The Pittsburgh Steelers will host the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday at Heinz Field and below are three talking points to consider ahead of the AFC North matchup.
- The $58-million-dollar man
Last week, Steelers running back DeAngelo Williams ran 26 times for 143 yards and two touchdowns. According to my charting, 15 of those carries were behind David DeCastro, who is fresh off his $58-million-dollar contract signing. While some were counter plays, and others were right behind the Steelers Pro Bowl right guard, both run types were effective. So it comes as no surprise that on both of Williams’ touchdowns against Washington DeCastro was the lead blocker. The Bengals defensive front is a different animal than what the Steelers encountered in Washington. On Sunday, DeCastro will be facing another Pro Bowler, Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins. Pro Football Focus graded Atkin’s Week 1 performance an 81.7 and DeCastro’s an 80.7. DeCastro will need to prove effective against Atkins and anybody else he is asked to block Sunday in Pittsburgh for the Steelers to advance to 2-0.
Extra Point: While I only charted two plays where Steelers right tackle Marcus Gilbert pulled by himself, both runs went for 8 yards or more and PFF graded him at an 84.5 for last week’s performance, the highest grade of any Steelers player not named Antonio Brown.
- “They are who we thought they were”
In these AFC North slug fests, everybody needs to come to play. This includes the youngsters that are on the field. The Steelers believe in their draft picks and Sunday they need to show the Bengals why. Jesse James, Eli Rogers and Sammie Coates need to be effective at run blocking, and the young tight end at pass blocking as well. On Williams’ first touchdown run Coates’ block wasn’t great and if the veteran running back didn’t make a ridiculous juke on Redskins cornerback Bashaud Breeland that score could have easily been negated.
Extra Point: The defense is not off the hook here, either. The Steelers have spent a lot of draft picks to try to rebuild their defense but too many of these players are either not contributing at all or contributing poorly. 2015 first and second-round picks Bud Dupree and Senquez Golson are both sidelined for starters. 2013’s first and fourth-round picks Jarvis Jones and Shamarko Thomas have consistently underachieved in their time wearing the black and gold. I have not added 2016’s draft class because they’ve only experienced one NFL game. The talent is there, but we need to see it on the field.
- The Anti-Bengals
While the Bengals last won a playoff game in 1991, the Steelers have a rich tradition of winning. There’s a plethora of stats I could name off and I’m sure most of you know them: The only franchise with 6 Superbowl wins, the most playoff wins for a franchise (tied with the Dallas Cowboys), 20 division titles and 15 AFC championship games – the list goes on and on. The Steelers have leadership that starts with the Rooney’s, permeates through the coaching staff and in turn, is taught to the players. So when the Bengals come to town Sunday and the arguments start, the bad calls occur, and the flags start to fly, the Steelers need to remember who they are as people, as a team and most importantly, as a franchise. The Steelers need to limit the mental mistakes and penalties that hard hitting AFC rivalry games can cause.
Extra Point: The Steelers had no offensive penalties in the first half last week and didn’t receive one until Brown was flagged in the end zone for excessive celebration for his “Twerking” dance with approximately 12 minutes’ left in the 3rd quarter.