The Bengals and Steelers will be meeting this week on Monday Night Football. Both teams have had extremely disappointing seasons so far and will be fighting for their first win of the season and the right to get out of the basement of the AFC North.
This means we get to catch up with Jeff Hartman of Behind the Steel Curtain to get his take on the matchup.
Patrick Judis: What have your impressions of Mason Rudolph been over his limited time playing?
Jeff Hartman: Rudolph looks like a rookie quarterback. He isn’t a rookie, this is his second year, but he held a clipboard and was in street clothes every game day of the 2018 season. You might know the offense like the back of your hand, but if you don’t have in-game experience it will take a while for things to slow down. Against the Seahawks he didn’t have time to overthink things, and the Seahawks had no film on how to defend him as a player. The 49ers he had plenty of time to think, and they had plenty of time to devise a plan...a plan that worked. Rudolph’s pre-snap reads were right, but when the defense gave him something different he got flustered. Throw in an offensive line that didn’t protect well and it wasn’t a good outing for Rudolph. Then again, most quarterbacks in their first NFL start don’t look too great.
PJ: Has the offense or defense been the bigger issue over the Steelers 0-3 start?
JH: In my opinion it has been specifically the offensive and defensive lines. I know this is sort of a cop out answer, but the once powerful O-line hasn’t protected, or opened holes for the running game. There have been a ton of three-and-outs with the Steelers being one of the worst third down offenses in the NFL. And on top of that, the defensive line can’t stop the run, so teams are moving the chains with ease. Put those two together and you have a gassed defense by the third quarter. The Steelers are losing because they are losing the battle in the trenches.
PJ: Pittsburgh won’t have Ben Roethlisberger, Le-Veon Bell or Antonio Brown on Monday night, so this offense will look totally different to most Bengals fans. Is there an offensive player that Cincinnati should know about going into the game that has really stepped up this season?
JH: Considering the team has struggled so much offensively I would say no, there isn’t anyone who has stepped up. However, if you want some names of players you might not know who could impact the game I would look at someone like James Washington, second year receiver out of Oklahoma State, or Diontae Johnson, rookie receiver from Toledo. Both of these receivers were inserted into the starting lineup in Week 3, and look to stay there heading into Week 4. Keep an eye on Washington specifically, as he and Rudolph played together in college and have a tremendous rapport with one another.
PJ: After an 0-2 start, the Steelers knew they needed secondary help, so they traded for Minkah Fitzpatrick. It was only one game, but did you see a big improvement on the defensive side of the ball to warrant that move?
JH: Fitzpatrick is a playmaker, period. In his first series he records an interception, and later forced a fumble. He had a direct hand in two of the Steelers’ five turnovers on the day. Did he make some mistakes? Absolutely, as he only had three practices under his belt before starting. But you can just see no film and how he moves, the kid is a player. An immediate upgrade, and well worth the trade, in my opinion.
PJ: What is your prediction for the game?
JH: This is a must-win game for the Steelers. I don’t care what anyone says, if the Steelers lose to a division rival at home on prime time, the season is all but lost. With that said, I see the home team playing with some desperation, and the extra time to prepare could be just what the doctor ordered for Mr. Rudolph. I think this game is going to be close, but I like the Steelers to win.
Steelers - 27
Bengals - 24
Thanks again to Jeff Hartman for taking the time out to answer our questions. You can find more of his work at Behind the Steel Curtain.