The Pittsburgh Steelers are two for two so far in the AFC North, having their way with the Cleveland Browns but then having to battle their way back against the 6-2 Baltimore Ravens. On paper, this game against the Cincinnati Bengals, at home at Heinz Field, should be not only their easiest division game, but also perhaps the easiest on their entire schedule.
Considering the fact that they have won all eight of their games played so far this season, it goes without saying that they should absolutely be expected to win this one as well. Whether or not it comes out looking pretty, I frankly am not in a position to care anymore. The only thing that I care about is that they win with a healthy roster.
For my money, the biggest storyline about this game is how much 01 personnel we are going to see, and this applies for multiple reasons. For one, it has been easily their most effective offensive personnel grouping for the past two games, which they have specifically turned to because other things were not working.
For another, the Bengals’ secondary, specifically at cornerback, is razor thin, and there is a reasonable chance that they may be required to give an extended amount of playing time to a cornerback that they just elevated from the practice squad.
On the other side of the ball, the Bengals’ tackles are banged up. While it appears that Jonah Williams is on track to play, he is coming off of a stinger and was limited in practice all week. On the right side, Bobby Hart is out for the game, and so is backup Fred Johnson, who is on the Reserve/Covid-19 List. Rookie sixth-round pick Hakeem Adeniji will be starting, as he did their last time out, and he will get to face T.J. Watt.
There are, of course, some concerns. The Steelers’ running game has been unproductive in recent weeks and has even slacked off in situational ball. With blocking tight end Vance McDonald unavailable, and the gameday status of tackle-eligible Jerald Hawkins possibly in question, the blocking will only take a step back.
In the passing game, the question is really if they can get anything going without resorting to the 01 personnel grouping, and if they can avoid yet another slow start. They have had a lot of those this year, and it’s been slowly becoming more of an issue, digging themselves deeper holes to climb out of.
On top of everything else, the special teams units fell into a dumpster last week, and the Bengals actually have solid return men and return teams. Even the field goal unit was an issue in Dallas, with a blocked extra point and other pressures allowed up the middle, which evidently dissuaded Mike Tomlin from attempting a late field goal that would have put them up by eight.