Whatever the Bengals’ record is, there’s a lot to play for anytime the Bengals are facing the Steelers. After what happened in the Wild Card game last season and the tough loss at Heinz Field in Week 2, Cincinnati needs to show it can beat Pittsburgh while dealing them a blow for their playoff chances.
Pittsburgh is a very talented team, no question about it. They have a great offense and their defense always looks strong against the Bengals. That unit too has improved of late and coupled with a powerful running game, they are in good shape. Last time the two teams met, Giovani Bernard was the Bengals’ leading receiver, as the Steelers kept A.J. Green in check, just like the Bengals kept Antonio Brown under lock.
Cincinnati will open the game as underdogs, but the Steelers have some flaws. They tend to get greedy, which is one of the reasons why Ben Roethlisberger throws picks more often than not. Their secondary isn’t great, although rookie Artie Burns has given it a boost. Nonetheless, if they want to win, there’s five key Steelers that you should watch for. Remember, this is not a list of Pittsburgh’s five best players.
Mike Mitchell, safety:
Even Marvin Lewis went on the record to talk about Shazier. He was also defending Vontaze Burfict, but the Bengal often gets punished for his recklessness, while Mitchell, who is among the league’s dirtiest players, seems to fly under the radar.
Mitchell is still on the top of his game, too, and hasn’t slowed down at all.
Le’Veon Bell, running back:
He is the best running back in the NFL. He is an outstanding runner, even with a lack of elite speed, and is also an amazing receiver. Bell also is coming off a career game in Buffalo against the Bills and faces a suspicious running defense in Cincinnati. But he’s also been on the record saying the Bengals will try to target him.
I’m sure practicing with Mitchell everyday can make you think every single NFL player is targeting you, but this only puts pressure on the referees. See below for more on that.
Ryan Shazier, linebacker:
If there is a player in Pittsburgh’s current roster that is a reminiscent of what Steelers football has always been, it is Shazier. Tough and relentless, he provides with leadership skills inside and is a difference maker. He can rush the passer, stop the run and deliver big hits to the ball carrier.
Out of Ohio State I’m sure almost everyone of the readers are familiar with him, but on a defense that has historically owned the Bengals, he’s now the Bengals’ offense biggest concern.
These last two aren’t Steelers players, but they still fit into this list. The Steelers coaches are successful in their jobs, I’m not taking anything away from them. But they often forget what their job is, and end up interfering with the team they’re facing. Not even Mike Tomlin is safe from criticism, and I’d like to remind Alex Erickson of Tomlin’s tricks on the sidelines, just in case.
The smart thing to do is to stay away from them. The Steelers’ staff and players know they can easily get under Bengals players’ skin, and they take advantage of it.
You might think I’m kidding. I’m not. The league is not rigged, but the Steelers get away with a lot of stuff, and that includes a lot of stuff against the Bengals. It would be nice to see the officials call a fair and evenly officiated game.