Steelers who can wreck Week 11 for the Cincinnati Bengals

New Orleans Saints v Pittsburgh Steelers
New Orleans Saints v Pittsburgh Steelers / Justin K. Aller/GettyImages

Unfortunately, when it comes to which Pittsburgh Steelers are capable of wrecking the game for the Cincinnati Bengals, we know their names by heart. Now, Cincinnati must find a way to slow these Steelers if they want to keep pace in the AFC North. 

 T.J. Watt

Looking at the stat sheet alone, the Steelers’ pass-rushing defense might not scare you. They have been credited with the third-fewest quarterback pressures and hurries in the NFL, despite being 11th in blitz percentage. A big part of the problem was that T.J. Watt missed significant time with a pectoral injury he suffered in Week 1 against the Bengals. 

On the one hand, this may be the best time to go against Watt because he is still working his way into game shape after missing several weeks and is not yet back to 100%. On the other hand, Sunday’s game will be his second game back. Thus he will have a bit less rust on him. Watt made his return last week against the Saints and former Bengals QB Andy Dalton. 

In his return to game action, Watt recorded four tackles. However, his mere presence in Pittsburgh’s lineup sparked their most impressive defensive performance of the year holding New Orleans to only 10 points. For the Bengals, his presence potentially means more attention paid to him and less so on the biggest concern, which is Alex Highsmith. 

With Watt returning to the field and rounding into form, the Bengals must do a better job against him than they did in their first matchup. Despite leaving that game early, Watt finished with six tackles, three tackles for loss, one sack, and an interception. 

Alex Highsmith 

Alex Highsmith is coming in the game against the Bengals with 8.5 sacks this season, good for fourth-most in the league. Three of those sacks came in Week 1 versus the Bengals and two came last week against Dalton and the Saints. 

Highsmith is licking his chops at the idea of going against Jonah Williams and La’el Collins again. He finished that game with three sacks, six tackles, and four more hits on Joe Burrow. 

According to Pro Football Focus, Williams has given up nine sacks this season. To put it mildly, the Bengals left tackle is not having a terrific year.

If the Bengals fall behind early or fail to run the ball successfully, Highsmith has a chance to take over the game. Moreover, if he does have a significant impact, it will not be because of schemes, disguises, or coaching. It will be because Highsmith is just better. Hopefully, he will not be better on Sunday. 

James Pierre

An underrated player that Cincinnati must be aware of is James Pierre. Although he will not ruin Cincinnati’s game plan himself, they should not underestimate the third-year corner. 

In limited action, Pierre is third in completion percentage allowed by a cornerback on targets in the NFL. He is ninth in the league with an allowed QB rating of 54.3 when targeted. He is nestled between Cincinnati’s Chide Awuzie at eight and Sauce Gardner at ten.

Pierre is fifth among all corners, with 4.3 receiving yards allowed per target. That is one spot ahead of Sauce Gardner. 

It seems that Pierre may have come a long way since this happened last year when he had to go up against Tee Higgins.

Pierre will not be able to shut down Higgins on Sunday. However, he might be able to give Higgins and the other Cincinnati wideouts more resistance than they bargained for. The Steelers corner has only made two starts this year, but he has impressed when called upon. 

Pat Freiermuth

George Pickens and Diontae Johnson grab the headlines for the Steelers when it comes to pass-catching. But tight end Pat Freiermuth has the potential to cause Cincinnati’s defense the most trouble. 

Freiermuth currently leads the Steelers with 50.4 receiving yards per game. He is second on the team in total targets and receptions per game. He is also top five in the NFL in targets per route run for tight ends. 

With rookie Kenny Pickett still learning on the job and wide receiver Chase Claypool in Chicago, the young quarterback is more likely to continue to rely on his safety blankets in Freiermuth and running back Najee Harris. As the old adage goes, a tight end is a quarterback’s best friend. Or, as the old adage went, I suppose.

Hopefully, Pickett will not have much time in the pocket to attempt big plays downfield to Pickens or Johnson. If that comes to fruition, the defense must make sure tackles on Freiermuth, who may have more targets throughout the game than Pittsburgh’s wideouts.

The Bengals are away favorites against the Steelers this week. If they are to pull off the victory, Cincinnati must limit Watt, Highsmith, Pierre, and Freiermuth's impact on the game.

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 Statistics provided by Pro Football Reference