When the Bengals and Steelers clash at Heinz Field, Cincinnati’s offense will have to find a way. Running the ball could become a huge factor.
No matter how the players try to spin it, this is more than another game. This is the game that most fans wait for. It is, unfortunately, the measuring stick for the Cincinnati Bengals franchise. There is a hatred which arises when the Pittsburgh Steelers are next on the schedule. Don’t believe the downplay. This is a game that means a ton. Essentially, Andy Dalton and the offense have to show up for the party.
Looking back at the Bengals’ 2016 catastrophe of a season, the Steelers accomplished what Cincinnati needs to do. The gang from Pittsburgh was able to sweep the Bengals on their way to an AFC North crown. In the midst of that disaster, Dalton was less than pedestrian. The first game–Week 2–was a game at Heinz Field that got away. More appropriately, it was the one that was blown.
Of the players who had multiple targets and receptions, the best production came from Tyler Kroft, Tyler Boyd and Giovani Bernard. You want raw stats? Kroft was 3-of-4 (75%), Boyd reeled in 6-of-8 (75%) and Gio snagged 9-of-11 (81.8%). If those numbers were spread out over the receiving corps that day, Dalton’s completion percentage would have been somewhere in the 78.0 area. Instead, The Ginger ended his day at 31-of-54 for 57.4 percent. That won’t cut it against the Steelers.
Under Bill Lazor, the offense is looking more like the 2015 version that had Dalton at his best. The key will be consistency and error-free play from Dalton and the offense. Take shots downfield, but play fast against the Pitt D.
To Run Or Not To Run?
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Yes, that’s the question. The running game has been an enigma wrapped in a barbed wire question mark. Jeremy Hill started the year looking strong. But, since the opener against Baltimore, he hasn’t been a factor. Hill has 98 yards on 29 carries. If we take away his two longest runs of 12 and 13 yards, against the Ravens and Browns respectively, Hill is averaging 2.7 yards a pop. Um, that ain’t gonna get it against the Steelers either.
But, the running game is still a mess without Jeremy’s numbers. Joe Mixon has still been looking for that first 100-yard game. Lazor has started putting the ball into his hands, but now the O-line has to produce holes. Mixon’s best ground output to date has been his effort against the Pack. At Green Bay, he had 62 yards and looked strong. His 101 yards of total offense was a welcome relief.
The Steelers may have the No. 2 ranked pass defense in the NFL, but their rushing D is abysmal. If the Bengals can get great blocking and a hot game from Bernard or Mixon, Cincinnati can pull off the W. Lazor’s offense will be pounding the rock against the NFL’s 24th ranked run defense.
Finally, getting Mixon on track and using Bernard as the change-of-pace threat could be the major difference in the game. If Dalton’s having a rough go of it, it may be time to see what the ground game can do. Leonard Fournette shredded the Steelers for 181 yards on 28 carries. It’s time to see what Mixon can do.