Steelers Must Exploit Bengals’ Razor-Thin Cornerback Depth

While the Pittsburgh Steelers grappled with some Covid-19 concerns this week, they haven’t been the only one, as the Cincinnati Bengals had their own incident, with multiple players testing positive and several others being deemed close contacts. Each side will also have an assistant coach unavailable to attend the game.

Where the Bengals have been hit the hardest, however, has been on the injury front, and they will find themselves rather thin today at the cornerback position. While they will have the services of two of their top three cornerbacks in William Jackson IIII and Mackenzie Alexander, who was signed in the offseason to be their primary slot defender, they haven’t had their other starter all season.

That would be Trae Waynes, who is not only on injured reserve but now also on the Covid-19 reserve list on top of that. Darius Phillips had been the player primarily responsible for starting in his absence, but he was just placed on injured reserve with a groin injury. LeShaun Sims will also miss the game due to a concussion.

The Bengals don’t have much else left available to them. One is Tony Brown, a depth signing who has played one snap on defense this season. He spent the past two years with the Green Bay Packers, logging almost 300 snaps as a rookie, but just 47 last year.

Right now, he is their number three cornerback unless they get creative, and they also called up another cornerback from the practice squad. One option that they have is swinging Jessie Bates III, their starting free safety, down into the slot and bringing former starter Shawn Williams onto the field. Brandon Wilson is also a versatile defensive back.

None of these are good options overall, however. Which means that the Steelers should endeavor to exploit this and try to force the Bengals to put as many defensive backs on the field as possible. That means the 01 personnel package that has risen to prominence over the course of the past two weeks.

Diontae Johnson or Chase Claypool against Troy Brown? I’ll take that matchup 100 times out of 100. And these circumstances will also limit their ability to play Bates the way they prefer to, so that’s an added bonus. This is really the equivalent of the Steelers being down to Josh Victorian several years ago.

As if that were not enough, not only have they traded Carlos Dunlap, but Geno Atkins will miss the game for personal reasons, which are undisclosed. While they are getting Sam Hubbard back, the recently-claimed Takkarist McKinley won’t be available to play because he is still clearing the Covid-19 procedures.

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