Despite both teams starting the season off 0-3, there will be a lot to play for when Cincinnati travels to Pittsburgh for Monday Night Football. Though unlikely, there is still hope that one of these teams could make the playoffs by winning the AFC North title.
Needless to say, this rivalry has produced some of the most notorious moments in NFL history, but both teams will be presenting plenty of old and new faces. For that reason, we’ll dive into each team’s positional groups and who has the upper hand at each position.
Let’s start with the offense:
Andy Dalton vs. Mason Rudolph
It seems odd to say the Bengals will have the advantage at quarterback against the Steelers, but with Ben Roethlisberger being ruled out for the season the team will turn to third-round draft pick Mason Rudolph. Rudolph has played well in the 1 1⁄2 games that he’s appeared in so far, but Dalton is second in the league in passing yards through the first three weeks and it shouldn’t be much of a question here of who has the advantage at quarterback.
Joe Mixon/Giovani Bernard vs. James Connor/Jaylen Samuels
Cincinnati has gotten off to a weak start on the ground so far this season, but they are slowly turning it around as Joe Mixon produced his best game of 2019 last week against Buffalo with 60 yards on 15 carries. Steelers running back James Connor has also played very poorly to start the season, failing to rush over 45 yards in a game despite a strong offensive line. Cincinnati also like to use Bernard quite a bit in this new offense and is probably a better back-up to Mixon than Samuels is to Connor.
John Ross/Tyler Boyd/Auden Tate vs. JuJu Smith-Schuster/James Washington/Diontae Johnson
Even without A.J Green, the Bengals will have the upper hand at wide receiver as third-year speedster John Ross is finally producing like a number one receiver. Ross is currently fourth in receiving yards after an unprecedented start to the season.
Tyler Boyd is maintaining his success from last season with 24 catches for 250 yards through the first three weeks. Auden Tate also looks to be a reliable weapon for Andy Dalton after he racked up 88 receiving yards on 6 catches in his first start of the season against Buffalo.
Smith-Schuster is one of the NFL’s best receivers and has carried the load for this Steelers offense as Washington and Johnson have both had sluggish starts to the season. Andy Dalton will look to have a huge game if his three receivers play at the levels they have been shown they are capable of.
Tyler Eifert/C.J Uzomah/Drew Sample vs. Vance McDonald/Nick Vannett/Zach Gentry
Pittsburgh’s tight end situation has been anything but ideal this season, trading for Nick Vannett after Xavier Grimble was placed on injured reserve this week. Grimble isn’t their only injured tight end as it is becoming very likely that McDonald doesn’t play against Cincinnati due to a shoulder injury.
If McDonald isn’t healthy enough to go against the Bengals then they’ll have to rely heavily on two unproven tight ends in Vannett and Gentry. Eifert, Uzomah and Sample only have a combined 15 catches and one touchdown so far but this group is still the clear choice for the better tight end group.
Smith/Jordan/Hopkins/Miller/Hart vs. Villanueva/Foster/Pouncey/DeCastro/Feiler
This seems like an easy choice for anyone that has watched either of these two teams play before. Villanueva, Pouncey and DeCastro have a combined 13 Pro Bowl selections, with Foster being one of the more consistent left guards in the NFL. The Bengals starting offensive line has a combined zero Pro Bowl selections and have been notoriously bad the past few seasons.
Unfortunately for Cincinnati, Cordy Glenn hasn’t played yet this season due to a concussion and has been ruled out again for Monday’s game. This will give Andre Smith the start with little to no depth behind him and will be an uphill battle for Cincinnati.
Dunlap/Hubbard/Atkins/Billings vs. Tuitt/Heyward/Hargrave
Both teams have very talented defensive lines and are always a huge part of how the game is decided. Dunlap, Hubbard, and Lawson make for one of the best trio’s of edge rushers in the NFL. Geno Atkins is one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL, and Andrew Billings played very well in their game against Buffalo.
For the Steelers, Cameron Heyward has been one of the most consistent defensive tackles since he came into the league in 2011. Stephon Tuitt and Javon Hargrave are both very talented but just not quite on the level of the Bengals defensive line this year.
Brown/Vigil/Pratt vs. Watt/Barron/Bush/Dupree
Pittsburgh has a group of some of the most talented linebackers in the NFL while the Bengals have some of the worst. Brown and Vigil have struggled since last season to make the right reads and be consistent with their tackling.
Rookie Devin Bush was a guy that many thought the Bengals should take in the draft before Pittsburgh traded up to get him. They paired Bush with two versatile edge-rushing linebackers in Watt and Dupree, also bringing in Mark Barron after being released from the Rams.
Linebacker’s Vince Williams and Anthony Chickillo have already been ruled out for Pittsburgh for Monday’s game but isn’t enough to change this decision
Jackson III/Kirkpatrick/Webb vs. Haden/Nelson/Hilton
The Bengals defense is allowing 237 yards per game through the air through the first three weeks of the season while the Steelers are allowing 302.7, the second worst in the NFL only behind the Eagles.
Steelers newly acquired Steven Nelson has played well enough to earn himself a 78.7 grade by Pro Football Focus, but Joe Haden and Mike Hilton have clearly struggled to start the season.
William Jackson III is the Bengals best corner and one of the best in the NFL, making up for the slightly below average Dre Kirkpatrick and B.W Webb. This is a close one to decide but ultimately Cincinnati has the better overall group going into Monday night.
Bates III/Williams vs. Fitzpatrick/Edmunds
This decision would have easily been in the favor of Cincinnati until about a week and a half ago. That is when Pittsburgh traded for superstar safety Minkah Fitzpatrick from Miami in exchange for a plethora of draft picks. They paired Fitzpatrick with second-year strong safety Terrell Edmunds, making this one of the most well-rounded safety duos in the NFL.
For Cincinnati, Jessie Bates III and Shawn Williams have statistically been two of the lowest rated safeties in the NFL this season. The two combined for eight interceptions and over 200 tackles in 2018 but haven’t lived up to the expectations many had set for them so far this year.
Bullock vs. Boswell
Chris Boswell is 5/5 this year on field goals and 4/4 on PAT’s, but has yet to attempt a field goal that is 50+ yards. Randy Bullock seems to have regressed this season after a good 2018 season, hitting only 4/6 of his field goal attempts and can’t seem to be trusted from 40+ yards. Boswell has been the better kicker in 2019 and his strong leg gives the Steelers a lot of confidence.
Huber vs. Berry
Kevin Huber’s net average is 41.2 yards per punt in 2019, while Jordan Berry’s is 40.5. Huber also has placed five of his punts within the 20 yard line while Berry has only four. Huber is the safe pick when it comes down to the better punter going into Monday night.
As we all know in the NFL, it doesn’t always matter who has the better players at a particular position, but rather which players execute their game plan better. The Bengals will try to take advantage of both by having better players at a large majority of positions while also executing the game plan better than the Steelers.
Both teams are 0-3 and hungry for their first wins of the season, making this game a must watch for all NFL fans despite the poor records.