The 9-2 Pittsburgh Steelers will play the 5-6 Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium Monday night in a Week 13 divisional 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 the Monday night game that will kick off at 8:30 p.m. EST in Cincinnati.
Coach speaks non coach-speak – Ahead of the Steelers game last weekend against the Green Bay Packers, head coach Mike Tomlin sat down for an interview with Tony Dungy that was ultimately aired during the pregame show. The interview was a very candid one and Tomlin talked openly about how he’s already thought some about his team’s upcoming game against the New England Patriots and how that game might only be the first of two between the two teams this season. Additionally, Tomlin spoke about how his team can and should be expected to win the Super Bowl this season. Tomlin’s comments to Dungy have been heavily criticized since by both the local and national media and if the Steelers fail to win their next two games against the Bengals and Baltimore Ravens, you can bet the head coach will be accused of having his team looking too far ahead to the Patriots game.
Brown out? – After practicing fully on Thursday, Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown was added to the team’s injury report on Friday after sitting out the daily session because of a toe injury. After failing to practice again on Saturday, Brown was officially listed as questionable on the team’s final injury report and is now considered a game-time decision for Monday night. Brown hasn’t missed a game due to an injury since the team’s Divisional Round playoff loss to the Denver Broncos a few years ago and that was due to a concussion. You have to know that Brown will do everything within his power to play in the Monday night prime time divisional matchup game. Unfortunately, we’re unlikely to know if he’s going to play until a few hours before kickoff. Can the Steelers beat the Bengals without Brown? We might have to find out.
Defense still leaking explosives – While the Steelers did ultimately beat the Packers last Sunday night, it wasn’t a very convincing victory. While the Steelers offense certainly showed a few warts against the Packers, their defense once again allowed several explosive passing play touchdowns during the contest. Three, to be exact, and two of them were scores from longer than 50 yards out. This is becoming an unsavory trend for the Steelers defense the last several weeks and they’ll certainly face an offense Monday night in the form of the Bengals that can easily extend that big scoring passing play streak.
Rookie SAM kitten – The Bengals won’t have starting SAM linebacker Nick Vigil 85 Monday night as he’s already been ruled out with an ankle injury. With fellow linebacker Vincent Rey also already ruled out for the contest with a hamstring injury, the Bengals are almost certain to start rookie linebacker Jordan Evans Monday night. Evans, an Oklahoma product who was drafted this year in the sixth-round, has played all of 85 defensive snaps so far this season. In short, expect the Steelers to run at Evans quite a bit Monday night and test him in other ways.
We dey in Cincinnati – In case you haven’t heard by now, the Steelers are tough to beat when they play in Cincinnati. In fact, dating back to the 2002 season, the Steelers are 15-2 in games against the Bengals played in Cincinnati and that includes two playoff meetings. The Bengals last win against the Steelers at home was in 2013. The Bengals enter their Monday night home game against the Steelers with a 5-6 record and if they fail to make the playoffs this year it might be the last game that their head coach Marvin Lewis coaches against Pittsburgh in Cincinnati.