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Bengals at Steelers Behind Enemy Lines: Steelers shouldn’t worried about the future at running back

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We caught up with Jeff Hartman from Behind the Steel Curtain to get his thoughts on the game this week.

Los Angeles Chargers v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The Bengals will end their season this week against the Steelers in Pittsburgh with a chance to end their playoff hopes. We caught up with Jeff Hartman of Behind the Steel Curtain to get his perspective on the game.

Patrick Judis: The Steelers are obviously in a situation where they will be watching the scoreboard, and Antonio Brown has even made nod to rooting for the Browns on Sunday in order to keep their playoff hopes alive. Is there any chance they could be overlooking the Bengals?

Jeff Hartman: With this team, and Mike Tomlin’s record against teams with a sub-.500 record, there is always a chance they overlook teams; however, this team has to be fuming after the way things panned out in Week 16 vs. New Orleans. I expect the Steelers to be focused, and also pretty ticked off, entering Heinz Field Week 17, and this could be bad for a very banged up Bengals team.

PJ: Now that we have gone through pretty much an entire season, how different do you think this year would have been if the Steelers were able to have Le’Veon Bell, and is James Conner the future at that position?

JH: That is a tough question to answer considering how well Conner played in his stead. Bell was never known for his longevity, rather his injury history, and Conner’s ankle injury couldn’t have come at a worse time. However, what happened as the year played out was the fact it might not matter who is carrying the ball behind the team’s elite offensive line. There is a reason James Conner played well, and there is a reason Jaylen Samuels essentially picked up where he left off -- the offensive line. Does this speak to the talent of Le’Veon Bell? In a way, but there is no doubt Conner and Samuels look like a great 1-2 punch heading into next season.

PJ: Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster both have over 100 catches this season which is really an amazing stat. How has that dynamic worked over the season having two guys who are worthy of getting so many targets?

JH: Early in the season teams were wondering if Smith-Schuster’s rookie year was nothing more than just some rookie luck. However, as the season has progressed you see defenses being forced to play the Steelers’ offense differently. No longer can they bracket Antonio Brown and throw a coverage look underneath to have him essentially triple teamed. Instead, teams are having to throw a safety to Smith-Schuster’s side as well, and this opens up one-on-one matchups for players in the slot, as well as tight ends. This has made the Steelers extremely hard to defend, as one of the league’s best defenses, the Saints, found out last week when the Steelers moved the ball well against them.

PJ: Who is one player on either side of the ball who you feel had their 2018 season overlooked by NFL fans outside of Pittsburgh?

JH: When the national media talks about the Steelers’ offense, they talk about Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner. Who they rarely talk about is the offensive line. When people talk about the best lines in the NFL, they talk about others, but often don’t even mention the Steelers, but they should because they are that good. On the defensive side of the ball, I would have to say nose tackle Javon Hargrave would be a player people overlook. Edge rusher T.J. Watt gets plenty of publicity because of his last name and play on the field, but Hargrave has registered near double-digit sacks from the nose tackle position, on a team who uses a lot of sub packages without a nose tackle, and looks like a smaller Geno Atkins.

PJ: What is your prediction for the game?

JH: I think the Steelers will be plenty upset about their season, and will want to take it out on someone. Just turns out the Bengals are due for the brunt of this attitude heading into Week 17. I think the Steelers take care of a banged up Bengals team to the final score of Steelers 38, Bengals 23.

Thanks again to Jeff Hartman for taking the time out to answer our questions. You can check out the rest of his work at Behind the Steel Curtain.