The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their fourth regular season game of 2019 at home Monday night at Heinz Field and against the Cincinnati Bengals as both teams look to notch their first win of the season. Below are seven key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do in the game to come away with their first win of 2019 against the Bengals.
Get the runs and backs going – If the Steelers offense can’t run Monday night against the Bengals defense, that unit won’t likely be able to run against and defense this season. The Bengals run defense is not great and even when they load the box. The Steelers bread and butter forever when it comes to their offensive running game are power and split zone runs and the Buffalo Bills killed the Bengals defense with such runs in Week 3 and with a 36-year-old Frank Gore at that. Steelers running back James Conner should have as mighty big chip on his shoulder entering Monday night following his late game-changing fumble last Sunday. The Steelers don’t have to get fancy with their run game Monday night, all they need to do is execute plays they’ve run for years. Additionally, the Steelers need to get running back Jaylen Samuels some touches in this game. Samuels and Conner can be used a few times in the same backfield Monday night with the former occasionally being used in the slot against a linebacker whenever he’s on the field.
Hit the JuJu slot machine – While the Steelers offense will likely want to run quite a few heavy personnel groupings Monday night against the Bengals, they must make sure to run quite a few three and four wide receiver groupings as well. The Bengals slot cornerback position is one of the weakness on their defense as it will be manned Monday night by either B.W. Webb or Tony McRae most of the game. Assuming the Bengals don’t have either cornerback William Jackson III or Dre Kirkpatrick travel with Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, he should wind up with quite a few matchups against either Webb or McRae out of the slot and that’s a huge advantage for the Pittsburgh offense whenever that happens. Smith-Schuster is primed for a big Monday night game if Rudolph can get him the ball whenever the wide receiver is lined up in the slot against either Webb or McRae.
Catch the damn ball – In Rudolph’s first career NFL start last weekend he only managed to complete two passes that were thrown more than on yard past the line of scrimmage. Fortunately for him, both of those completions resulted in touchdowns. While Rudolph didn’t push the football down the field a lot in his first NFL start, when he did, his receivers didn’t help him out a few times. Rookie wide receiver Diontae Johnson didn’t run through two of his routes on passes thrown his way last Sunday and wide receiver James Washington and tight end Xavier Grimble both dropped balls they had in their hands last Sunday. Rudolph is going to make some mistakes moving forward as he continues to develop so passes that are on target from him just can’t be dropped.
Tie-up Tyler – The Bengals won’t have wide receiver A.J. Green Monday night, but they will have Tyler Boyd, a Pittsburgh product. To date, Boyd, who was signed to a lucrative contract extension back in July, figures to be the main target for Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton Monday night. He’s already been targeted 32 times through three games and has 24 receptions for 250 yards. 11 targets and seven receptions have come on third downs. Dalton is 14 of 23 for 156 yards and an interception on third downs in which he has not targeted Boyd. Only eight of those 14 completions resulted in first downs. Additionally, Dalton has been sacked four times on third downs through three games. In short, the Steelers defense should concentrate on taking Boyd away Monday night just as New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick likely would. Boyd will line up in the slot a lot Monday night and so the Steelers might want to consider putting new safety Minkah Fitzpatrick on him some in key situations. The Steelers defense can’t let Boyd be the one to beat them Monday night.
Attack the tackles – The Bengals two starting tackles Monday night, Andre Smith and Bobby Hart, just aren’t very good at all. Smith is 32 and he and Hart wouldn’t likely start for any other NFL team. The Bengals will need to give Hart help with Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt throughout the game and that will be hard to do. Watt and Bud Dupree both have prime matchups Monday night and especially if the Steelers defense can get the Bengals offense into several obvious passing downs throughout the game.
Keep a lid on it – The Steelers defense has already managed to give up 17 explosive plays of 20 yards or longer through three games and those of equated to 479 yards and five touchdowns. Giving up five or more explosive plays to the Bengals offense Monday night might be two too many and especially if Cincinnati can cap those possessions with touchdowns. The Bengals offense will likely need to throw to win Monday night so the Steelers defense will be tasked with attempting to keep everything in front of them throughout the game. Bengals wide receiver John Ross is still very fast, and he has six of the team’s 14 explosive plays through three games with four of them coming via deep passes.
Close the screen door – Dalton is not afraid to use his running backs in the passing game either via designed screens or check downs. Through three games, Bengals running backs Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard have combined to catch 12 passes for 107 yards and a touchdown. the Steelers linebackers must be on pint Monday night when it comes to tracking both Mixon and Bernard out of the backfield.