CINCINNATI — The Pittsburgh Steelers come into their Week 12 game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paycor Stadium with renewed hopes of better offensive production after the firing of offensive coordinator Matt Canada on Tuesday.
But the reality on the ground is that the same Steelers team that scuffled and struggled to 10 points against the Cleveland Browns last week will be on the field against the Bengals.
The good news for the Steelers is that once again, the opposition is under-manned. The Bengals will be without both Joe Burrow and Tee Higgins, and journeyman backup Jake Browning will be making his first career start.
Cincinnati’s defense is also banged up, with top cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt out, and even at full strength, these Bengals are far less fearsome on defense than last week’s Browns unit.
So how do the Steelers engineer victory?
KEY TO VICTORY: Don’t Let Browning Shoot Straight
Despite the focus being on the changes to the Steelers offense this week, the real opportunity to win this game is to keep Jake Browning from getting comfortable. His playing time in last Thursday’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens was mostly in mop-up of a game lost when Burrow exited.
This week, he’ll be in against the full force of the Steelers defense, and that’s a unit that has been picked apart a bit the last few weeks. The Steelers have to find a way to impact Browning, even if Cincinnati duplicates Cleveland’s game plan from last week and asks for all quick throws to prevent T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith and company from getting home.
The good news? Quick throws would largely neutralize Cincinnati’s top offensive weapon, which is the deep ball to Ja’Marr Chase. Those take time to develop.
OVERLOOKED MATCHUP: Trey Hendrickson vs. Dan Moore Jr.
Dan Moore Jr. had probably his worst game of the season as the Steelers left tackle in Week 11. Of course, Myles Garrett causes more than his fair share of worst games over the course of the season.
The Steelers feel confident in Broderick Jones playing either left or right tackle. So far, he’s started at right because Chuks Okorafor stupidly opened the door for the first-round pick with his mouth. But that isn’t necessarily destined to be that way forever. Okorafor is a serviceable starter. Moore will have to be at least that good against Trey Hendrickson to keep his spot.
BOLD PREDICTION: Steelers Dial Up a Deep Shot
Most of the changes I’ve seen bandied about by the fanbase when it comes to how things might look different under Mike Sullivan and Eddie Faulkner don’t make a lot of sense to me.
Most of the reasons the Steelers weren’t doing things like going under center, running play action from under center, and throwing the ball over the middle the field had far more to do with the strengths and weaknesses of quarterback Kenny Pickett than any kind of grand offensive plan.
Faulkner was promoted, in part, because the team’s running backs have been the strongest offensive unit. They’re probably going to run the ball more than they have. If there’s one area I think the might be able to make a change in the passing game is a few more deep shots down the field.
The Steelers won’t break any offensive records in this one, but they should be able to do more than enough to stay ahead of the Bengals fairly comfortably. This game is a real opportunity for the defense to shine against what has been a mediocre Cincinnati offense, even with Burrow in the fold.
Steelers 19, Bengals 14
Last week: Steelers 13-9 (L)
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Steelers -2.5 (-115)
Under 36.5 (-110)
Kenny Pickett under 29.5 pass attempts (-125)
Last week: 2-1 (W Under 32.5, Warren longest rush over 13.5; L Steelers +2.5)