The Pittsburgh Steelers have a game to play tonight, and even though it is not against the New England Patriots, according to my research, it still actually counts, believe it or not. Pittsburgh will be on the road for their penultimate away come of the regular season—and hopefully just one of three remaining, the final being in the neutral-site Super Bowl—visiting the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Steelers are coming off of a bit of a homestand, having gotten the opportunity to play two games in a row at Heinz Field for the first time all season, and three of their final four games will also be at home. During those two games, they managed to top 30 points in both, the only two games they have done so this season.
Ben Roethlisberger threw four touchdown passes in each game, representing 40 percent of the team’s total touchdown passes on the year, so they will be looking to try to take that success on the road as a sign not just of being comfortable at home, but of the offense as a whole having taken a step forward.
That will be really difficult to emulate, however, should wide receiver Antonio Brown indeed sit out tonight’s game with a toe injury that saw him sit out the bulk of practice this week. After all, he caught five of those eight aforementioned touchdowns, so…
That production would obviously have to come from elsewhere, the primary candidates being Martavis Bryant and JuJu Smith-Schuster. The latter is coming back from a hamstring injury that caused him to miss last week’s game, but is second on the team with five touchdown receptions. Bryant just caught his second of the season, and the first since week two, against the Packers last Sunday.
But this is the Bengals, and the Steeler have a tendency to look to running the ball. Le’Veon Bell has had some big games against Cincinnati, including a 134-yard game in the first matchup between the two this season, and they could look to get back to the ground game today.
It wouldn’t surprise me a bit if we see a pretty good helping of fullback Roosevelt Nix in this game, who also got a decent amount of playing time the last time these two teams faced each other. The absence of Vance McDonald complicates their ability to run the ball, but not as much as Brown’s absence would hinder the passing game.
Defensively, it’s imperative that Coty Sensabaugh has a bounceback game. And Artie Burns, too, frankly. For all their struggles, the Bengals can still strike downfield, and the Ravens, a week from now, are beginning to find that ability again, too.
It will be up to the defensive front to set the tone in controlling the game at the line of scrimmage, and that includes aggressive forward play from the inside linebackers, being a heavy presence at and behind the line of scrimmage. Joe Mixon needs to be controlled.