The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their sixteenth and final game of the 2018 regular season Sunday afternoon at home against the Cincinnati Bengals and they’ll be looking to sneak into the playoffs by the end of the day. Below are five key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do in the game to come away with their fifth home win of the 2018 season Sunday at the Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.
Atkins Diet – while the Bengals defense will be shorthanded on Sunday due to linebacker Vontaze Burfict and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick both being sidelined with injuries, defensive tackle Geno Atkins will be on the field and he’s had some past success against Steelers guard David DeCastro. Atkins leads the Bengals with 10 sacks so Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger better be judicious whenever he decides to hold onto the football a little longer than normal.
See Jeff run – The Bengals quarterback for this game against the Steelers will be Jeff Driskel, who has completed 61.2% of all his pass attempts for 908 yards with 6 touchdowns and 2 interceptions since taking over for injured starter Andy Dalton. Driskel is not afraid to use his feet, either, as he has already rushed for 117 yards and 2 touchdowns on 23 total rushes. One of his two scores was a long 27-yard run via a zone-read. He’s mobile so the Steelers defense should make sure they have somebody account for him.
Hit the young slot machine – With Kirkpatrick not playing on Sunday the Bengals will need cornerback Darqueze Dennard to start and play opposite William Jackson and that means we’ll likely see rookie cornerback Darius Phillips fill in for the injured Tony McRae at the slot. In short, the Steelers offense should have a field day picking on Phillips, who hasn’t played great this season. If Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster plays some in the slot on Sunday, he could and should wind up having a big game. This is even a great matchup for Steelers wide receiver Eli Rogers to have on Sunday against the Bengals and Phillips.
A tight game for Ben – The Bengals defense has not been great at covering tight ends this season as they’ve already allowed 80 receptions for 931 yards and 10 touchdowns to that position. With both Burfict and fellow linebacker starter Jordan Evans not playing on Sunday, Hardy Nickerson and Vincent Rey will need to pick up the slack inside and nether are suited to cover any of the Steelers tight ends should they wind up matched up on one of them during the contest. Look for Roethlisberger to target tight ends Vance McDonald and Jesse James if he spots a favorable matchup and especially inside the Cincinnati red zone.
Be Nixing Joe Mixon – The Bengals offense will likely look to use running back Joe Mixon early and often both as a ball carrier and pass catcher in an effort to eat up yardage and the clock. Not only has Mixion averaged 4.7 yards per carry this season on his way to rushing for 1,063 yards, he’s also caught 42 passes for 294 yards. Mixon already has 11 explosive plays of 20 yards or longer on the season and 43 of his 266 total touches have resulted in gains of 190 yards or longer. The Steelers defense must bottle him up early and force Driskel to put the football in the air to his inexperienced and merely average wide receivers as starters A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd are both on the Reserve/Injured list.