The Bengals are desperate for a win, and the Steelers are limping into Cincinnati with a ton of major contributors likely out. What will Pittsburgh look like on Sunday? We caught up with Jeff Hartman from the Behind the Steel Curtain to get his perspective on Sunday’s matchup.
Patrick Judis: Thursday Night Football really left a lasting impact on the Steelers coming into the week. Which player who has their availability in doubt is going to be the toughest to overcome for Pittsburgh? Also is there a player you expect to seize the opportunity of possibly having a bigger role with these players out?
Jeff Hartman: The Steelers offense is absolutely decimated. JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner are both likely to miss due to injury, and Maurkice Pouncey will be serving the first of his now two game suspension. The team already struggles to run the ball, let alone without their starting running back and center. However, if there is a player who could seize the opportunity to perform well, it would be James Washington. Washington has strung together some decent performances, and it will be interesting to see if he can take the bull by the horns with JuJu likely out of the game.
PJ: Mason Rudolph had one of his best games of the season when he faced the Bengals in Week 4, but he is coming off his worst game of the year after throwing four interceptions. What do you expect to see from Rudolph this week?
JH: I expect to see a performance which is in the middle. I don’t think he will duplicate such a horrible performance as he had in Week 11, but I don’t think he will be slinging the ball around the yard either. I would expect Rudolph to play a very safe game, pushing the ball down the field on occasion with minimal success. The Steelers’ offense is a unit which has the look of players and coaches guessing, and that equates to inconsistencies across the board. At this point, expectations are very low for Rudolph at quarterback.
PJ: The Minkah Fitzpatrick trade was pretty fresh when these two teams met in Week 4. Know what you know now, would you still go back and trade away the first round pick to acquire him?
JH: Knowing what we know now you would be crazy NOT to make that trade. I was a fan of the trade the day it was made, but love it even more now. The biggest issue fans had with the trade, which wasn’t true, was they felt it was a “rental player” situation, like you see in sports like the NHL and MLB. However, the Steelers still have control over Fitzpatrick for at least the next three seasons, and likely after that too. Fitzpatrick has been worth the first round pick, especially considering the Steelers have been anything but automatic drafting in the first round.
PJ: The Steelers defense has really made up for the offense this year. They rank near or in the top 10 of most major categories. What has been the strength of this defense over this run?
JH: The strength has been their ability to make the big play. Sadly, when they don’t get the big play, a sack or turnover, the offense is usually exposed. The Steelers had a four game winning streak based on the defense setting up the offense either with great field position, or points. The Steelers have been pressuring quarterbacks with regularity, and it has caused mistakes they have finally started to take advantage of. If this continues, they can beat anyone. If the big plays dry up, they can lose to anyone. That is how fragile this team is currently.
PJ: What is your prediction for the game?
Some Steelers fans are expecting a blowout, but they must have watched another team play the past few weeks offensively. I’ll take the Steelers, but it will be closer than most expect. Take the Steelers straight up, but the Bengals getting points.
Steelers - 23
Bengals - 17
Thaks again to Jeff Hartman for taking the time out to answer our questions. If you’d like to see more of his work or Steelers coverage head over to Behind the Steel Curtain.