This may be the last time that we have anything to watch for until August when it comes to Pittsburgh Steelers football, it’s sad to say. While I would be hard-pressed to believe that they will falter against a woefully undermanned Cincinnati Bengals team at home, they still need help that is more likely to not happen.
Being that as it may, the outcomes that they require are very much within the realm of possibility, and either way, there is a game to be played, which is of much value in and of itself. If we didn’t enjoy simply watching a football game in its own right, we probably wouldn’t even be here, after all. So let’s talk Steelers football, for perhaps the last time this season.
Obviously the big question coming into this game is whether or not Antonio Brown plays. Whether he does or does not, the Steelers should still be able to move the ball. JuJu Smith-Schuster was able to find success when Brown was sidelined late last season, and it’s fair to say that the second-year receiver is even more accomplished at this point in his career.
The hopeful return of James Conner can have a big if subtle impact on the game. One thing that has really hurt the Steelers the past couple of games has been the pass protection in key moments by Jaylen Samuels. He has been responsible for three sacks in the past two weeks and they killed two important drives, one late in the New Orleans Saints game on Sunday.
The Bengals’ offensive gameplan figures to revolve heavily around running back Joe Mixon on a team down their starting quarterback, their top two wide receivers, and their top two tight ends. When you lose four of your top targets in the passing game, as well as your passer, you’re going to run the ball more.
So expect to see more ‘base’ defense in this one, which means more Javon Hargrave. The third-year nose tackle has been quieter in recent weeks with Tom Brady and Drew Brees on the field, which has made it harder for him to get playing time, but he could log a good amount of snaps going up against Billy Price at center, which should be a match he can win.
T.J. Watt has been rushing the passer at the next level in recent weeks, even if he has two sacks in his past five games, but they have come one apiece in the past two games. I would look for him to close out the season on a high note with at least one more sack, and possibly more. He already has a pair of three-sack games.
One thing that’s worth keeping an eye on is the nuances of the defensive play-calling, quite frankly, because this could be the last game for Keith Butler in Pittsburgh. He has been far from perfect during his stint as defensive coordinator, which has included a bevy of brainfart-variety moments. He is under fire, so finishing off the season on a sour note could really drive the dagger into his back.