As we’ve done in the past, the keys to the Pittsburgh Steelers winning (or losing) tonight’s game. Three things that need to happen for them to end up on the right side of the score and vice versa in tonight’s AFC North matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals.
My prediction is at the bottom.
The Steelers Will Win If…
1. The defense keeps a lid on things.
Pittsburgh did a slightly better job of handling things last week, not allowing the double chunk play or long touchdown, but it was far from good enough. The Bengals’ offense, like Pittsburgh’s, lives and dies by the big play. But they have the personnel, led by the speedy John Ross, and creative playcalling from HC Zac Taylor. You would expect the Steelers chemistry and communication to improve the more to play together but you never know. This is a different Bengals’ offense they’re facing.
2. The run game (finally) gets going.
No excuse here. The Bengals are running sub-package on most of their snaps, employing only two linebackers even against heavy/run personnel. Their run D has taken a hit for it and if the Steelers can’t run on these guys, they won’t do it to anyone. Play Zach Banner, run power/gap schemes, and attack their linebackers.
3. Randy Fichtner attacks the slot.
Dave Bryan talked about it throughout the week. They’re missing their top slot corner and again, the linebackers are weak. Pittsburgh has done a terrible job winning the middle of the field but it’s gotta change this week. JuJu Smith-Schuster should play most of his snaps inside this week if the Bengals
The Steelers Will Lose If…
1. The OLBs don’t win against the Bengals’ OTs.
Getting pressure is an easy coaching point you could apply to literally any game. I’ve never heard a defensive coordinator say, “don’t worry about pressuring their guy.” But the weakness along the Bengals’ o-line are the tackles, especially LT Andre Smith, who definitely should not be starting for any NFL team not based in Miami. Andy Dalton’s been sacked 11 times in three games and if the Steelers can’t get to him at least three times, it’ll be a shame.
2. The offense can’t sustain drives.
Please, Football Gods, let the Steelers have a drive last longer than three minutes. Asking for the moon, I know. They have to be more efficient on drives which means converting on third down, where they’ve been woeful the first three games. Let your defense rest, go over tape of the previous drive, and keep their legs fresh for the end of the game. Odds are, this one will come down to a handful of plays in the 4th quarter.
3. Alex Erickson does damage in the return game.
Erickson had only been the punt returner until Darius Phillips landed on IR. Now, I expect Erickson to do both. He’s burned the Steelers before and nearly had a KR touchdown had Chris Boswell not made an insane, shoestring tackle. The punt coverage was bad against the 49ers last week and they gotta tighten the screws still missing Anthony Chickillo, Vince Williams, and Roosevelt Nix.
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