The Pittsburgh Steelers can now begin game-planning for the Cincinnati Bengals, knowing that they will be their first opponent for the 2022 regular season. But it will be the first game against the Bengals since 2003 in which they know (barring injury) that they won’t have Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback.
Of course, that is going to define the entire season while Roethlisberger enjoys his retirement and ticks off the time before he gets his gold jacket and bronze bust. The Steelers have looked for their next answer, drafting Kenny Pickett in the first round, but whether he’ll start that first game, nobody knows.
“It’s gonna be different. Ben’s won us some games there before”, defensive end Cameron Heyward, Roethlisberger’s longest-tenured teammate, said on the NFL Network about going into Cincinnati without Big Ben. “It’s gonna be a slugfest. Obviously, we’ve got our work cut out. They’ve got Joe Burrow, a high-explosive offensive with all the wide receivers, up-and-coming defense, and we’ve got to make sure we’re on our Ps and Qs”.
The Bengals are not only the defending AFC North champions, but the defending AFC champions, indeed coming up just short of actually winning the Super Bowl at the end of the 2021 season. They will certainly have the target on their backs this year.
On the flip side, the Steelers may end up being overlooked due to the uncertainty they face at the quarterback position. Outside of Pickett, they have two quarterbacks on the roster who were backups a year ago, including Mitch Trubisky. It won’t be the same without Roethlisberger, which puts a lot more pressure on the defense.
“Of course it does, but I think we embrace that”, Heyward said about the added pressure his group faces in the post-Roethlisberger era. “Pittsburgh’s always been a team that’s about their defense. Obviously, we’ve had a good offense in the past, but the onus is on the defense. We accept that, we look forward to it, and if our quarterback can get us just three points, I feel like we’ve got a chance”.
Now, it’s a bit bold to ask for no more than three points, but nevertheless, the sentiment is appreciated. The point he’s making is that the defense shouldn’t be giving away any points if they can help it, and if they do, it means that they didn’t do their jobs.
The Steelers gave up 398 points last year, which ranked 20th in the league, so there’s certainly room for improvement, especially right in the middle of that defense. Pittsburgh did try to address it with the addition of Myles Jack in free agency, and they are hoping that getting Tyson Alualu and Stephon Tuitt back from injury will get that side of the ball back to where they need to be.