Very rarely can the second game of the season be classified as a big game, but that is the situation for both the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals.
While it’s too early to call this a “must-win” for either team, when you consider that less than 12 percent of the teams in NFL history that have started 0-2 have made the playoffs, it’s pretty close.
Based on talent alone, you would think the Bengals could withstand an 0-2 start far better than the Steelers could, especially when you consider how bad Pittsburgh looked in their opener and their overall lack of depth.
Monday night football tends to bring out the best in players, so we will find out in just a mere hours if the Steelers have what it takes to get the job done.
Here’s a look at everything you need to know about this big early season division matchup.
When: Monday, September 16 at 8:30 p.m. EST
Where: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, OH.
Spread: Cincinnati -6.5
Last Meeting: Bengals 13-10 at Heinz Field
Series Record: Steelers 52-33
Keys for Steelers:
1. Block Somebody: It’s as simple as that. If the Steelers offensive line has another performance like they did last Sunday, they are going to get their butts kicked. If Ben Roethlisberger sees the type of pressure he did against the Titans, the Steelers will start the season 0-2.
2. Force Turnovers: It used to be a staple the past couple of seasons, but the last two years the Steelers have not been able to make the big plays on defense. If they don’t force some turnovers tonight, it could turn into a long evening on both sides of the ball. Rookie Jarvis Jones is getting his first start and you get the feeling he may have a couple of splash plays up his sleeve.
3. Keep Bengals off balance: This is on Todd Haley. He has to keep the Bengals off balance. That means throwing the ball down field, speeding up the game and just letting Roethlisberger play his game. Running for more than 32 yards as a team will help keep the play action pass as a weapon, which could be a bonus. But if Haley continues to handcuff his quarterback, it won’t matter. Of course if the offensive line isn’t any better it won’t matter.
Keys for Bengals:
1. Pressure Ben Roethlisberger: After watching last week’s performance from the Steelers, I would expect the Bengals to come after Roethlisberger early and often. If they have success applying pressure it will likely lead to a win.
2. Use the tight ends: All the attention will be paid to A.J. Green, but Cincinnati’s tight ends should give the Bengals plenty of mismatch opportunities, especially against the Steelers’ linebackers, who aren’t great in coverage. If they get into multiple tight end sets with Jermaine Grisham and rookie Tyler Eifert, it could turn into something the league will have trouble dealing with, similar to what the New England Patriots had with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
3. Run the football: The Bengals don’t have to have a big day on the ground but they can’t become one dimensional. Chris Johnson had a decent afternoon against the Steelers front last Sunday and if the Bengals can move the chains on the ground it will be to their advantage.
Key Matchup: David DeCastro vs. Geno Atkins
DeCastro needs to come of age and do so quickly for the Steelers offensive line to improve after an awful performance in Week 1. He will have his hands full with Atkins, who is a force up front. If the second year pro struggles and Atkins is disruptive for four quarters, the Steelers don’t have much of a chance. Atkins trailed only Von Miller and Cameron Wake in pressuring the quarterback last season. He isn’t just the best defensive tackle in the NFL; he’s also one of the best defenders in all of football. The Steelers will have their hands full and keeping Atkins quiet is a must.
Prediction: You have to think that the Steelers can’t be as bad as they looked last week, but it is hard to have that much confidence in Haley’s offense right now to give you enough confidence to say the Steelers will win this game. They do tend to rise to the occasion in primetime and usually win in Cincinnati, winning 11 of their past 12 at Paul Brown Stadium, but I just don’t see them coming away with a win. They will keep it close and likely cover the spread, but in the end the Steelers will come home an 0-2 football team. Bengals 20, Steelers 16.