The 4-2 Pittsburgh Steelers will play the 2-3 Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field Sunday afternoon in a Week 7 AFC North matchup and ahead of that game kicking off, there are several key storylines worth pointing out.
Below are what I consider to be the top five storylines for both teams ahead of Sunday’s game that will kickoff at 4:25 p.m. EST.
Dealing with even more drama – Almost immediately following the Steelers Week 6 road win over the Kansas City Chiefs, a major media report surfaced stating that wide receiver Martavis Bryant, or his representative, asked the team to trade him. Bryant’s girlfriend also went on a Twitter tirade Sunday night seemingly backing up the reports that the wide receiver is unhappy in Pittsburgh. She later deleted those tweets but not before they made it to the end of the internet and back. Several other media outlets quickly claimed that they had confirmed the Bryant trade request and on Monday Bryant denied that he had requested being dealt. On Thursday, Steelers team president Art Rooney II made it clear that Bryant wasn’t going to be traded. All of this trade buzz created yet more drama for the team and it will now be interesting to see how much playing time Bryant receives Sunday against the Bengals and perhaps more importantly, if he’s able to produce a few big plays whenever his number is called to do so.
Dirty Mike? – Steelers safety Mike Mitchell was penalized during Sunday’s win over the Chiefs for hitting Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith low and from behind late in the third quarter after he had gotten rid of the football. Smith made it clear immediately after the game that he didn’t take too kindly to Mitchell’s low hit and insinuated that the safety has a long history of bring a dirty player. Mitchell then proceeded to tell the local media that he’s not a dirty player and that him hitting Smith late and low in Sunday’s game was a result of him being tripped from behind by Steelers outside linebacker Anthony Chickillo while the two players were chasing the quarterback. While video shows that Mitchell was indeed tripped by Chickillo, the NFL still decided to fine the Steelers safety just the same for his hit on Smith. Additionally, Mitchell was also fined this past week for an illegal second quarter hit to the head on Chiefs running back Charcandrick West even though he was wasn’t flagged for doing so during the game. Both of Mitchell’s fines total out at over $50,000 and the safety will reportedly appeal. Games bewtrten the Steelers and Bengals are often very physical and include numerous penalties and extracurricular activities. In short, Mitchell needs to make sure he plays a clean game Sunday against a team he’s already been accused of playing dirty against.
Yards high, points low – In their Week 6 win over the Chiefs the Steelers offense registered a season-high 439 net-yards of offense. Even so, the offense only managed to score 19 points in the game with seven of them conning courtesy of fluke long touchdown reception by wide receiver Antonio Brown in the fourth quarter. The Steelers offense only managed to enter the Chiefs red zone twice during Sunday’s game and just one of those trips culminated in a touchdown. In their last two games the Steelers offense has scored just one touchdown in five red zone trips and that low rate just can’t continue. Sunday, the Steelers offense will face a Bengals defense that has allowed just six red zone conversions out of 14 total trips. The Steelers offense has scored just 11 total touchdowns in the team’s first six games while the Bengals defense has allowed opposing offenses to score just 8 touchdowns in their first five games.
Tuitt won’t do it against Bengals – During his Tuesday press conference, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin didn’t mention defensive end Stephon Tuitt as being one of the team’s injured players entering Week 7. On Wednesday, Tuitt was listed on the team’s injury report as failing to practice earlier that day because of a back injury and he proceeded to sit out the Thursday and Friday sessions as well. On Friday after practice, Tuitt was officially ruled out for Sunday’s game against the Bengals. Not having him Sunday will be a huge blow to the Steelers defense. This will now mark the third game that Tuitt has missed this year as he previously missed two contest during the first quarter of the season due to a biceps injury that he suffered early in the regular season opener against the Cleveland Browns.
Doubtful Pacman – While the Steelers will be without the services of Tuitt on Sunday at Heinz Field, the Bengals might not have cornerback Adam Jones for that game as well due to injury. Jones, who suffered a back injury during the Bengals Week 5 win over the Buffalo Bills, was listed as doubtful on the team’s injury report Friday after failing to practice the final two days. Should Jones ultimately sit Sunday’s game out, either Darqueze Dennard or William Jackson III will replace him. Either of them could potentially present tasty matchups for Brown or Bryant. Even if Jones ultimately plays against the Steelers, he won’t be at 100 percent and thus he could potentially be in for a long day when it comes to working against Brown or Bryant.