The Bengals will see their first divisional action this Sunday against the hated Pittsburgh Steelers. Coming off of a well fought season opening win against the Jets, Cincinnati showed their first look of this year’s team. The opener had its share of ups and downs with some surprise performances both good and bad. Taking that into account, in addition to what the Steelers did against Washington on Monday, I’ve picked the five Bengals who should have your eye this Sunday and who should play pivotal roles in the game.
1.) Russell Bodine
There’s no way to sugar coat it. Russell Bodine was horrendous in the season opener, doing poorly in both the pass and run game, accumulating a 41.5 grade from Pro Football Focus in the process. If the Bengals want to win in Pittsburgh this week, they’ll need to both run the ball as well as pass protect much better than they showed so far. This starts with Bodine and how he’s able to handle Steelers nose tackle Javon Hargrave. The collective defensive line for the Steelers is good, but inferior to the dominance that the Jets showed. If we get more of the same from the North Carolina product this week then we’re in trouble.
2.) Domata Peko
This is going to be a game that’s won in the trenches, and the defense has to do what Washington could not and contain DeAngelo Williams. To do that, Peko needs to stuff the middle of the line against Pittsburgh’s all-pro center Maurkice Pouncey. Peko doesn’t play a fancy position at the nose, but occupying blockers and space is an invaluable job. If he can free up Rey Maualuga, Karlos Dansby, or Vinny Rey by taking an additional blocker, the Bengals become infinitely more successful at defending the run.
3.) Dre Kirkpatrick
A lot of Bengals fans love to hate Dre Kirkpatrick, but I am not one of those people. Kirkpatrick has done a great job covering Antonio Brown since the Alabama standout came into the league.
Since start of 2015, Antonio Brown, Ben have 14 games together. In 11, Brown averaged 144.6 yds/gm. Other 3? Vs Bengals. Average? 84.4 yds— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) September 15, 2016
In the time Captain Kirk has been covering A.B. he has only allowed two touchdowns which is downright impressive. We need more of the same on Sunday as Brown is the only credible pass threat the Steelers have healthy. Eli Rogers isn’t exactly dynamic, and Sammie Coates’ best play was having a ball bounce off his face into the hands of Rogers. If 27 can keep mitigating 84 then I like the Bengals’ chances.
4.) Margus Hunt
Can Hunt keep his momentum rolling? The Bengals’ fourth year defensive end had a surprisingly great Week 1 and one of the biggest questions coming into this game is if he can have sustained success. The Bengals need to get pressure on Roethlisberger to disrupt Pittsburgh’s offensive tempo. To do that, there’s going to have to be effort given by every single member of the Bengals defensive line rotation. Hunt has now shown he has the ability to make plays in big games at the NFL level, but to reproduce it in a key divisional game would be game changing for Cincinnati.
5.) Brandon LaFell
The Steelers are going to be double covering and clouding A.J. Green all game. To not do so would be even more destructive than the show Green put on in the opener. Because of that, LaFell is going to be left in plenty of one-on-one situations, and he’s going to have to hook up with Dalton to capitalize on those opportunities in his first AFC North divisional game. Against New York, LaFell caught all four of his targets for 91 yards. If we can get a similar performance this week, it’ll go a long way to either opening up the run game or getting Green out of double coverage.