It’s Steelers week.
For most Bengals fans, this is a time of a confusing mix of excitement and anxiety. The Bengals have played notoriously bad against their Pittsburgh rivals, losing 9 out of the last 10 games played between the two.
However, the Bengals are off to a hot start with a 4-1 record. After a thrilling victory over the Miami Dolphins in which they rallied back from a 17-0 deficit, they look to keep their momentum rolling at home.
The Steelers sit at 2-2-1, but they finally achieved a dominant victory over the Atlanta Falcons last week, winning 41-17. This should be a close game that could very well be decided by 1-2 plays.
Friends don't let friends become Steelers fans.
— Cincinnati 💔 (@CincyProblems) October 10, 2018
Both teams appear to be relatively healthy, with only a few starters out. The Bengals will likely miss RB Giovani Bernard and C Billy Price for the 2nd straight week, but all signs point to WR John Ross making his return to the field.
The Steelers might be without S Morgan Burnett, but rookie Terrell Edmunds has started in his place.
Joe Mixon vs. T.J. Watt- Two of the most underrated players in the league are sure to have some head-to-head battles. Joe Mixon has shown that he can be a great starting running back, and T.J. Watt is proving to fans that he’s more than a brother to J.J. The younger Watt is tied for the NFL lead in sacks (6) and he’s been solid in pass coverage as well. Joe Mixon looked great against Miami, his first game back since having knee surgery. He needs to make big plays against a strong Pittsburgh front 7.
Dre Kirkpatrick vs. Juju Smith-Schuster- William Jackson III returned to playing like the elite cornerback that he is, but Kirkpatrick had a solid game as well. No Dolphins wide receiver had more than 43 yards, and Ryan Tannehill only threw for 185. With WJIII and Jessie Bates likely covering Antonio Brown, Dre Kirkpatrick is going to have to hold his own against one of the solid weapons Ben Roethlisberger has at his disposal.
Vontaze Burfict vs. James Conner- As much as everyone wants to see Mr. Burfict exact his revenge on a certain Steelers wide receiver, he’s going to have to focus on anchoring Cincinnati’s run defense. It is critical that the Bengals make the Steelers one-dimensional, forcing Big Ben to throw the ball constantly. He’s shown that he has to have a good game in order for the Steelers to win. In Pittsburgh’s 2 losses, he’s averaged just 2 yards per carry. In their two wins? 4.75 YPC. Let’s focus on hugging referees instead of causing them to reach into their pockets.
— Brandon Saho (@BrandonSaho) October 7, 2018
Keys to Victory
Giving Andy Dalton Time to Throw– The Steelers defense has been average, but one area that they’ve excelled in is quarterback pressure. Pittsburgh currently leads the league with 19 sacks, and they show no signs of slowing down. Andy Dalton has been great against the blitz this season, but it would be even better if he had a clean pocket on Sunday.
Defensive Line Needs to Create Pressure– The defense finally showed up on Sunday, allowing a season-low 10 points. (Jakeem Grant scored on a 70-yard punt return touchdown, that’s on special teams) They should look to keep things rolling against the Steelers, who have had a consistent offense through the first five weeks.
— Elite Andy Dalton (@EvilAndyDalton) October 7, 2018
Continue to Target A.J. Green in the Slot- Pittsburgh has been a solid all-around team in every aspect except for one, pass defense. The Steelers rank in the bottom 5 in almost every major passing category. Former first round pick Artie Burns has struggled this year, as well as free agent addition Morgan Burnett and rookie Terrell Edmunds. CB Joe Haden will likely shadow A.J. due to the fact that he is familiar with lining up against him. The Bengals receivers should have no problem getting open, and that’s where they should look to do most of their damage.
Despite losing to the Steelers in their past 6 matchups, the Bengals are a better team. The Steelers are not as good as they’ve been in past seasons, especially without Le’Veon Bell. The Bengals are coming off of 2 straight hard-fought wins, and almost all of their starters are healthy.
Bengals – 31
Steelers – 28
Neither team has a truly elite pass defense, and I believe that this is going to be a showdown of the quarterbacks. Joe Mixon and James Conner are going to get their touches, but this game is going to come down to which quarterback can make the throws that count.
Andy Dalton should be able to find his receivers quickly and get the ball out before facing too much pressure. The defense will have to make a stop at the end of the game in order to win, and they’ve shown that they know how to make game-changing plays.
With home field advantage, the Bengals should tighten their grip on the AFC North.