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 night’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals
X Factor: LB And DB’s Eyes
In the first game against the Cincinnati Bengals, albeit against Joe Burrow and not Ryan Finley like they’ll see Monday, the Steelers came out with a clear gameplan. Take away Tyler Boyd in the slot, protect the middle of the field, and force throws to the sideline or vertical.
I imagine they’ll employ a similar gameplan against Finley tomorrow night. And it’s the smart strategy. Force a young, third string QB to make some high-caliber throws. If the Bengals are wise, they’ll play into the Steelers’ plans.
In trying to keep their flailing offense going, the Bengals have relied on plenty of under-center playaction, something Steelers’ Nation has been asking for what feels like years. Their strategy with Brandon Allen, and I presume Finley, were plenty of boots, a lot of playaction, a lot of chances to flood zones or hit the deep ball. It hasn’t been effective enough, they’re a two-win team after all, but that’s been the idea.
Though the Bengals are a bad running team especially without Joe Mixon, you don’t need a strong run game to set up playaction. You just need to sell run well. Defenders don’t play the run less aggressively just because a team hasn’t been good at it. In any game, they have run/pass keys. If they get a run key, a low hat read by an offensive linemen, they’re going to cheat up like it’s a run. The best playaction teams aren’t always the best rushing offenses (though they are often intertwined). They’re the ones who make runs and passes like the same. And the Bengals actually do a decent job of that.
So the onus will be on the Steelers’ second and third level players, chiefly inside linebackers and safeties, to be disciplined and have good eyes. That’s Avery Williamson, Marcus Allen, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and Terrell Edmunds. To not get fooled and suckered in by playaction and beat over the top by the likes of Tee Higgins or even AJ Green, still capable of having the occasional decent performance. Keep the ball in front, dare Finley to work the middle of the field, go on long drives, stay on schedule with a meager run game, and try to put up points that way. Odds are, they won’t.