The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their sixth game of the 2018 regular season Sunday afternoon against the Cincinnati Bengals in what figures to be another exciting AFC North division game for both teams with quite a bit of physical and emotional play on both sides. Below are five key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do in the game to come away with their second road win of the 2018 season Sunday afternoon at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
Third & long Andy not so dandy – While the Bengals do enter Sunday’s game with a 4-1 record, their quarterback Andy Dalton hasn’t been so great passing the football on 3rd and longs through his team’s first five games. In fact, Dalton has completed just 50% of his 3rd down passes this season when facing distances to go of 6 yards or more. Of those 15 passes that he has completed on 3rd and 6 or more so far this season, only 13 of them resulted in successful conversions. Additionally, 3 of the 9 times that Dalton’s been sacked so far this season have come on 3rd downs when facing 6 or more yards to go and 2 of his 7 interceptions this season have come during those same down and distance situations. In short, the Steelers defense must force Dalton into as many 3rd and long situations as possible.
Atkins diet – Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins has had some pretty good games against the Steelers and specifically Pittsburgh right guard David DeCastro so far during his career and has even recorded 7 sacks in the 15 regular season games that he’s played in against Pittsburgh. In the 3 of 15 games that the Bengals have won against the Steelers that Atkins has played in during his career the defensive tackle registered at least one sack in each of the contest. 5 of Atkins 7 career sacks against the Steelers have come on 3rd downs with 7 or more yards needed. Additionally, 5 of the 7 have come during the second halves of games. Curiously enough, the Steelers only score 10 points in each of those three games. If the Steelers offensive line can keep Atkins away from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completely on Sunday, chances are good Pittsburgh will come away victorious.
Bungles up the middle – Steelers running back James Conner has had an impressive start to the season as the Pittsburgh product is averaging 4.1 yards per carry on 84 total totes of the football. Conner has been especially effective on runs between the tackles and that just happens to be where the Bengals defense has shown to be very vulnerable so far this season and especially on first and second downs. On 63 total rushing attempts against the Bengals defense on first and second downs that went between the two guards, an average of 4.62 yards was gained and only three other teams have allowed a higher average than that. The Steelers offense should attempt to run Conner early and often and up the middle Sunday in Cincinnati.
Win the PBS red zone parking wars – The Steelers offense has amazingly converted 78.57 % of all red zone trips so far this season and that equates to only three failures out of 14 opportunities. Two of the failed drives resulted in zero points due to interceptions thrown by Roethlisberger. The Bengals offense has also been great in the red zone so far this season as evidenced by their 70.59% touchdown rate once inside the oppositions 20-yard-line. Sunday’s game in Cincinnati could very well come down to which defense gets a key red zone stop late. The Steelers defense enters Week 6 with a 52.94 % red zone stop rate while the Bengals defense has been a lot worse at 71.43%, having allowed 10 of 14 drives inside their own 20-yard-line to culminate in touchdowns. The Steelers must win this battle on Sunday.
No nonsense – The Bengals would like nothing more than to see the Steelers not only equal their average in penalties per game on Sunday in Cincinnati, but also have a few of them be nonsensical ones. Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict might be up to his usual ways on Sunday as he might be looking to pay back wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster for his block last season. We’ve seen the Bengals lose a very important game before to the Steelers because of silly penalties and Sunday in Cincinnati is no time for Pittsburgh to pay them back for that Wildcard win a few years ago.