The Pittsburgh Steelers get Ben Roethlisberger back today after sitting out a month’s worth of games due to an MCL injury and a bone bruise. In doing so, they will be looking to get back into the win column after falling to 4-3 on the season following a road loss in Kansas City.
The Steelers for all intents and purposes need this game when it comes to the division race, because they already trail their opponents, the 6-0 Cincinnati Bengals, by three games in the loss column. Falling behind four games is a nearly insurmountable deficit in a 16-game season.
As mentioned, Roethlisberger’s return will obviously be something to watch for during the game. In spite of practicing in a limited capacity last week, he has a setback with some inflammation last Friday that forced him to miss a fourth game. He practiced fully this week, but he will still be limited in terms of mobility, complete with a knee brace for stabilization and protection.
With that in mind, it will be of the utmost importance that the interior offensive line in particular defends itself against the dangerous interior pass rush of Geno Atkins as Roethlisberger will not be his usual elusive self, able to use his size to elude a number of sacks.
I expect that the Steelers will be looking to get Le’Veon Bell going early on, in part because the Bengals defense is weaker against the run, and in part because it will more easily allow Roethlisberger to find a rhythm back on the field.
Bell has been averaging over 100 yards on the ground since returning five weeks ago from a suspension, topping 100 yards in three of those games. He had one of the most prolific games of his career against the Bengals last year, and has had success getting into the end zone in the past. He scored in his first three games, but has been held out of the end zone in the last two.
Once in a rhythm, wide receivers Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant should be chomping at the bit for Roethlisberger’s delivery after having to play with some inferior arms over the course of the past month, and no doubt that should be apparent in the statistics. While Bryant has been able to get into the end zone in spite of the quarterback play, Brown has not scored since Week Two.
Defensively, the Steelers will have to improvise without Stephon Tuitt, particularly when it comes to the pass rush, and I have suggested experimenting with extra outside linebackers to achieve this end.
Robert Golden will also be making his third straight start at the back end, but this may be his biggest test yet, going against an explosive offensive with dynamic players at wide receiver, tight end, and running back. He will certainly be required to put forth his best effort today.
This is the first in a three-game homestand, and a win could really set the tone for this stretch. It is a game that the Steelers need much more than the Bengals, who are coming off a bye.