Mike Tomlin and the Pittsburgh Steelers are fresh off their first win in three weeks and are looking to keep it rolling this Sunday. They host their division rival Cincinnati Bengals for an AFC North showdown in which should feature some smash mouth football.
The Steelers beat the Bengals in their first matchup in Week 1 when they forced 5 turnovers against star quarterback, Joe Burrow. They still narrowly escaped with a victory, despite the turnover ratio being heavily on their side. Burrow has had just 3 turnovers total since that game.
Both teams are in different places now, but both have a lot of games left to play and are not where they would like to be. Both are out of first place in the AFC North and looking to write their own destiny. This game this week is huge for both teams.
Coach Tomlin sat down with Bob Pompeani to talk about what he felt was the most crucial elements to win this week’s matchup. The first thing he cited that he feels defines this matchup is not offense, or defense, but special teams:
“I think often times we talk about the nature of this matchup, we talk about guys like Joe [Burrow]. We talk about significant defensive players, TJ [Watt] and others. But, I often times think about the two special teams coordinators in this matchup.”
“Darren Simmons has been over there a long, long time. Danny Smith’s been here a long time. They’re two very veteran special teams coaches. Consistently both units week in and week out kind of make the splash plays that provide a winning edge for their group. I think that’s going to be a significant component of this game… And that’s something I think the fans should keep their eye on.”
This is very true. Just a mere few weeks ago, a blocked PAT by Minkah Fitzpatrick was ultimately what decided the game between these two. If not blocked, the Bengals win in walk off fashion in a game where the Steelers led the entire time.
Steelers’ Tomlin Says Najee Harris Needs To Out Perform Joe Mixon
Pompeani asked if the run game was going to continue to be a key component after a strong showing from the unit last week. They compiled 217 rushing yards as a team. Tomlin answered with this:
“The feel is how the game unfolds, and that is often the case. It helps us if our guys out rush their guys. So, I always look at it from that relative perspective. If it’s tough sledding for us it better be tough sledding for them.”
“We better do relatively well in that phase. And that’s why I talk the way that I talk. Najee [Harris] has to out perform Joe Mixon.”
This is a tall order, as Mixon is currently coming off the best game of his career in which he recorded five total touchdowns. Last matchup, it could be said that Mixon had the upper hand, with Mixon having 145 yards from scrimmage, but Harris made the plays when it mattered, scoring the Steelers lone offensive touchdown on the day. Harris will definitely have to be better, as well as the entire offense.
One big factor is the Steelers have their best player back in TJ Watt, who subsequently left during the fourth quarter in the first matchup between the two teams. They also will have safety Damontae Kazee who they did not have last time. Kazee, Fitzpatrick, and Terrell Edmunds will get to all play together for the first time and mix in some new looks for the defense. Kazee had an interception last week in his Steelers debut.
Tomlin’s keys certainly seem to be one’s that make sense for a team that is trying to not put too much pressure on rookie signal-caller, Kenny Pickett. Strong run game, strong defense, and strong special teams. If all of those phases of the game are positive in the Steelers favor, the team could finally begin their first consecutive winning streak of the season.