The Cincinnati Bengals have a 5-5 record after losing to the Baltimore Ravens last week. Now they are 0-3 in the division, which also bumped them out of the AFC playoff race for now. To make matters worse, starting quarterback Joe Burrow was lost for the season with a wrist injury suffered during the game. However, not all is doom and gloom. The coaching staff have been here before and will find a way to move on without Burrow.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are coming to town and have their own issues. Their 13-10 loss last week to the Browns led to the Steelers being outgained for the 10th time this season, which caused the organization to fire offensive coordinator Matt Canada.
This will be a tough AFC matchup in which both teams must win to stay in the playoff conversation.
Will Jake Browning be the answer for the rest of the season?
Backup Jake Browning came into the game unexpectedly last week to go 8 of 14 yards, passing for 68 yards and a late touchdown to receiver Ja’Marr Chase. He also rushed four times for 40 yards. Browning can move the ball and the weapons to win games.
With Burrow out during the preseason due to a strained calf, Browning took most of the snaps, giving him a clear understanding of the offense and how to run it. Browning must take care of the football and not give up any easy turnovers. The Steelers have a top defensive line, so making the right reads while getting the ball out quickly will be critical. Hopefully, the coaching staff will call for running the ball from under center, bootlegs, and more play-action while establishing a running game to take the pressure off Browning.
I do like Browning’s confidence heading into this game. When asked this week about starting, he responded, “I would say at every level that I’ve played in, I’ve won, and so there’s something to be said about that,” You have to love attitude.
The Bengals offensive line will need to protect
The Bengal’s offensive line will be tested with the likes of Keeanu Benton, Alex Smith, and former Bengal Larry Ogunjobi. This offensive line must protect better if Browning can pull out a win. That means having a plan for all Pro T.J. Watt. Bengal fans may see more draws and screens to keep Watt off balance.
Right tackle Corrdell Volson has struggled in the past with Cameron Hayward and will need to figure out a way to keep him out of the backfield. Volson has been disappointing in pass protection this season and must dig deep for his new quarterback. Controlling the line of scrimmage is crucial.
Will the Bengals coaching staff call on Mixon to do more
The Bengals have done an excellent job feeding Joe Mixon the ball and will need to establish a run game earlier to help Browning. Left tackle Orlando Brown Jr., with the help of pulling right guard Alex Cappa has opened up some nice running lanes for Mixon to hit this season, and I see that trend continuing. They must lean on Mixon’s hard running to control the game.
The nice thing for Browning is that he can dump the ball off to Mixon if he feels pressure. Mixon scored a touchdown last week against the Ravens on a pass from Burrow, so look for Mixon to make some catches in this game.
Browning has access to the same weapons as Burrow.
The Bengals have the receiving corps to make secondaries worry. Having wide receivers like Chase and Tyler Boyd will be huge for Browning. Unfortunately, Higgins will be out again. Chase remains the significant play threat and may be used in several ways since Browning doesn’t have the arm strength to push it downfield. Browning did connect with Chase last week for a touchdown, so the relationship is there for big plays.
Boyd did have a significant drop against the Texans to win the game, but he has proven time and time again that he is consistent when called on. He is dependable over the middle and may be called on more in this game to take advantage of the Steeler’s backup linebackers.
Look for the return of rookie Andrei Iosivas to fill in for Higgins. At 6’3”, he becomes a big target, especially in the red zone.
Can the tight ends have another impactful week?
The Bengals have utilized their tight ends a ton recently. Irv Smith Jr, Drew Sample, and Tanner Hudson have all made big plays when called on. In fact, Hudson has become a vital part of the offense in the last few weeks, picking up crucial third downs. Browning threw to Hudson during the preseason, so that trust has already been established, giving him another weapon to throw to.
Can the Bengals apply pressure to Kenny Pickett?
Steeler’s quarterback Kenny Pickett hasn’t necessarily been the franchise quarterback the Steelers have hope for coming out of the University of Pitt. However, he does an excellent job of not turning over the ball. The Bengals will need to do a better job with their pass rush and not allow Pickett the time to pick and choose his receivers for big plays.
Like Browning, Pickett has weapons as well. Receivers George Pickett and Diontae Johnson can hurt you if left unattended. Bengals corner rookie D.J. Turner and veteran Chidobe Awuzie have the speed to keep up with the Steelers receivers; however, corner Cam Taylor-Britt will miss this game with a quad injury.
Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo must draw pressure packages to keep Pickett uncomfortable. If the Bengal’s defense can force some turnovers, that would help Browning and the offense.
All hands on deck
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday at his weekly news conference that running backs coach, Eddie Faulkner will take over offensive coordinator duties. Still, quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan will take the “bulk” of the playcalling responsibilities. With new people taking over the offense, I see them staying with the run.
The Steelers have rushed for over 160 yards in three straight games. Running back Najaee Harris is the workhorse and will need to be stopped at the line of scrimmage. Then there is Jaylen Warren, who has 80 carries for 493 yards and three touchdowns. Warren averages 62 yards per carry. The Bengals are second to last in stopping the run; if they can not find a way to slow him down, it will be a long day. Good news for the Stripes: defensive end Sam Hubbard will be back, which should help the run defense.
The Bengals have also struggled with opposing tight ends this season. Steelers tight end Pat Freiermuth has a history of making big plays against the Bengals. The Stripes’ secondary will need to contain Freiermuth from making impact plays.
Special teams will be called on to help win the game.
Bengals kicker Evan Mcpherson has the leg to keep them in the game. He is known for his consistency, from kicks over 50 yards; if Browning can get him within field goal range, Mcpherson could be the difference maker.
Rookie punter returner Charlie Jones can also do his part by making wise decisions and picking up the added yards, giving Browning a good field position. He is a weapon and has already had a punt return for a touchdown this year.
Playing at home certainly helps when playing a formidable divisional opponent. If the Bengals’ defense can stop the run and get to Pickett, they can come out on top. They must avoid giving up costly penalties and continue forcing turnovers. This is a game they can win and will need to if they want to stay in the AFC playoff hunt.
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