The Cincinnati Bengals are 5-3 coming out of the bye week and are headed to Pittsburgh to take on the (3-6) Steelers for the second time this season. The first time they played in week one did not go as planned for Joe Burrow and company, with Burrow throwing four interceptions, being sacked seven times, and losing the long snapper to injury, which probably led to the missed kick to win the game. Yet. Burrow threw for 338 yards and almost won the game. So what does this matchup look like the second time around?
Divisional games are challenging, especially when the Bengals play the Steelers. History has shown that this will be a hard-hitting competition on both sides. If they are serious about making a playoff run, this is a must-win game; the Stripes need to show that they can be more consistent by winning this game while coming away with their first divisional win.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference
Joe Shiesty is back to normal.
Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow was recovering from an appendectomy surgery the first time these two teams met up, which probably explains his having one of the worst games in his career. In his weekly press conference, reporters asked how he was different from how he was in week one, to which Burrow responded, “For one, I am healthier, and I will be smarter with the ball. I am not going to throw four interceptions”.
Burrow feels more comfortable with his offensive line, allowing him to find his stride in this offense. Even though top receiver Ja’Marr Chase is still out with a hip injury, Burrow has used all his weapons; Some would say that he has learned to be more patient in taking short passes when the long game is unavailable. Then there is his ability to make plays outside the pocket.
Burrow needs to take care of the ball and grab the momentum early in the game.
The key matchups will be in the trenches.
It is no surprise that the Steeler’s defense will be as close to 100% as it has been all year. Their front four of T.J Watt, Cameron Heywood, Larry Ogunjobi, and Alex Highsmith are some of the best players in the NFL. It will be an excellent test for a Bengals offensive line that has finally started to gel and come together as the season progresses.
The first time all-pro Watt played against Bengals right tackle La’el Collins he recorded one sack and an interception. Still, Collins had not participated in hardly any practices coming into that game. After taking a week to rest up in the bye week, Collins will need to limit Watt’s game-wrecking skills and his ability to cause havoc in the backfield. Collins has played much better in recent weeks containing Cameron Jordan of the Saints and Brian Burns of the Panthers. This matchup will be something to keep an eye on.
The other key matchup will be on the other side of the line with Bengals right tackle Jonah Williams against Alex Hightower. William has struggled this season and may need some help; Hightower recorded three sacks in their first meeting, so Williams will need to play one of his best games to keep him off Burrow. Check out our US online sports betting sites for betting on the Bengals/Steelers!
Establishing a ground game early
In his last game against the Panthers, Joe Mixon proved that he could still cripple a defense. Scoring five touchdowns in that game gives the Steelers something to think about when game-planning for the Bengal’s offense. The Bengals typically run well against the Steelers, rushing 4.6 yards per carry.
If the offensive can create some holes up front, the Bengals power game could seal the deal taking pressure off Burrow while off-setting the impressive defensive front line of the Steelers.
Mixon needs to have a solid day of running the rock. Hopefully, Chris Evans will be healthy enough to play a role in some third-down packages.
Higgins and Boyd are looking to have a big day.
Pittsburg has ranked toward the bottom of the league in secondary production this season which spells out opportunities for receiver Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. Steelers cornerback James Pierre is third in completion percentage allowed by a cornerback on targets in the NFL and more than likely be on Higgins most of the game. Pierre will not shut Higgins down but will keep him on his toes.
With Ja’marr Chase out again this week, Higgins will likely draw a double team most of the game, which should open up options for other receivers.
Growing up not far from the Steelers stadium and playing for the University of Pittsburgh always motivates Boyd to play his best when he returns every year. Whether playing in the slot or moving outside, Boyd is a weapon. Expect more one-on-one opportunities for Boyd, allowing him and Burrow to find the soft spot in the coverage. Steelers allow the second-most yards in the league to opposing slot receivers, so this could be another big day for Boyd.
Fitzpatrick is more than likely back.
Steelers’ top safety Minkah Fitzpatrick is set to play against the Bengals after undergoing an appendectomy. The real question is, how much playing time will he get? Damontae Kazee filled in last week and was solid in his play. They could go with three safeties on the field, allowing Fitzpatrick to roam, but then again, how much will he be on the field after surgery? If Fitzpatrick is limited in playing time, this could be even better for Boyd to put up big numbers.
The boys are back in town.
With all the talk of the Steeler’s front four, people lose insight into how good the Bengals front four are when healthy. Trey Hendrickson, Sam Hubbard, and B.J. Hill will all slow up the run game and wreak havoc on rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett. If they can get to Pickket often and force him to make uncomfortable throws downfield, this game could be over before it starts. Pickett is known to throw interceptions under pressure so getting to him is a priority.
Running-stopping D.J. Reader is making his debut after missing some games due to injury. He is the rock in the middle that will likely see a double team, which should help take pressure off the rest of the defensive line. Look for Reader to resume his leadership skills while on the field.
Stopping the Steeler’s run game.
The running game of the Steelers had not performed well from what they had hoped for when they drafted Najee Harris. Although he is a talented back, his numbers have not reflected his ability this season. Now he is splitting his carries with Jaylen Warren, a smaller, faster back who hits holes very fast.
Shutting down the running game will force Pickett to make more passes, even though he has been more reluctant after giving up some interceptions. Taking away the running game forces their rookie quarterback to beat you.
Taking away Pickett’s primary targets,
Steeler’s receivers Diontae Johnson and George Pickens will be called to do more now that Chase Claypool was traded away. Bengal’s top cornerbacks, Eli Apple and Cam Taylor-Britt, will have the job containing Johnson and Pickett. With help from the Bengal’s veteran safeties, Vonn Bell and Jessie Bates, it could be a long day for Pittsburgh.
However, tight end Pat Freiermuth has the potential to have an impact on the game. The good news is that former Steerler corner Mike Hilton and Bengals top linebacker Logan Wilson are both options for shutting Freiermuth down.
Special teams could matter.
Kicker Chris Boswell is on IR for the Steelers and has been replaced with Matthew Wright, who has had a shaky performance to his start. The Bengals will differently have the advantage with kicker Evan McPherson if the game comes down to field goals. Because of the crosswinds, it is always challenging to kick at Acrisure Stadium so a good field position will matter in this game. Check out our guide to the top football betting sites. The Grueling Truth gives you all the information you need to make money betting on the games.
Taking advantage of turnovers, starting downs with good field positions, and coming out to a fast start will all be keys to winning the game.
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