As we’ll do every week to get you ready for the upcoming game, our X Factor of the week. Sometimes it’s a player, unit, concept, or scheme. Our X Factor for tomorrow’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
X Factor: Vertical Pass Game
If the Steelers can’t get the deep ball going against the Cincinnati Bengals, man, I don’t know what defense they can jumpstart it against. There’s no question the vertical passing game has been an underwhelming element of the team’s offense, the one question mark Ben Roethlisberger hasn’t been able to answer.
That’s not all on the quarterback. This is a two-way street, passer and receiver, and Roethlisberger is throwing to a pretty young crowd. But this offense is halfway through the season. Talk about Roethlisberger’s rust, young receivers adjusting, building chemistry between the two is beginning to sound tired. Time for this offense to figure it out.
Cincinnati is ripe for the picking. They’ve given up 34 passes of 20+ yards, the third most of any defense in football. And they’re giving them up in chunks. Ten against Cleveland in the two games against the Browns this year. Seven such plays allowed by the Colts and Jaguars, four more from the Titans and another three by the Chargers. The Bengals’ secondary has talent but it’s struggled and they’re dealing with injury too. CB Darius Phillips will miss Sunday’s game with a groin injury suffered against the Tennessee Titans.
A lack of pass rush hasn’t helped their DBs either. One of the worst pass rush teams in football. Sam Hubbard has been hurt and he should return but Carl Lawson has been the sole source of pressure, the only defender with more than one sack on the season. That’s given quarterbacks plenty of time to feast downfield. Roethlisberger should be able to do the same, given how well the o-line has done at protecting him. He’s been sacked just ten times in eight games, his 3.4% sack rate tied third lowest among qualified QBs.
Any of the Steelers’ weapons could get vertical. Chase Claypool is a freaky athlete. Diontae Johnson lightning quick. James Washington was drafted specifically for his big play ability while JuJu Smith-Schuster is a unique threat down the seam. This is the week to chunk the Bengals, build an early lead, and ensure the Steelers aren’t playing another heart-stopping final five minutes.