It’s Steelers week, and the NFL has taken notice, flexing the game from its original 1 pm start to a later a later 4:15 start. With the Steelers coming off a big win at Kansas City, and the Bengals riding a two-game winning streak and a restful bye, the game should be a great clash that will help define the AFC North in 2017. Either the Steelers win, and take a big lead on the division, or the Bengals win and force a three-team race as we approach the midpoint of the season.
To get an idea of what the Bengals will be in for when they travel to Heinz Field, we spoke with Jeff Hartman of Behind the Steel Curtain to get a Steelers’ perspective on topics, such as the Steelers defense, Ben Roethlisberger, the state of the rivalry, and the play of Vontaze Burfict and Mike Mitchell.
Scott Schulze: The Steelers defense is currently ranked in the top 5 in points allowed and yards allowed, and first in passing yards allowed. How much of that is because they have a great defense, and how much of that do you attribute to facing DeShone Kizer, Case Keenum, Mike Glennon, and Blake Bortles so far this season? How would you attack the Steelers’ pass defense if you were game planning for them?
Jeff Hartman: I honestly attribute the pass defense's success to the pass rush more than the quarterbacks they've played. The Steelers are 3rd in the league in sacks, and even great quarterbacks can't throw when under constant pressure. If a team can give their passer time, they can have success against the Steelers pass defense. However, that might be easier said than done.
Scott Schulze: The Steelers have faced the Bengals 93 games in their franchise history, second only to the Browns. I recall last year several of the Steelers players avowing that their rival was the Ravens, and not the Bengals (nor the Browns). I am curious if the fans echo this sentiment? Do Steelers fans consider the Bengals to be any sort of rival, or are they just another team on the schedule twice a season?
JH: The fan base sees the Bengals as a rival for sure, but the rivalry is different than the Baltimore rivalry. Both teams are disliked immensely by Steelers fans, but the Cincinnati side of things borders on unhealthy. Vontaze Burfict alone has taken this rivalry and made it almost one of bloodsport. There is a respect between the Ravens and Steelers, and although the past few games have been tame between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, it doesn't change the fact these two teams, and fan bases, hate one another with a passion.
Scott Schulze: The last four weeks Ben Roethlisberger has thrown 3 touchdowns to 7 interceptions, with a 67.9 passer rating. After the home loss to the Jaguars, Roethlisberger made some comments about how he may not have it anymore. Who is the Steelers quarterback in 2018?
JH: In my opinion, it is Ben Roethlisberger. Depending on how this season goes, I think he realizes the team is built to win. I feel he could be on a John Elway type path where he tries to win a couple of championships, and the team is certainly there to do so, in the twilight of his career. If not, then I'm assuming the team would look to Landry Jones and/or Joshua Dobbs while also trying to get a QB in the NFL Draft at some point. Steelers fans shouldn't look forward to the day Big Ben hangs it up.
Scott Schulze: I’m sure the answer to this question will wildly vary depending on which fan base is asked, but Vontaze Burfict or Mike Mitchell – which player is a "dirtier" player?
JH: If I am going to take an outsider's perspective on this debate, I would have to still say Burfict. Mitchell has had plenty of questionable hits, but he also doesn't have the malicious post-snap activity of Burfict. Whether it is twisting ankles, stepping on players or the egregious hits...not to mention Burfict is on the suspension stage to his on-field antics. I am not forgiving Mitchell of his questionable play, but just believe Burfict is the worse of the two evils.
Scott Schulze: Coming off a big win at Kansas City, the Steelers have momentum, and they get home field this weekend. But the Bengals have won two straight and have had a week off to prepare. Who wins this Sunday in a game flexed to a later start, and what’s the score?
JH: After doing some research, Marvin Lewis is 5-8-1 in his career coming off the bye, and they are certainly in a tough spot going to Heinz Field. I think the Bengals will make this a very tough game for Pittsburgh. Adam Jones has a way of neutralizing Antonio Brown, but I really like the Steelers defense against the Bengals' offense. Yes, they have been playing better before the bye week, but the Steelers front 7 should be able to get pressure on Andy Dalton while stopping the run. If the defense can do that, look for Martavis Bryant to have a big game by the way, and the Steelers can score in the red-zone, I like Pittsburgh in this matchup. I'll say Pittsburgh 27, Cincinnati 21.