It’s been a while, about a week and a half, since the Pittsburgh Steelers were last on the field. It somehow feels much longer than that, considering everything that has gone on in between, amid a firestorm of controversy, suspensions, appeals, and fines. The blame game provided ample content for the 24-hour sports news cycle, keeping Pittsburgh in the news for the entire week, even though they played no game during that time.
But the thing that matters most from that entire situation is that it came in a loss, which has once again put the Steelers on very shaky ground. They are currently seeded eighth, but could move up to seventh today with a win over the Cincinnati Bengals, bringing them into a tie with the Indianapolis Colts, whom they’ve beaten. I believe a loss by the Oakland Raiders would even move them up back into sixth, but Oakland has perhaps the easiest remaining schedule.
While it might be tempting to overlook the 0-10 Bengals, remember that this is a road game for a team that has not played well on the road at all this year, outside of a very crowd-friendly game against the Los Angeles Chargers.
And they will be fielding an offense today that does not include JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Conner, or Maurkice Pouncey, who is serving a two-game suspension. They are fortunate to get Diontae Johnson back from a concussion, so at least they have him and James Washington at wide receiver. At running back, rookie Benny Snell returns, but we still have no idea who he is, really.
Then there is Mason Rudolph. How is he going to respond from one of the most tumultuous periods of his football career? Not only was he battered on the head; not only was he accused of using a racial slur; he also played a terrible game, throwing four interceptions. How he responds is, make no bones about it, the story of this game.
After the last game, one of the main priorities for the defense has to be keeping rookie quarterback Ryan Finley contained. Despite getting good pressure throughout the night, the front seven allowed Baker Mayfield to get out of the pocket and make plays on numerous occasions, and was fatal to their efforts.
Outside of that, there isn’t much. Joe Mixon is the main threat, and he’s coming off two of his better games. He does only have four touchdowns on the year, but three have been on receptions. And, again, they can’t afford to overlook anybody.
The Bengals might not have A.J. Green and John Ross, but Tyler Boyd is still there, and it looks as though Auden Tate will play as well. Their circumstances at wide receiver are no better than where Pittsburgh is, but they still have to be accounted for.
Then there is B.J. Finney, taking over for Pouncey. He has Geno Atkins and Andrew Billings to worry about. The line allowed a lot of pressure from the Browns last week. I could see Cincinnati giving them issues up the middle with the lineup change.