The rivalry between the Bengals and the Steelers has reached a level of notoriety that encapsulates the entire nation when they play. The list of names associated in events that have transpired in recent games seems to increase every time they go up against one another. Vontaze Burfict, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Ryan Shazier, Joe Mixon, Vince Williams, Bud Dupree are just a few that make up the list.
But looking past those names, this game features plenty of Bengals that simply need to play well regardless of the toxicity in-between plays. Here are the five that we’ll have our eyes on.
Tight end Tyler Eifert was placed on injured reserve last week after he broke his ankle in Atlanta in Week 4, and last week’s game against the Dolphins was the beginning of the offense’s time without him. Eifert’s lack of durability was one of the reasons Schreck was kept on the roster, along with the playmaking ability he displayed in the preseason. He was counted on as a run blocker against the Dolphins last week, and his role may be expanded this week against Pittsburgh.
Fellow tight end Tyler Kroft was seen in a walking boot earlier this week and has not practiced since injuring his foot against Miami. His absence would boost Schreck to the No. 2 tight end spot behind starter C.J. Uzomah, and he may even see a target or two come his way against the Steelers. His ability as a run blocker will definitely be counted again as the Bengals hope to run through running back Joe Mixon.
Something that’s not really being talked about since the Bengals 2-0 start is Glenn’s struggles in pass protection. In the last three weeks, the Bengals left tackle has given up an obscene number of pressures against weak-side edge rushers. The common theme in his endeavors has been dealing with speed rushers, and as it just so happens, the Steelers primary pass rusher from the right edge has speed as his main asset.
Dupree made the news this week for his comments about his misunderstanding regarding Ryan Shazier’s injury he suffered against the Steelers. On the field this year, he’s been one of the Steelers three-best pass rushers and has three sacks on the year so far. He was kept quiet against Atlanta last week, but if Glenn’s struggles in pass protection persist, he could have a long day dealing with Dupree.
The unsung hero in last year’s home game against Pittsburgh was Hopkins and his exceptional day at right guard. He plowed open holes for Mixon and kept the Bengals offense on track to score 17 points in the first half. Obviously that game changed dramatically towards the end, but it was Hopkins’ best game of last year.
This was one of Hopkins's best games— ☠️ alex scarerickson ☠️ (@John__Sheeran) December 8, 2017
ACE block from Bodine and Hopkins completely seals off Hargrave. Ogbuehi and Boling obliterate the 3T. Bodine climbs and seals off the WILL. This is getting movement. pic.twitter.com/EFG5fIDN5U
Now, Hopkins is starting at center for the injured Billy Price, and this could be the last game he ends up starting as Price could return next week against the Chiefs. Just like how Schreck is going to be relied on sealing off the edge for outside runs, Hopkins will have a busy day dealing with the ever-pesky Steelers defensive interior on inside runs. This will be a statement game for the fifth-year player as his starting spot will likely return to the rookie Price soon afterwords.
Defensive end Michael Johnson has gotten all the publicity for his pick-six against the Dolphins, but Billings was just as important as Johnson was on that fateful play. It was good timing for the third-year nose tackle because up until that point, he’s had a relatively quiet start to the season after a promising preseason.
Billings will need tp play his best against the Steelers interior trio of Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro. The three have helped pave the way for running back James Conner to a strong — but inconsistent — start. Billings has to continuing being the plug in the middle of the Bengals front four if they want to avoid getting smacked in the face once more to Pittsburgh’s running game.
Along with cornerback William Jackson, Kirkpatrick played admirably well against the Dolphins, allowing zero catches on three targets. But Kirkpatrick is usually victimized when the Steelers are on the other side of the ball, thankfully Le’Veon Bell isn’t going to stiff arm him to the ground this time around.
The Steelers like to move around their receivers just as much as the Bengals like to, so Kirkpatrick will be well acquainted with Antonio Brown and Smith-Schuster once more. This will also be Kirkpatrick and the Bengals’ first game against wide receiver James Washington, who is basically the Steelers’ version of John Ross in their offense. Pittsburgh’s passing game is still nothing to be reckoned with, even with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger playing at an inconsistent level. Expect Kirkpatrick to be targeted a lot more than he has been over the past couple of weeks.