As we’ve done in the past, the keys to the Pittsburgh Steelers winning (or losing) this week’s game. Three things that need to happen for them to end up on the right side of the score and vice versa for today’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
My prediction is at the bottom.
The Steelers Will Win If…
1. They Play “Their” Game
I know that analysis seems as insightful as “football is all about blocking and tackling” but in a game like this, where the Steelers are the clear favorites on paper (thanks to their defense), it’s largely about not screwing up. No pre-snap penalties; those were a killer last week. No blown coverages or breakdowns; also an issue a week ago. Win the turnover battle, play composed, and be able to put last week’s insanity behind them. Do all that and it’s hard to give this one away.
2. The Defense Shows Disciplined Run Integrity
The best thing the Bengals have is their run game. Joe Mixon, despite playing behind one of football’s worst offensive line, is still having a good season and he’s come on strong the last few weeks. His ability to create his own lane, make something out of a bad play, or show his vision to run outside the design of the play and hit open grass, is a challenge. So the Steelers’ front must be disciplined. Can’t overrun gaps, gotta play inside/out, and run hard to the whistle. Can’t loaf when Mixon is toting the rock. He’ll make you pay. Just like at his three yard score versus Oakland last week.
3. Mason Rudolph Bounces Back
Spotlight is on him. Will he sink or swim? Hold ’em or fold ’em? If there was ever a “get right” opponent, it’s the Bengals, with their sputtering offense and defense that ranks low in virtually every statistic. Pittsburgh isn’t at full strength but will have Diontae Johnson in the lineup and Benny Snell returning. The offense is capable of moving the ball. Need to see something resembling the Rams output, his best game, as opposed to the mess that was last week. Rudolph is mentally tough so there’s reason for optimism.
The Steelers Will Lose If…
1. Tyler Eifert Burns Them In The Red Zone
If you want one scenario to watch out for, or maybe win a bar bet with your buddies, look out for Eifert finding the end zone. In goal to go situations around the 5-7 yard line, the Bengals like to run wheel/pick routes to him. Caught a TD off it against the Ravens two weeks ago. Bengals don’t get in the red zone often but if they do, have to hold them to three.
2. Bengals Wind Up With Superior Special Teams Play
According to Football Outsiders’ special teams DVOA, a measure of strength, the Bengals have the NFL’s #1 special teams unit. Pittsburgh? #17, which admit it, is higher than you thought it’d be (Danny Smith Forever). Their best weapon offensively is arguably their kick returner Brandon Wilson, averaging an NFL best 35 yards per try. Luckily, the Steelers’ kick coverage team isn’t awful, but the Bengals have the threat of a guy who can create a much-needed short field for their offense. Or even take it to the house. I really hope the Steelers just plan on trying to boot the ball out of the end zone each try tomorrow. No reason to let Wilson touch it.
3. Benny Snell Can’t Move The Pile Forward
Pittsburgh doesn’t need a 125 yard performance from Snell today, though if he’s selling one, I’m first in line to buy. But this run game has to do something to offer a level of balance and efficiency, especially in short-yardage situations, where they rank last in football. It’s the reason why Snell was our X Factor for the game. Get a good-enough run game going and it’ll make Rudolph, and by extension, the whole offense, much more fluid.