When the Steelers Run the Ball:
Steelers Running Attack: 31st – 77.4 ypg
Bengals Run Defense: 5th – 98.2 ypg
It’s hard to believe we are talking about the Pittsburgh Steelers being ranked 31st in the NFL in rushing and averaging a paltry 77.4 ypg. The Steelers took Le’Veon Bell in the 2nd round to help improve the run offense, and though he has 5 TDs, Bell is the only Pittsburgh RB with a TD (rushing or passing) and is averaging just 3.4 ypc.
In fact, there is not a RB on the Steelers averaging 4.0 ypc. Unfortunately for the Steelers, the Bengals bring the #5 ranked rush defense to the Steel City and provide and extremely tough test for the Steelers. 4 weeks ago in Pittsburgh, against the 6th ranked rushing defense (Detroit), the Steelers racked up 40 rushing yards and in their last two games combined, the Steelers have 156 yards rushing.
The Bengals have 164 and 155 rushing yards in each of their last two games. With the Steelers having the 7th ranked passing offense and throwing the ball 64.33% of the time (more than all but 3 teams), the Bengals will certainly key on the passing game and invite the Steelers to run the ball. With this weak Steelers O-Line going against a strong Bengals front 7, I see the Steelers struggles in the run game continuing Sunday night.
When the Steelers Throw the Ball:
Steelers Passing Attack: 7th – 266.8 ypg
Bengals Pass Defense: 8th – 222.4 ypg
With the 7th ranked passing attack combined with the injuries the Bengals have in the secondary and the issues the Steelers have running the ball, expect the Steelers game plan to involve lots of passing plays. In their first matchup, the Steelers clearly saw something they liked in their matchups with Adam Jones – and they exploited it.
In that matchup, Jones was the 3rd CB. On Sunday night, the Bengals are going to be leaning on Jones as their top CB with Kirkpatrick on the other side and Ghee or Crocker in the slot. With the Steelers showing how they could exploit Jones, I cringe at what they may do with Jones as the top CB and Kirkpatrick and Ghee as #2 and 3.
If Kirkpatrick and Ghee don’t prove they can hold their own, it could be a long night for the Bengals secondary – and the Bengals. Pressure is always key to shutting down a potent passing attack, with the injuries in the Bengals secondary, it will be imperative for the Bengals to get pressure on Roethlisberger. With 36 sacks on the year, and going against a line that has allowed 40 sacks, the Bengals should be able to get to Roethlisberger.
If they can, they can hide the inexperienced secondary. If they can’t, the Bengals may need a lot of points to win. While I would still be concerned and give the Steelers the edge in this matchup, I would feel a lot if Newman was healthy. Without him, the Steelers have a huge opportunity.