The Pittsburgh Steelers have managed three wins thus far in 2022. The first two times they had a chance to start stacking them back to back have been failures. Can they finally secure consecutive victories today for the first time this year? If so, it will have to come at the expense of the Cincinnati Bengals.
It will help that the defense is expected to be at (roughly) full strength for the first time since the season opener, when they beat these Bengals. Outside linebacker T.J. Watt, safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, and linebacker Myles Jack will all be on the field at the same time, or so it’s anticipated, pending the cooperation of the safety’s post-surgical bodily recuperation.
While the anticipated return of Fitzpatrick is, of course, nice, the big story is still Watt, and particularly Watt now with a game under his belt and legs that feel less like noodles. Plus the defense only had to play 47 snaps last week, so they didn’t even have to have all that huge of an impact.
They’re going to have to get after running back Joe Mixon, though, as Cincinnati has been riding him more since wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase has been out. The back scored five touchdowns in the Bengals’ last game before the bye week.
Many players and coaches have talked about how the gameplan has to being with stopping Mixon. The goal is to force the game into quarterback Joe Burrow’s hands, no matter how good those hands might be.
Once they manage that, then it’s time to get the pass rush going, and Alex Highsmith is right there with Watt to get after Burrow, whom they sacked seven times back in the opener. Now they can’t count on that sort of production again, but they have to anticipate their best pressure rate of the year since that game.
But the offense is going to have to do a little something as well. Can their own run game build off of the 200-plus-yard effort from last week? If so, it will probably follow a similar mold that doesn’t rely solely on the running backs, and also includes quarterback Kenny Pickett using his legs to churn out some yardage as well.
Having starting cornerback Chidobe Awuzie on the Reserve/Injured List has to be a tempting matchup to take advantage of, especially with the Bengals beefing up the middle with the return of D.J. Reader at defensive tackle.
Still, they must work to establish the run, and I suspect a further expansion of 12 personnel with Zach Gentry in particular is going to be in order. Gentry saw his second-highest snap total of the season in their last outing.
Unfortunately, we can’t leave off without discussing the special teams. Kicker Matthew Wright is under the spotlight after missing two field goals last week with Chris Boswell on the shelf. And punter Pressley Harvin III, well, you just don’t know what you’re going to get from him on a weekly basis. But perhaps return man Steven Sims can ignite a spark at some point during the game.