CINCINNATI — The Steelers will arrive in Cincinnati to take on the Bengals Sunday. It is a matchup where the Steelers could make a significant statement should they pull out a victory against the defending AFC champions, but the Steelers feel they can do it.
However, the Bengals bring plenty of talented players to the table. That starts with quarterback Joe Burrow, but this game will be won as Pittsburgh starts to match up against the individual standout players and units of the Bengals. So, what are the key matchups to watch?
Ja’Marr Chase vs. Steelers Secondary
The obvious matchup is the tough matchup that Ja’Marr Chase will bring to the Steelers. Chase, a star receiver for Cincinnati, took the NFL by storm during his rookie year, and he would love nothing more than to continue that magic heading into his second-year. The first test for Chase will be Ahkello Witherspoon, Cam Sutton, Levi Wallace, and the Pittsburgh secondary led by Minkah Fitzpatrick.
A year ago, Chase caught two touchdowns at Acrisure Stadium but was relatively quiet during the matchup at Paycor Stadium. Sutton and the secondary are taking it as a challenge to slow down the 2021 Offensive Rookie of the Year. If they want to win that matchup, it will take heart and technique combined from multiple players.
“This guy is a dynamic, disciplined player,” Sutton said. “Obviously, we know what he can do with the ball. He is physical on the perimeter. Man, he brings a great demeanor to the game. We are always looking forward to the challenge. He makes special plays, and we are getting ready to meet that challenge.”
Chase’s elite speed, ball skills, and knack for explosive play make him a player who can flip the game on its head. The Steelers cornerbacks will have their hands full with Chase, and it is for all of those traits mentioned above. If they want to disrupt his process, they need to play physically and consistently stay in phase. That is all about technique and mental discipline. If the cornerbacks can have that, Chase can be stymied to a degree.
T.J. Watt vs. La’el Collins
The Bengals will have a new offensive line with four new starters across it, including standout right tackle La’el Collins coming over from the Dallas Cowboys. Collins will get thrown into the fire immediately as T.J. Watt is his first draw. But with one of the best pass rushers in the NFL as the first test, Collins is not backing down.
Collins is mobile and brings great athleticism to the table. He joins those physical tools together with solid footwork and strong hands. It has made Collins one of the more formidable players in the NFL to go up against for pass rushers. Collins is ready to rise to the challenge against Watt.
“He’s a hell of a player. Definitely established himself and his name as one of the best pass rushers in the league,” Collins said to Sports Illustrated. “It’s gonna be a great matchup. I’m excited about it, but for me, nothing changes. The approach is the same, just as every week.”
Watt will have to get as crafty as possible in this matchup. That means relying on his elite bread and butter, which is his dip and rip move paired with the strong ghost move he carries in his arsenal. For Collins, staying disciplined and not oversetting to Watt’s explosiveness will be key. The winner of this matchup can go a long way to deciding the winner of this game moving forward.
Dan Moore Jr. vs Trey Hendrickson
This is the key offensive matchup for Pittsburgh to watch. A year ago, Trey Hendrickson terrorized a rookie left tackle in Dan Moore Jr. in the Steelers’ two matchups against the Bengals. Against Moore, Hendrickson recorded two sacks, 4 quarterback hits, and 11 pressures in the two games. Simply put, Hendrickson won this matchup and wreaked havoc on Ben Roethlisberger a year ago.
However, even after struggles in the preseason, Moore is looking to prove something. He wants it to be known that this a different version of himself. So, what better player to exorcise some demons against than Hendrickson? Moore is complimentary of Hendrickson as a player, but this is a big proving ground for him.
“He’s a really good player,” Moore said.” He’s very sneaky, very efficient with his hands. This guy is very underrated. A lot of people do not talk about him, but he has a great get-off. I know how he is trying to go work against him, so I’m going to plan against what happened last year. I know how is going to attack me, and I’m ready to attack with the gameplan this time around.”
Moore struggled with his hand usage, especially punch timing and placement, throughout the preseason. That is what got him in trouble against the Bengals a year ago as well. If Moore is going to slow down Hendrickson, it will be all about his hands.