Although it is a bit early in the year to describe any matchup as ‘pivotal’, every game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals in recent years has held the potential to bear significant implications for later on in the season in terms of playoff seeding and appearances.
The two teams have alternated the AFC North crown for the past three seasons, with the Steelers due up next after entering the postseason in 2015 as a Wildcard, going on subsequently to beat the Bengals in the opening round of the playoffs—for which, no doubt, Cincinnati will be looking to get some payback.
With that understanding, there is going to be a lot to bear in mind heading into today’s game, and that starts with the fact that the Bengals have Andy Dalton back at quarterback, who missed nearly all of the team’s last two meetings, both of which were won by the Steelers.
Dalton was just a bit rusty in Cincinnati’s season-opening game, as evidenced by the fact that he was holding on to the ball longer than he is known for, which greatly attributed to the fact that the Jets’ defensive front seven was able to bring him down for seven sacks, easily the most in his career in a single game.
Another contributing fact is the inevitability of getting used to working with new personnel, as the Bengals have two new wide receivers amongst their top three, including a rookie, while Pro Bowl tight end Tyler Eifert remains out. The Steelers will need to take advantage of this in their pursuit of quarterback pressure today.
Offensively, the wide receiver position is left to be sorted out if indeed Markus Wheaton returns. Eli Rogers had a positive debut in the slot last week, although a miscommunication or two was evident, one of which resulted in an interception. It will be interesting to see how the playing time of Rogers and Sammie Coates are hindered by Wheaton’s return.
Something that I noticed in last week’s game is that center Maurkice Pouncey struggled at times to keep his feet, and even a time or two seemed to be running a different blocking scheme than the rest of the line. One time he collided into his left guard. It is to be hoped that he knocked off a lot of that rust in the opening game, considering it was his first significant game since the 2014 season.
The Steelers struggled to run out of the no-huddle initially last week and moved away from it to get on track. I would expect them to jump right back in, however, having a game under their belts and playing at home.
On the special teams front, I am very interested to see if Rogers is back there to return punts, and if maybe, just maybe, Justin Gilbert gets a chance to return a kick. Also of interest is whether or not Xavier Grimble participates on any special teams units, contrary to the season opener, despite the fact that he saw 16 snaps on offense.