The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their eleventh regular season game of 2021 on the road Sunday afternoon against the Cincinnati Bengals, and they’ll likely enter that contest marked as an underdog of three-points or more. Below are five key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do in the game Sunday afternoon at Paul Brown Stadium to come away with their sixth win of 2021 season.
Watt Must Smoke Reiffer – The Steelers did not have outside linebacker T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith in the team’s Week 3 loss to the Bengals. That game in Pittsburgh, a Bengals win, included the Steelers failing to sack quarterback Joe Burrow. On Sunday in Cincinnati, the Steelers will have Watt and Highsmith and that duo will be expected to get after Burrow who has been sacked 28 times this season. Watt needs to dominate Bengals right tackle Riley Reiff on Sunday as that specific battle could go a long way in determining the outcome of Sunday’s game. If Watt fails to provide consistent pressure from his left outside linebacker spot on Sunday, the Steelers will likely lose the game. Reiff has allowed 20 total pressures this season with four of those being sacks allowed. Reiff is a former first round draft pick with a lot of experience so he might be the best right tackle that Watt has faced so far this season. Burrow, by the way, only dropped back to pass 18 times in total in the Week 3 game. He must be made to drop back around double that amount on Sunday in Cincinnati.
Win The Chase Battle – The Bengals have quite the find in wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase as the first-round draft pick out of LSU enters Week 12 leading his team in catches (47), receiving yards (867), and receiving touchdowns (8). He’s also averaging 18.4 yards per catch this season to boot. In the Week 3 game in Pittsburgh, Chase registered four receptions for 65 yards with two touchdowns. One of those two touchdown catches went for 34 yards down the left side and late in the first half. It was a huge turning point in that game as well. The Steelers, who will be without cornerback Joe Haden on Sunday, just can’t let the rookie register explosive plays this time around. Additionally, the Steelers offense needs to get their own Chase, wide receiver Chase Claypool, involved heavily in the downfield passing game in Cincinnati. In Week 3, Claypool registered nine receptions for 96 yards, but he failed to find the end zone in that contest. Claypool will need a similar performance to the one he had in Week 3 if the Steelers are going to beat the Bengals. He should have plenty of chances as the Bengals are sure to give wide receiver Diontae Johnson a lot of attention in this Sunday rematch. Johnson did not play in the Week 3 game due to an injury.
Limit The Bungling This Time – In the Week 3 loss to the Bengals, the Steelers offense turned the football over twice. Both of those turnovers were interceptions by Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson. On one if those two interceptions, Steelers quarterback Be Roethlisberger threw the football right to the Bengals linebacker. The Bengals turned both of those interceptions into touchdowns thanks to their offense playing on short fields. If the turnovers weren’t bad enough, the Steelers also committed 10 penalties in that Week 3 game for 73 yards. Most of those penalties were on the offense and that just can’t happen in this Week 12 rematch. Self-inflicted wounds got the Steelers beat in Week 3. Limiting those self-inflicted wounds on Sunday will go a long way in getting revenge for that early-season loss in Pittsburgh.
40 Or Under For the 39-Year-Old QB – In the Steelers Week 3 loss to the Bengals, the 39-year-old Roethlisberger was required to drop back 62 times out of 77 total plays run by the offense. He was sacked four times in that game and hit seven other times. The Steelers offensive line is still not ready to handle having to pass protect that many times in a game and especially against a very good Bengals defensive front that includes the likes of defensive ends Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard, and defensive tackles D.J. Reader and Larry Ogunjobi. As good as the Bengals defensive front has been so far this season against the run, the Steelers offense must find a way to establish some semblance of a ground game on Sunday in Cincinnati. Using more heavy personnel packages might just be what the doctor ordered. Additionally, running right at Hendrickson on Sunday might just produce favorable results as he’s not overly great when it comes to getting off blocks quickly. If the Steelers offense is going to run another 77 plays on Sunday against the Bengals, half of them must be running plays this time around. While rookie running back Najee Harris did have 28 total touches in that Week 3 game against the Bengals, only 14 of them were runs. A lot of the other 14 touches Harris had in that contest were merely check-down passes to him. If Roethlisberger needs to drop back more than his age on Sunday, the odds are good that the Steelers will ultimately lose again to the Bengals.
Ground Control To Major Tomlin – The Steelers run defense hasn’t been great so far this season. In fact, the Steelers defense enters Sunday having allowed a league-worst 4.76 yards per run for the season. On average, the Steelers defense is allowing 126.6 yards rushing per game. On first down and 10 this season, however, the Steelers defense is allowing just a 45.7 percent success rate. The main issue has been that 24 first and 10 runs have gone for 10 yards or longer with three of those going for touchdowns. If the run defense can stop giving up those big running plays, it would make a huge difference. The consistency just hasn’t been there against the run this season. It’s been feast or famine for the most part. On Sunday in Cincinnati, the Steelers defense will get a huge test in the form of running back Joe Mixon. While Mixon has just 11 runs of 10 yards or longer on the season, three of them came against the Steelers back in Week 3. As previously mentioned, the Steelers will have Watt and Highsmith in Sunday’s rematch and hopefully them being in uniform will impact the pass rush as well as the run defense.