be without TJ Watt, Diontae Johnson, Alex Highsmith, and Carlos Davis on Sunday. After injuring his left pectoral muscle against the Raiders, Ben Roethlisberger is going to push through and play. With some positive news, Devin Bush and Joe Haden are set to return to the playing field after missing last week’s game due to injuries.
With a beat-up Steelers squad taking on a tough AFC North rival, let’s take a look at some things we can look forward to.
MATCHUPS AT A GLANCE
Offense: Is it too generic to say that the entire offense should be on alert? For a team who made a conscious effort in improving the run game over the course of the off-season, the Steelers are dead last in the NFL in rushing yards at 114 yards in the first 2 weeks. Let me say that again; the Steelers are last in the league in rushing after drafting a top running back, 2 offensive linemen, and a tight end. The Bengals don’t necessarily have a “bad” rushing defense as they’ve allowed an average of 95 yards rushing per game thus far. Offensive coordinator Matt Canada will need to call plays to get Najee Harris the ball and get the rushing attack started. On the passing side, the Bengals have allowed an average of 209.5 yards per game through the air. In Week 1 against the Minnesota Vikings, the Bengals allowed 336 passing yards, but then only gave up 83 yards to the Chicago Bears. The Bengals will be without cornerback Trae Waynes this week, but without Johnson, the Steelers’ receiving corps will need to step up in his absence. Chase Claypool is going to have to play his “grown-man football” and coach Canada is going to have to incorporate Pat Freiermuth into the mix. Roethlisberger seemed to be afraid to throw the ball up the middle of the field last week, and that is where Freiermuth flourishes. Needless to say, all 11 offensive players on the field are going to have to step up to bounce back this week. I also feel like it is worth mentioning to watch out for our old friend Mike Hilton coming off the edge from the nickel corner spot.
Defense: The defensive matchup is what will decide the outcome of the game. With injuries to the bulk of the starters, the Steelers’ outside linebacker corps is going to rely on Melvin Ingram and Jamir Jones to get the job done. The Bengals have a respectable rushing attack with Joe Mixon and the Steelers will need to account for him on every down. Looking inside with the return of Bush, look for defensive coordinator Keith Butler to call blitz packages up the middle to pressure Bengals’ quarterback Joe Burrow. The Bengals will be without starting offensive guard Xavier Su’a-Filo, so this could lead to open gaps up the middle. In the secondary with Haden back, James Pierre, Justin Layne, and Ahkello Witherspoon won’t be asked to do so much in shutting down a decent air attack. Bengals’ receiver Tee Higgins is going to miss the game due to injury, but their passing game features the likes of rookie Ja’Marr Chase and veteran Tyler Boyd who are both able to make splash plays. After seeing Raiders’ wide receiver Henry Ruggs III catch a game-sealing deep touchdown over Minkah Fitzpatrick last week, look for the secondary group to lock down the outside receivers and force Burrow to make tough throws over the middle of the field. With all of that said however, the question remains if we will see newly-acquired defensive end Taco Charlton for the first time in the black and gold tomorrow?
After the first 2 weeks of the season, I am 0-2 in my picks. I blame the NFL analysts for that. Therefore, I am going to flip the script this week. After seeing experts pick the Steelers to win, I’m calling that the Steelers will drop their second game of the season this week. Final score prediction, 24-17, Bengals. Here’s to hoping I’m wrong (again).
There are a lot of numbers I want to throw out ahead of this week. First, the Steelers are 7-8 all time against the Bengals in the month of September. Roethlisberger holds an impressive 11-5 record against the Bengals at home, while head coach Mike Tomlin boasts a 11-3 home record against the Bengals. Going up to last season’s Week 15 implosion, the Steelers had won 11 straight home games versus Cincinnati. History has shown that the Steelers perform well against the Bengals, especially at home. The Steelers need a big redemption game after last week, and the odds are in their favor of getting exactly that this week.
What are you watching for tomorrow? What do you think the final outcome will be? Let us know in the comments below!