One of the NFL’s most heated rivalries is set for another renewal this week as the Cincinnati Bengals travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers. The players are prepared, the refs have been warned, and the fans are ready for some action. Much of how the AFC North shakes out this year could come down to this game, so you won’t want to miss a minute!
With the suspensions of Vontaze Burfict, Le’Veon Bell, and Martavis Bryant, as well as injuries to players like Tyler Eifert and Ryan Shazier, the players who are able to play will be that much more crucial to the outcome of a key game. With the way things have shaped up after Week 1, these are the matchups you will want to pay close attention to this Sunday.
WR Antonio Brown vs CB Adam Jones
Although it didn’t quite live up the the massive day by the Bengals’ A.J. Green, Antonio Brown had a performance in Week 1 against the Redskins that showed exactly why he is considered by so many to be the best wide receiver in the NFL today. He absolutely shredded Redskins’ cornerback Bashaud Breeland with eight catches for 126 yards and two touchdowns. That’s an average of 15.8 yards per catch, the second highest in the NFL last week for wide receivers with at least eight catches.
Granted, Breeland isn’t exactly a household name. In a strange move, the Redskins decided to shift protection of Brown away from Josh Norman, one of the biggest free agent signings of 2016. Brown’s day might have been a different story if one of the league’s top cornerbacks had guarded one of the league’s best receivers.
However, the Bengals are not likely to make the same mistake this week. For a large chunk of the game, expect Pro Bowl cornerback Adam Jones to cover Brown, though, he will definitely receive help from the rest of the unit. You might remember this matchup creating a lot of drama at the end of the Bengals’ most recent game with the Steelers in the 2015 Wild Card round of the playoffs.
In that game, Brown played well, recording seven catches on 12 targets for 119 yards. But, Jones was able to keep him out of the endzone for the entire game. A brutal hit on Brown by Burfict and a personal foul penalty on Jones, retaliating to Steelers’ coach Joey Porter, set the Steelers up in field goal range and essentially handed them the game.
After the game, Jones accused Brown of faking the severity of his injury to incite action by the refs. Brown sat out the following game due to his concussion and Jones publicly apologized for being wrong as a result. But, you can imagine that both players probably haven’t forgotten the incident. Hopefully, that just means they will give the matchup their all rather than letting their emotions get them in trouble and dictate the game.
QB Ben Roethlisberger vs SS Shawn Williams
Last year, Shawn Williams made one of the greatest plays of the Bengals’ 2015 season in Pittsburgh when he intercepted a pass intended for Steelers fullback Will Johnson with 5:34 left to go in the first game between the teams. The Bengals were down by a score of 10-6 and had just turned the ball over to the Steelers due to an intercepted pass thrown by Andy Dalton.
With less than six minutes left to go in the game and a whole field to work with, the Steelers would have been content with putting together a lot of short passes and running as much time off the clock as they could before putting some points on the board. It would have essentially put a win in regulation out of reach for the Bengals’ struggling offense. But, Williams’ interception set the Bengals up just past mid-field with a ton of momentum on their side. On the ensuing drive, the Bengals scored a touchdown and took the lead with only 2:57 left for a struggling Steelers offense to get a field goal or a touchdown, neither of which was accomplished.
At the time, Williams was a backup safety filling in for the injured George Iloka. So, that play was one of the few opportunities he had to make his mark on the game. This year, he is starting in place of the departed Reggie Nelson. Imagine all of the damage that a player like him with a psychological edge over Roethlisberger can cause.
Granted, it could also be a difficult matchup for the new starter. Roethlisberger is coming at this with a lot more experience and a decent number of offensive weapons with which to confuse Williams over the course of a whole game. However, if Williams can withstand the pressure and hold his ground against one of the league’s best quarterbacks, it should signal that he is ready to put together an impressive career as a starter.
WR Tyler Boyd vs CB Justin Gilbert
This matchup is going to be, by far, one of the most interesting of the week, if not the season. A little over a week before their first game of the 2015 season, the Steelers traded a sixth-round draft pick in 2018 to the Cleveland Browns for the failed No. 8 overall pick in 2014, Justin Gilbert.
Save for one particularly impressive game against the Indianapolis Colts, Gilbert never lived up to his expectations in Cleveland. In fact, he didn’t come anywhere close to what you would expect out of a top 10 draft pick. By the end of his rookie season in 2014 he was considered to be on the fast track to bust-ville, which was confirmed when the Browns essentially traded him to the Steelers for peanuts.
So far, the Steelers’ coaches seem to like the potential they see in Gilbert. He didn’t accomplish much of anything in Week 1 against the Redskins. But, he is listed as the Steelers’ No. 3 cornerback on their depth chart heading into Week 2 against the Bengals. That means he should be matched up against Bengals rookie receiver Tyler Boyd.
Boyd contributed in Week 1 and was absolutely electric in the preseason, recording five catches for 92 yards. The big performances from A.J. Green, Brandon LaFell, and C.J. Uzomah last week against the Jets kept Boyd to a mere two catches for 24 yards on the game. But, both catches were for at least 10 yards. The Steelers will not want to sleep on a weapon like him if they can help it, so they will need their new cornerback to keep the Bengals’ new wide receiver in check. If he can’t, the Bengals will have a huge advantage. Also keep in mind, the Steelers know Boyd well from his days at Pittsburgh. Boyd knows Mike Tomlin and has been mentored by a variety of Steelers players.