A Pivotal AFC North Matchup: How Do the Steelers Matchup With the Bengals?

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

A Pivotal AFC North Matchup: How Do the Steelers Matchup With the Bengals?

NFL

A Pivotal AFC North Matchup: How Do the Steelers Matchup With the Bengals?

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Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a must win game tomorrow when they face off against the Cincinnati Bengals in Paul Brown Stadium. Despite Pittsburgh and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s historic success in that stadium, this year is very different. This season, the Bengals matchup extremely well with the Steelers, making this important game even more difficult than it normally is. 

The Steelers and Bengals faced off earlier in the season, when in week three Cincinnati waltzed into Heinz Field and blew the Steelers out 24-10. After the game, Bengals wide receiver and Pittsburgh native, Tyler Boyd said the Steelers “Gave up” multiple times in a press conference following the Bengals win. 

Since their matchup earlier in the season, it is hard to argue the Steelers have improved that much. Since the game on September 26, the Steelers have a record of 4-2-1, but in the past few weeks, the team has taken a step back. Their last game, against the Chargers, was a bit of an anomaly on defense because of all the injuries, but some of the same issues that have plagued the unit all season showed up again. Pittsburgh has struggled against the run, and is prone to giving up deep passes, and this was shown on full display last Sunday. 

Therein lies the big problem the Steelers will face on Sunday: these are Cincinnati’s strengths. On the ground, the Bengals are good, averaging about 103 yards per game and running for 3.9 yards per carry. While these numbers aren’t great, they employ a top 10 running back in the NFL in Joe Mixon. After a down year last season, Mixon has shown why he belongs in the elite category, as he has the fifth most rushing yards with 759 and has the fourth most rushing touchdowns with nine. 

Pittsburgh has a banged up front seven, and Mike Tomlin’s “The Standard is the Standard” has to be proven by the back ups this weekend or else Cincy will just control the clock all game and break the Steelers down with smash mouth football. 

However, running isn’t the only way the Bengals offense matches up really well with the Steelers, as the Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase deep ball connection could cause some problems tomorrow afternoon. In the first matchup, Chase racked up 65 yards and two touchdowns from Burrow, including a 34-yard deep ball at the end of the first half. Burrow has a great connection with most of his receivers, but his connection with Chase is on a different level.

Already burned by the duo once this season, Pittsburgh cannot let Chase get free deep again or the outcome of the game will likely favor the Bengals. With Minkah Fitzpatrick and possibly Joe Haden back, the Steelers pass defense should not be as bad as it was last week against the Chargers, but overall that aspect of the defense just hasn’t been great overall this season. 

Moving to the other side of the ball, the Bengals once again matchup extremely well with the Steelers. In their last meeting, the Bengals defensive line completely dominated Pittsburgh. Najee Harris had no room to run, and Roethlisberger had no time to find his receivers. This week, Steelers offensive line is a bit banged up, as left guard Kevin Dotson is on short term IR with an ankle injury. With backup JC Hassenauer out as well this week as well, the Steelers are down to their third string right guard. That would be Joe Haeg, a swing tackle who got mauled by Joey Bosa on the Steelers final drive last Sunday. 

While the Bengals run a mix of both 3-4 and 4-3, they had a ton of success stopping the Steelers run game when running a 4-3. This season in general, Pittsburgh has struggled against 4-3 defenses, as the extra defensive lineman has given their brand new offensive line fits. This is a matchup that favors the Bengals heavily, and if they can blow up the running lanes and get to Roethlisberger quickly, it will be a long day for Pittsburgh’s offense. 

However, it is not all doom and gloom for the Steelers. Yes, it will be an uphill battle for Pittsburgh to come out of this game with a victory, but it is not impossible. With Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback the Steelers offense has continued to improve all season, with last Sunday against the Chargers their best performance. The most impressive aspect of their offense last Sunday was their success in the air. Los Angeles has a bad run defense, but their success against the pass has been the one aspect of the defense they could look to with pride. Yet, Roethlisberger threw for 273 yards and three touchdowns as the Steelers offense put up 37 points, their most all season. 

One aspect of the Steelers offense that is different from the week three matchup that may cause the Bengals some fits is the addition of wide receiver Diontae Johnson. Johnson missed the week three matchup with a knee injury, which limited the Steelers offense. Johnson is the only receiver on the team who can beat press coverage and get open consistently. With him in the fold, he can keep the Bengals secondary honest, as he not only consistently gets open near the sidelines and underneath, but also can beat teams deep. Johnson has multiple touchdowns on deep bombs from Roethlisberger, including in games against the Broncos and Packers. 

Overall, the Bengals matchup extremely well with the Steelers, and on paper, the Bengals should come out victorious and put the Steelers playoff hopes on life support. But, football is not played on paper, it is played on grass. Tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. EST, an intense game of football between two rivals will be played, and any fan of the sport will not want to miss it.

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