Two AFC North foes will face off today for the first matchup of the regular season for either side. The Cincinnati Bengals host the Pittsburgh Steelers, the former riding a three-game winning streak in the rivalry, a first in many years. How do the Steelers break that streak?
It starts with the offensive line holding up well enough to simply allow the offense to function. If they can slow down Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard enough to allow Mitch Trubisky to establish a rhythm, and if the interior of Mason Cole, James Daniels, and Kevin Dotson, can provide Najee Harris with some running lanes, then the Steelers have a chance in this one. The spotlight will be on Moore and how he handles the rush.
On the reverse side, the defense has already seen what Ja’Marr Chase is capable of. He scored two touchdowns against them in the first meeting last season. They have to come prepared, and all three corners—Cameron Sutton, Ahkello Witherspoon, and Levi Wallace—have to be ready to guard him, possible with man-on-man, given the attention Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd will also draw.
Any defensive game plan has to begin with T.J. Watt. Can he wreak havoc against the Bengals’ new right tackle, La’el Collins? This will be the first time the two have squared off against one another. Watt did have a minor knee injury at the end of the preseason, but he hasn’t even been on the injury report.
Okay, now let’s talk run defense. For me, it’s about the second level. Myles Jack has looked very good so far through the summer, personally better than I was expecting him to, which leaves me somewhat encouraged. As far as Devin Bush goes, well, he can’t get any worse. But he could stay just as bad. The good news is that they are probably more liable to pull him this year if he continues to struggle.
My focus will be on Mitch Trubisky and how he navigates pressure and reads the field. I think we can presuppose that he is going to be pressured with moderate frequency in the best-case scenario. He showed during the preseason that his mobility will allow him to escape the pocket, but I found myself less convinced with how he has surveyed the field in those situations, including choosing to exit the pocket rather than seeing an open target before the pressure gets home.
Then there’s the second-year skill players. I already mentioned Najee Harris, but we also have to talk about Pat Freiermuth. The tight end could be in for a lot of targets coming from Trubisky this year, and the preseason hinted at their finding ways to get him more vertical, which is a good sign. Now they have to apply that to this Bengals defense.
Of utmost importance is ball security. This is not an offense that is going to be able to win many games while losing the turnover margin, so Trubisky is going to have to do his part and protect the football at all costs.
I also can’t fail to mention the new return game, with Gunner Olszewski leading the charge. Can he possibly provide a spark, particularly in the return game, that has been largely missing?