Now 1-0, the Cincinnati Bengals face a tough Week 2 matchup as they travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers. No matter how fans feel about this Steelers team, it’s hard not to be impressed with Pittsburgh’s loaded offense, highlighted by one of the best “triplets” in football. Coming off a dominant win against the Redskins, the Steelers are looking to continue their success and won’t be a pushover against a talented Bengals team. Let’s get to this week’s questions with Behind the Steel Curtain’s Jeff Hartman on this week’s matchup!
Connor Howe: Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and DeAngelo Williams stole the spotlight in Week 1, tearing through an underrated Redskins defense. We all know Marvin Lewis and company will be doing everything they can to prevent Pittsburgh's top three weapons from beating them, forcing the complementary players to step up and make plays. The Bengals seemed pretty good at limiting the Steelers' playmakers from making big plays last year -- do you think they can do it again this year? And which players could step up on offense if Cincinnati shuts down Pittsburgh's top options?
Jeff Hartman: The Steelers offense typically struggles with the Bengals defense, and rightfully so. The Bengals defense possesses weapons which were essentially drafted to stop the Pittsburgh playmakers. However, the Steelers offense in 2016 is as dynamic, and deep, as ever...even without Martavis Bryant and Le'Veon Bell on the roster.
I am convinced no one can completely take Antonio Brown out of the game. Like A.J. Green, he will get his receptions. However, Markus Wheaton will return to the field Sunday, and a combination of Wheaton, Eli Rogers, Sammie Coates and Darrius Heyward-Bey could mean too much for the Bengals' secondary. It should be fun to watch this chess match.
CH: The Week 1 overreaction with the Bengals will be that Cincinnati's offensive line, which surrendered seven sacks to a dominant Jets front, is no longer one of the best in the league. Regardless of how this unit performs -- and I think it will perform better in Week 2, for what it's worth -- how is Pittsburgh's defensive front looking? The Steelers sacked Cincinnati's quarterback, whether Andy Dalton or AJ McCarron, exactly three times in all three of the teams' matchups last year; do you think it will be able to put consistent pressure on Dalton after not sacking Kirk Cousins and only managing two hits on the quarterback in Week 1?
JH: The zero sacks on Kirk Cousins is a little deceiving. The Steelers didn't blitz much at all, forcing Cousins to have to perfectly place passes within the Steelers 8-man zone defense. Nonetheless, I don't see this as the team's approach to the game coming up Sunday. You are right, they haven't sacked Dalton much in the past, but pressures is what will dictate the result of the game. If they can get to Dalton with quarterback hits and hurries, then they will be succeeding. As was evident in Week 1, when Dalton has time, he can pick a defense apart. The Steelers defensive front is good, but expect more pressure from blitzes this week, compared to last.
CH: A.J. Green made a statement in Week 1, toasting Darrelle Revis in what was an easy shoo-in as the best performance of Week 1 until Brown's dominance in Washington. How will the Steelers try to stop him, and do you think the team is capable of stopping him?
JH: As I stated earlier, Green is a lot like Brown...you can't truly stop them, you just hope to limit the damage. The Steelers defense will hope to get pressure on Dalton, therefore taking the deep ball to Green out of the picture. The Steelers secondary is young and inexperienced, outside of William Gay, but what they lack in inexperience, they make up for in speed, athleticism and ball skills. This will be a tough matchup for the Steelers, and one which could be the deciding factor in the game, depending on which side wins the battle.
CH: Along those same lines, it appeared as though Ryan Shazier was the best player on Pittsburgh's defense in Week 1, with James Harrison also making an impact. Who else should Bengals fans keep an eye out for when Cincinnati has the ball?
JH: Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward. The Steelers want to get a lot of pressure in the A-gaps of the offensive line, and that is where these dominant defensive ends come into play. The Steelers defense will be able to defend the pass better if they don't have to send 2-3 blitzers every play. This is where Tuitt and Heyward come into play. The Jets defensive front is one of the best in the game, but the Steelers front 3 isn't too bad either.
CH: Cincinnati managed a sack, three quarterback hits, six tackles for loss and two blocked kicks (a field goal and an extra point) in New York. Is Pittsburgh's offensive line talented enough to keep Roethlisberger upright and create running lanes against Geno Atkins and company?
JH: Cincinnati will get pressure on Roethlisberger, they always do, but bringing him down is a different story. I expect Todd Haley to have an offensive game plan built on the short passing attack of the Steelers, only to set up the deep ball down the field. This is a common theme with the Steelers, and it was evident against the Redskins in Week 1 too. They hit the little screen passes for 3-5 yards, and when they felt the secondary had crept in to stop those small passes, they went for the double move and the big play. The Steelers don't throw it deep as much as they did under Bruce Arians, but they do still throw the deep ball with regularity. The offensive line will do their job, hopefully enough to give Roethlisberger time to deliver the football.
CH: What's your final score prediction?
JH: These are normally lower scoring games, but I see this as being a high-scoring affair. Both defenses have their inadequacies, but in this case I like the Steelers offense in this matchup, especially at Heinz Field. I will go with the following score:
Steelers: 31, Bengals: 24