The Pittsburgh Steelers’ rivalry against the Cincinnati Bengals has been, let’s just be honest, not nearly as compelling as that which they have had over the span of the past quarter of a century with the Baltimore Ravens. By the definition of some, it’s not even a rivalry, because the Steelers almost always win—literally, they have won the past 10 meetings. They are 27-7 against them since Ben Roethlisberger was drafted. A win on Sunday would make it a .800 winning percentage.
One characteristic of a good rivalry, beyond a competitive balance, is the constancy of characters. The Steelers tend to have solid roster retention from year to year, but that has been less the case on other side of the ball. And now, one of their longest-tenured defenders and key players in the rivalry is gone, traded last week to the Seattle Seahawks.
“It is unique and interesting to look at a Cincinnati front and not have to deal with Carlos Dunlap”, head coach Mike Tomlin said on Tuesday during his pre-game press conference in acknowledging his role in the rivalry and the void of his absence. “We do not miss Carlos Dunlap”, he added with a laugh.
A two-time Pro Bowler, he has accumulated nearly 500 tackles in his 11-year career, first entering the starting lineup in 2013, along with 83.5 sacks. He has forced 20 fumbles, intercepted two passes, and recorded 60 passes defensed.
In 18 career games against the Steelers, Dunlap has recorded 50 tackles and 4.5 sacks with eight passes defensed. He recorded a sack the last time that he played Pittsburgh—but of course that was in a game without Roethlisberger, who missed 14.5 games in 2019.
The big man’s impact on the game went beyond the raw numbers, and he often paired with Geno Atkins, who is still in the middle of the defense, but has been transitioned into more of a sub-package role—like Dunlap, he hasn’t been happy with the changes under the new defensive regime and his diminished role.
Geno is working in a different capacity now for them, focusing exclusively as a situational rusher”, Tomlin said of Atkins, who has also been a nuisance for Roethlisberger and the Steelers over the years. “We expect him to bring energy when he comes into that area of play”.
So far this season, he has only been averaging 15-20 snaps per game, and has yet to record an official statistic in four games played. His numbers were down last year, but he recorded 39 sacks in the four-year span leading up to the 2019 season. Another player Tomlin will not miss seeing in their usual full capacity.