There’s no doubt that football is a team sport. It takes a group of individuals to come together and emerge victorious. Even so, certain types of individual matchups are key to game plans for the entire team.
Here are the best individual player matchups to watch this week between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals.
Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva versus Bengals edge rusher Carl Lawson:
Villanueva is an interesting guy with a neat background. The former Army Ranger has become one of the better tackles in football, but he’ll have his hands full this week.
Lawson is making his bid for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors, as he has 7.5 of the Bengals’ 33 sacks on the year. There’s a significant height and length difference between the 6’9” Villanueva and the 6’2” Lawson, so we’ll see if the Steeler tackle can keep the rookie at bay.
Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell versus Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict:
Do we really need to expand here? Whether it was the 2015 “hit heard ‘round the world” that ended Bell’s season, or the constant helmet-bashing between the two, these two just don’t seem to like each other. That’s fine for the viewers, as this will be a marquee matchup on the national stage.
Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster versus Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick:
The former USC Trojan is likely to be one of the finalists for Offensive Rookie of the Year, as he currently has 568 receiving yards and five touchdowns so far. One of those scores came in the first matchup between the two teams and it’s likely that Kirkpatrick will be shadowing him.
No. 27 has had some ups and downs this year after signing a big offseason contract, but he and Adam Jones definitely scrap it out against the Steelers’ offense. Both guys are of similar length and height, so this could be a fun one to watch.
Steelers tight end Vance McDonald versus Bengals safety George Iloka:
Technically, Jesse James is the No. 1 tight end, but there is a reason the Steelers swung a preseason trade for the former 49er. McDonald only has one touchdown on the season, but in the first game against the Bengals, he had two catches for 37 yards.
He’s a big, capable guy who plays a position the Bengals have had some trouble covering this season. Iloka had some interesting things to say to Paul Dehner, Jr. this week, so he’ll need to walk the walk—especially when tasked with McDonald.
Steelers safety Mike Mitchell versus Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green:
Normally, we’d talk about the cornerback going up against Green. This year would have provided an additional spark in that respect, as Joe Haden is now with the Steelers. However, he’ll be unavailable this week with an injury, so it’s likely Coty Sensabaugh will have the coverage duties on the Pro Bowl wideout.
Yet, we’ll have to watch what Mitchell does when he’s also tasked with Green. Though he’s iffy this week with an ankle issue, we’re certain he will do whatever he can to play on Monday. We’ve seen him both attempt and succeed at head shots to both Green and Tyler Eifert in the past, but we’ve also seen Green make his share of plays against the Pittsburgh defense.