The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their third regular season game of 2021 at home on Sunday afternoon against the Cincinnati Bengals and they’ll enter that contest marked as the favorite once again. Below are five key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do in the game on Sunday to come away with their second win of 2021 season.
Get Touchier With Najee – To date, Steelers rookie running back Najee Harris has 32 total touches in his first two NFL games. That’s not going to cut it all moving forward and especially with him being the team’s first round draft pick this year and bell cow running back right out of the chute. Steelers offensive coordinator Matt Canada must find ways to get the ball in Harris’ hands more starting on Sunday against the Bengals. A few well-designed running back screens and choice routes should be mixed in and especially if the Bengals insist on playing a middle-of-the-field safety most of the game. The Steelers need to get their guards on the move more starting on Sunday and let Harris run behind them. If Harris does not touch the football at least 23 times on Sunday, the result will likely be another loss for the Steelers.
Fix On Mixon – The Bengals offense isn’t likely to have wide receiver Tee Higgins or right guard Xavier Su’a-Filo on Sunday against the Steelers and that’s two of their offensive starters. With the Steelers defense banged up and missing several front seven starters, you can bet that the Bengals offense will attempt to run running back Joe Mixon early and often in an attempt to control the game and possess the football. Mixon already has 49 carries on the season for 196 yards and a touchdown. 25 of those 49 runs have been successful as well and that’s a strong percentage. 15 of Mixon’s 24 successful runs have also come on first downs. If the Steelers defense can’t stop Mixon early on Sunday, it’s likely going to make for a long game for that unit and possibly even longer if the Steelers offense can’t run the ball a third consecutive game.
Keep Lid On Heinz – In the Steelers Week 2 loss to Las Vegas Raiders at Heinz Field, the game was still very much undecided with 9:48 left in the fourth quester. That next play, however, was a 61-yard touchdown pass that went over the head of safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow isn’t known for his deep passing ability even though he has connected on two of his six pass attempts of 20 yards or longer in the first two weeks of the season with both connections resulting in touchdowns to rookie wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase down the right side of the field. If the Steelers defense manages to not give up more than one deep passing completion of 20 air yards or longer, it will go a long way in helping the team get a win.
Get Joe Burrowing Outside The Pocket – Burrow is still getting accustomed to playing on his surgically repaired knee and that has shown in the first two games as he’s getting rid of the football very quickly. If the Steelers defense can get Burrow to hold on to the football longer and get him to move off his spot in the pocket, there’s a very good chance that bad things will happen for the second-year quarterback. Remember, Burrow is still essentially a rookie and he’s already been sacked 42 times and intercepted eight times in 469 total drop backs. Whenever Burrow does leave the pocket on Sunday, he needs to be hit within the rules of the game. Quarterback pressure will be the Steelers best friend on Sunday when it comes to their defense.
Run Some Plays – Seems pretty simple to be a key, right? Well, the Steelers offense has run all of 111 plays so far this season while their defense has been on the field for 143 plays. The Steelers defense will also be without the likes of outside linebackers T.J Watt and Alex Highsmith on Sunday and defensive tackle Tyson Alualu is now on the reserve/Injured list with an ankle injury. Cornerback Joe Haden and inside linebacker Devin Bush are also both returning from groin injuries that forced them to miss the team’s Week 2 game. This Steelers defense is beat up and worn down, so the offense better be on the field 70 plays on Sunday against the Bengals.