As they have under every other scenario so far this season, the Pittsburgh Steelers have run through the first half of their divisional slated unblemished, having recorded victories over the Cleveland Browns, the Baltimore Ravens, and now the Cincinnati Bengals over the course of the past five weeks.
They still have rematches with each of those teams, of course, including a home game against the currently 6-2 (pending tonight’s result) Ravens on Thanksgiving, but they’re obviously off to a very good start. And This evening’s game was an important introductory course for one player in particular: the Bengals’ first-overall pick, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, quarterback Joe Burrow.
Making his ninth start, the rookie finished his first game against the Steelers defense having completed just 21 of 40 pass attempts for 213 yards (averaging 5.3 yards per attempt) with one touchdown pass, which came on fourth down, though he did not turn the ball over. The defense was able to get to him four times for sacks.
“I think it’s very important to welcome quarterbacks in the AFC North in an appropriate way”, T.J. Watt, who contributed half of those sacks, told reporters after the game. “Scoring points like that. Holding the offense, the way we did. We try to do that to the best of our ability. We know what Joe Burrow is. Their franchise quarterback, and we’re just trying to let him know what he can expect when comes in Pittsburgh”.
The Steelers had nine quarterback hits during the game overall, with four of them coming from Watt, and Burrow took several good shots throughout the afternoon, multiple times coming up limping. It was somewhat of a surprise to see him come out for the final drive of a 36-10 game the way he last left the field.
While they did not pick off a pass, the Steelers’ defensive backs also got their hands on four of Burrow’s passes for breakups. Joe Haden, the veteran cornerback now in his 11th season, had three of them on his own, and agreed with Watt’s stressing of the importance of having a welcome wagon for new quarterbacks, “one thousand percent”.
“It was more of a respect factor too; Joe Burrow is a great young quarterback and we know he’s going to be in the division for a very long time; so, we kind of wanted to set the tone with him”, he added. “We didn’t want him to think he was just going to be playing Pittsburgh and throwing it wherever he wanted to, running around”.
“We know that he’s going to be a very good talent, they believe in him and they have every right to”, Haden continued, “but we just wanted to make sure that we put pressure on him and never let him get comfortable to know he’s going to be playing against us for a long time”.
Burrow is going to play for a long time. He is going to be good for a long time. There is a good chance that he is going to make the Bengals a competitive team in the relatively near future. But the Steelers are letting him know earlier that he is never going to get an easy win against them. After all, they have now lost 11 consecutive games dating back to 2015.