We’re oh-so-close to the beginning of the Cincinnati Bengals’ 2022 path to redemption, we can almost taste it. The Bengals have a formidable task to kick off the season though, as the Pittsburgh Steelers come to Paycor Stadium.
Yes, Pittsburgh is in a little bit of transition and Cincinnati is a pretty heavy favorite, but it’s a Week 1 divisional clash and one can never really count the Steelers out of anything, despite what things look like on paper.
To help us preview this week, we gave Jeff Hartman of SB Nation’s Behind the Steel Curtain a few questions about the upcoming matchup. Here’s our conversation:
1.) AC: What do you make of the Steelers’ QB situation? How much team and fan confidence is there in Mitchell Trubisky and how short is the potential leash there with Kenny Pickett being a first-round pick and showing well in the preseason?
JH: Believe it or not, the quarterback situation isn’t the biggest concern for Steelers fans this year. That is, by far, the offensive line. The three quarterbacks on the roster, Trubisky, Pickett and Rudolph, have all played well. None have turned the ball over, and all have orchestrated scoring drives in limited action.
The Steelers have the weapons, but will the offensive line do their jobs so said weapons can do their jobs? That’s the question everyone wants answered heading into 2022. As for the quarterbacks, there is confidence in Trubisky to get the job done, but you can expect plenty of “Kenny” chants if things go south.
2.) AC: How is the offensive line looking? The Steelers have long been known for outstanding play up front, but there were major issues last year and the unit seems to have continued questions this year.
JH: The Steelers spent plenty of cap space on bolstering their offensive line this past offseason. They signed Mason Cole (center) and James Daniels (guard) in free agency, and brought in a new offensive line coach in Pat Meyer. With returning players Dan Moore Jr., Kendrick Green and Chuks Okorafor, you would have thought the line would be more than bolstered.
Well, if you thought that, you thought wrong. The Steelers’ offensive line woes continue, but there have been flashes of what this group could be. The team is hoping they’ll gel, but the early weeks of the regular season could be rough.
3.) AC: Who needs to step up and have the biggest week (and year, really) on offense for the Steelers (non-QB): Najee Harris, George Pickens, or Chase Claypool? Why?
JH: In my opinion, it’s Najee Harris. If Harris is running the ball well, the offense, and by proxy the offensive line, is doing their jobs. Establishing the run will only open up the passing game, so out of the players you mentioned, the biggest player who needs to step up is Harris. On top of the running game, getting Harris active in the passing game will also be a big factor in the success/failure of the offense.
4.) AC: What is the game plan from the mostly under-the-radar Steelers DB group (Minkah Fitzgerald notwithstanding, of course) against the explosive Bengals wide receiver corps this week?
JH: The Steelers’ defensive backfield, outside of the addition of Levi Wallace, remains almost intact from 2021. The biggest missing piece is veteran Joe Haden, who remains on the open market. The Steelers are hoping they can mix-and-match their way to success in the backfield.
Teryl Austin, the new defensive coordinator, is a secondary specialist. Combine his defensive mind with Brian Flores, and two weeks to prepare, I’m sure the Steelers will have a good defensive plan for the Bengals’ offense. Will it be good enough to win? That has yet to be seen...
5.) AC: Oddsmakers like DraftKings have the line set at Bengals -6.5. How important do you feel this game is to the trajectory of the Steelers’ season? They tend to play well late in the year, it’s only Week 1 and they may be feeling a lot of things out early with a partially-new cast of characters, but it’s also a road divisional game, regardless? Must-win already?
JH: The sense around the fan base is similar to the Steelers in 2021 when they opened in Buffalo against the AFC-favorite Bills. They beat the Bills 23-16 in Week 1, but it didn’t set up the team for a massively successful season.
Sure, the Steelers made the playoffs, but they were far from a great team. It’s just one game. You can’t punch your ticket to the playoffs in Week 1, nor can you be eliminated. The game being a divisional game will carry more weight, but I don’t think it’s as big of a game as many are making it out to be.
Our thanks to Jeff Hartman and the crew over at Behind the Steel Curtain! Go check out their great site for more great Steelers coverage!