Can the Pittsburgh Steelers stop the bleeding, after tying the winless Detroit Lions at home and then dropping a game against the Los Angeles Chargers on the road? They were on a four-game winning streak prior to recent events, and are looking to reverse their fortune once again, this time in a familiar spot where they’ve had much success in recent years, on the road against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Unfortunately, this is a Bengals team that is better than those they’ve played for a number of years, and that goes for both sides of the ball. Both teams, however, have grown since their Week 3 matchup in which the Bengals comfortably prevailed, outscoring Pittsburgh 17-3 in the final 31 minutes.
Priority number one, I believe, is the run defense and stopping Joe Mixon. While the Bengals’ running game has not necessarily been the epitome of efficiency, it has more often than not been effective and better than in recent years past, with the added bonus of actually being able to find the end zone with regularity. Mixon has nine rushing touchdowns, fourth-most in the NFL.
That’s thanks in large part to a reworked but also developing offensive line, and change at the coaching level. The Bengals did run pretty well, though not extensively, against Pittsburgh last time. I would expect them to run until they are shown that they can’t, today.
Of course, when you have Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase, you’re going to take your shots, as well. According to Pro Football Focus, only Tyler Lockett has more than Chase’s 23 deep targets in the passing game this year. He has nine receptions on deep targets (2nd) for 375 yards (2nd) and four touchdowns (1st).
And as we saw last week, the Steelers’ secondary can still be leaky against the deep ball. In fact, they are not by any means one of the better defenses in terms of preventing explosive plays, something that was a signature for them for the past two years. The Bengals have cooled off a bit in this area. The Steelers must keep them cool.
And they’ll probably have to flip the script on offense, as well. They managed to score 37 points last week, but that was while playing from behind, and benefitting from some very short fields thanks to various splash plays, from an interception to a blocked punt to a turnover on downs. They started in the red zone twice, and in field goal range three times, netting them 17 of their 37.
Focus will be on a returning T.J. Watt and his matchup with Riley Reiff, but I’m also very interested in seeing Alex Highsmith going up against Jonah Williams at left tackle. Highsmith has been up and down, and this would be a good time to see him put in a complete game.
As a bonus, we get to play returner roulette. Ray-Ray McCloud is on the Reserve/COVID-19 List. They called up wide receiver Anthony Miller from the practice squad to take his place. What does that mean, exactly?