The Pittsburgh Steelers are looking to right the ship today after dropping a game that most felt they should win, being bested by the visiting Las Vegas Raiders and spoiling their home opener. They host the AFC North’s Cincinnati Bengals today, but they do so shorthanded, and that will be a theme in this column.
First and foremost, who dresses at outside linebacker? Alex Highsmith has already been ruled out, but T.J. Watt was regarded as questionable after practicing on a limited basis all week. They don’t want to risk making his groin injury worse and turning it into something that lingers for a long stretch of the season.
That puts a huge burden on Melvin Ingram’s shoulders, but he’s been ‘the guy’ before as a former three-time Pro Bowler. He can tote his own water, but do they have enough able bodies to properly irrigate the whole field, if we’re really going to torture this analogy?
Elsewhere, the Steelers are thin along the defensive line. Tyson Alualu is probably not coming back all year after fracturing his ankle last week. Isaiah Buggs is now their starting nose tackle, a role with which he is rather unfamiliar. He did have a good offseason. But the absence of Carlos Davis for a second week is an added burden.
And that falls upon the shoulders of Chris Wormley, Henry Mondeaux, and rookie Isaiahh Loudermilk. We may yet see Wormley log some snaps at nose tackle after all, though Mondeaux and even Heyward are likely next in line until Davis returns.
The biggest question for me is, can they generate enough pressure without blitzing? And if they can’t, can they blitz effectively? Their blitzes didn’t particularly work well last week, using some personnel who aren’t versed in blitzing—but who do they have who is? If they want to blitz effectively, my guess is it will have to be the ol’ faithful A-gap blitzes with Devin Bush and Joe Schobert. This may be a game where we really miss Vince Williams for this reason.
Flipping to the offensive side of the ball…there could be issues. My biggest concern is the absence of Diontae Johnson, the team’s surest route runner and the player Ben Roethlisberger goes to when nobody else is open, which is a little too often.
If Roethlisberger is finding nobody open, and has to hold onto the ball longer, I don’t know that this offensive line is going to hold up against Sam Hubbard and Trey Hendrickson. I can see Chukwuma Okorafor going from flatback to on his back for a second week in a row.
Can they get anything going in the running game? That depends as much on the growth of running back Najee Harris as it does on the offensive line. There are holes that he is not hitting, folks. Some of them are hard to fine, but he’s got to learn how to identify them, and even how to manipulate them open by how he positions himself behind the line.
On a special teams note, Pressley Harvin III is coming off of a good game last week after being uneven in the opener. Can he put together a second consistent game in a row? This would be a bad week to be shanking a punt or two and providing the Bengals with a short field.