I’ve become accustomed to writing these with the Pittsburgh Steelers coming off of wins, to be honest. They won the first 11 games of the season, after all, so I can’t be blamed for that. All of a sudden, now they are riding a two-game losing streak and hoping to get things right.
It couldn’t come against a more ideal opponent, as they always seem to beat the Cincinnati Bengals. In fact, they have beaten the Bengals in each of their last 11 matchups, dating all the way back to the 2015 season—the last time Cincinnati actually had a good team.
This was supposed to be the year that the turnaround began, and admittedly, rookie quarterback Joe Burrow showed a ton of promise. But he won’t be out there on the field today. The Bengals will have a backup quarterback who has, let’s say, not been great in the past.
In contrast to previous backups they’ve been thrust upon, the Steelers have tape and have had the opportunity to make preparations. There isn’t anything that should take them by surprise from the quarterback position.
Like last time, they won’t have Joe Mixon at running back, either, so truth be told, it would be an awful shame if they were to have much success running the football against the Steelers’ front seven, even with injuries factoring in.
On the other side of the ball, it’s time for the Steelers to show much better on the ground. The Bengals have one of the worst run defenses in the league, even allowing an average of 4.6 yards per carry, which is exceptionally bad. They traded Carlos Dunlap, and Geno Atkins is on the Reserve/Injured List.
Basically, regardless of who they have in the backfield, if Pittsburgh can’t run the ball in this game, they’re not going to be able to run the ball against anybody, either in the regular season or in the postseason, and that’s…an issue.
The passing game, too, has been an issue. Predicated on finding consistent success in the short area, Ben Roethlisberger’s skill options have recently been putting the ball on the ground. Other times, they’re not even getting the chance, because defenders have been able to key on the short routes, either jumping routes or even getting batted balls at the line of scrimmage.
One thing we definitely want to see is if they can start opening up the passing game more and hitting more played in the deep and intermediate portions of the field. Particularly, I want to see them do so on-schedule, and not out of situations of necessity. It’s easier to find soft spots in zone coverage late in games when you’re trailing than when you’re trying to drive the field in a one-score game at the start of the second quarter.
A special mention here goes to Diontae Johnson, who has dropped seven or so balls in the past three weeks. He needs more than just one game to redeem himself, but having a strong performance today would be a good and very important start. He’s coming off of a good week of practice, according to reports, but it will come down to what he does in the stadium.