The Pittsburgh Steelers have a big game on their hands today. Facing yet another divisional opponent in the Cincinnati Bengals, they enter the day knowing that a win would put them, at least temporarily, in position for the first seed in the AFC for the playoffs, with the Chiefs having lost earlier this week.
It would put them in the driver’s seat to secure that honor later this season when they face the Patriots, who have looked more beatable this season than they have in a while. But this is long-term thinking, and not something that the players can actually afford to do, or something that we should be worrying about right now.
The objective of the day is righting the ship on their home field, where they were embarrassed two weeks ago by the Jaguars, who picked off Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers five times, returning two of them for touchdowns. It was one of the worst home performances in recent memory, with all three units getting booed, so they will want to make amends.
And who better to do it against then the team against whom they have had more emotionally-charged skirmishes in recent years than anybody in the Bengals, who, despite being just 2-3, are winners of their last two and are coming fresh off a bye week.
As I wrote yesterday, I think that a big key to this game will be the potential absence of cornerback Adam Jones, who is listed as doubtful to play. Dre Kirkpatrick is good, but beatable, and the rest of their cornerbacks, while talented, are inexperienced.
I think this could be an opportunity for one of Antonio Brown or Martavis Bryant to go off, and we certainly know who needs it more. Maybe Bryant wants to be traded, maybe he doesn’t. It doesn’t really change anything. But I think everybody would feel better if he had a 100-yard game with a touchdown or two.
I also think it’s imperative, as I wrote earlier today, that the offense shows it can build off of its success running the ball from a week ago. It was a full team effort with the tight ends and wide receivers also participating in the blocking aspect, and that is what is needed.
Defensively, they face a Bengals team whose offensive weapons have narrowed, but they will must keep A.J. Green in check. He has had a number of big games against the Steelers in the past, but he’s never faced Artie Burns, nor gone up against Joe Haden within the Steelers’ scheme.
With Stephon Tuitt absent, it would be big if the front seven could make a statement against the run. the Bengals have not been able to run the ball well so far this season, so the last thing they need is to be the team that lets them break out.
Cincinnati has instability at the tackle position. Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt are supposed to be the future of the pass-rushing situation in Pittsburgh. This would be a good opportunity for them to step up and show that they can actually deliver.