The Steelers are on the road in Cincinnati to open the 2022 regular season against the Bengals, and here’s the Steelers Now pregame primer.
KEY TO VICTORY
Well, this one is tough. The Steelers are big underdogs on the road against the reigning AFC champs, and that’s probably deserved.
It doesn’t look like the Steelers are going to be able to protect Mitch Trubisky and how well the defense can slow down Joe Burrow and company is very much up in the air.
The revamped offensive line looks like it might be better suited to run-blocking than the 2021 unit, and running the ball will have the dual advantage of moving the chains and clock while keeping Burrow on the sideline.
If Najee Harris can rush for 100 yards — a tall ask considering he did it just three times as a rookie — the Steelers should have a good shot at an upset.
BOLD PREDICTION: STEELERS DEFENSE SHOWS UP
The Steelers have a couple tricks up their sleeve. New defensive coordinator Teryl Austin and senior defensive assistant Brian Flores didn’t spend all offseason working only to roll out the same old defensive game plan. But the Steelers were as vanilla as possible in the preseason, particularly in the team’s sub packages.
It probably won’t catch people off guard all season, but with the Bengals having so much carryover and the Steelers having so much newness, it gives them an opportunity to pull a fast one in the opener.
I’ll predict a defensive turnover that either gives the Steelers a touchdown or takes one away from the Bengals.
OVERLOOKED MATCHUP: TYLER BOYD vs. ART MAULET
In 2021, the Cincinnati Bengals played a little over 1,000 snaps of offense, and the trio of JaMarr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd were out there for about 70% of the team’s snaps. The Bengals almost obligately play three wide receivers, one tight end and one running back, and Boyd is almost always the one of the three receivers that’s in the slot.
That means that Boyd will usually be matched up against the Steelers’ slot corners. The Steelers are expected to use two varieties of their Nickel defense, with Cameron Sutton moving in from outside corner in one package and Art Maulet coming in as the Nickel back in the other. When the Steelers go Dime, Tre Norwood could also see time facing Boyd.
Sutton and Norwood have other responsibilities in the Steelers defense, but for Maulet, Boyd is probably the only player he’ll have to deal with on Sunday. He said he’s taken extra time to prepare specifically by watching Boyd’s film, but he has to know the whole defense like anyone else to be able to be in the best possible as the defense tries to shift and disguise coverages.
“I give an equal amount of respect to everybody,” Maulet said. “He’s a great guy, great player. I’ve got a couple of keys on him. I’m excited to go against him. Our coach is gonna put us in the right places to make plays. So, we’re excited.”
Higgins and Chase are the big-play guys, and everyone knows it, but Boyd can kill a defense with a thousand cuts, particularly on third downs.
To my recollection, the Steelers had exactly one training camp practice on the turf outdoor field at St. Vincent College and one preseason practice indoors at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.
But they’ll be on turf in the season opener, and wet turf at that, as it rained all morning in Cincinnati and there are scattered thunderstorms forecast throughout the game. Keep an eye on the Steelers’ footwork, because it might be a tough adjustment early.
Pittsburgh +7.5 (-118)
Mitchell Trubisky Over 1.5 Passing TD (+150)