The Pittsburgh Steelers were fortunate during their Week Two showing against the Cincinnati Bengals, in that, following an offseason in which they lost two of their top five targets in the passing game during free agency, the Bengals were only able to suit up one of their top two targets, that being wide receiver A.J. Green, as Pro Bowl tight end Tyler Eifert was still on the mend from an ankle injury.
The Steelers are getting fortunate once again, it appears, as, while Eifert has returned, and has played well, it now appears that Green is not going to make his return to the field after missing the past several weeks with a hamstring injury, officially listed as doubtful to play.
The fact that the Steelers got to face the Bengals twice this year without them having the opportunity to have both Green and Eifert on the field at the same time should not be overlooked, because they have definitely dodged a bullet on that respect.
Still, Eifert will have to be accounted for and paid special attention to in this game the way the defense worked to take away Green in the first meeting of these division rivals. The former first-round draft pick made his debut seven games ago, though he has only made one start, and he has been seeing an upward trajectory in production.
In those seven games, Eifert has caught 28 passes for 385 yards and five touchdowns. That pro-rates to a pretty nice season of 64 receptions for 880 yards and 11-12 touchdowns. Last year, he caught 52 passes for 615 yards and 13 touchdowns in only 13 games.
A lot of his production, however, has come just over the course of the past three games, as, in that span, he has 12 catches for 141 yards and four of his five touchdowns. In other words, they will be getting a Bengals offense with a Pro Bowl tight end that is heating up on the receiving end.
As they did with Green, I would expect that the Steelers will indeed take special precaution to plan for facing Eifert, but it will probably entail more mixing and matching. One would expect inside linebacker Ryan Shazier to draw a handful of assignments against him in coverage.
So will starting safety Sean Davis. But this might be the sort of opportunity for the Steelers to work to expand their quarter defense again, getting Robert Golden back on the field to check Eifert in the box, as he has done in that role in the past when used as the team’s dime defender.
However that end up game-planning for him, it may well prove to be the most important task that Pittsburgh has facing them heading into Cincinnati, ensuring that Eifert cannot take over the game for the Bengals. They handle him pretty well last year, catching six passes for 81 yards combined in both games. A three-catch, 40-yard day is about all I’d like to see out of him tomorrow.