By Charles Jay
The Pittsburgh Steelers are not an organization that is going to resolve itself to “tank” this season. We’re certain that is the case no matter how bad things may get. So you better believe that they are going to come into the Monday Night Football game against the Cincinnati Bengals with about as much intensity as they have shown for quite some time for a regular season contest. Even with an 0-3 record, they feel there is something that is salvageable.
Do the Bengals, also with an 0-3 record, feel the same way? They have thus far had to play without their #1 receiver, and that’s not the way Zac Taylor wanted to start his coaching tenure. But with Andy Dalton, at least they have a veteran quarterback, which is more than the Steelers can say at the moment.
These teams meet at 8:15 PM ET at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. BetAnySports has the following numbers up on the game, with reduced juice:
Pittsburgh Steelers -3.5 (-102)
Cincinnati Bengals +3.5 (-108)
Over 45 points (-102)
Under 45 points (-108)
Yeah, if you’re a Steeler backer you’d have to be worried that Mason Rudolph played in a very restrictive fashion last week in San Francisco, as he’s taken over for the injured Ben Roethlisberger. After all, he had just two completions that went past the line of scrimmage. And you aren’t going to beat a lot of teams like that, unless your receivers can do some sensational things with the football. Juju Smith-Schuster was indeed able to do that, as he caught a Rudolph pass and went 76 yards with it. We trust that they are going to let the kind loose a little more here, because if they don’t, that would show a complete lack of faith in him, and that would indeed mean great difficulty.
Rudolph may be in luck because the Bengals are 31st in the league in defensive efficiency when covering running backs on pass routes, according to the metrics available at Football Outsiders. And Pro Football Focus, another respected analytics site, has Cincinnati as the second-worst NFL team when it comes to allowing “second-level yards” on running plays (at least five yards beyond the line of scrimmage) and are the worst tackling team in the league. In other words, they fail at defending some of the things the Steelers (a) so badly need to do, (b) are likely to be part of the game plan, and (c) can execute without putting too much of a strain on Rudolph. And Cincinnati, which thought it had someone who could be a real cover corner in Darius Phillips (not to mention a great return guy) just lost him to an injury.
By the way, they will not have tackle Cordy Glenn for this game, so the offensive line problem will be amplified. The Steelers have not been airtight against the run, we admit, but the Bengals have run the ball less frequently than any team except Arizona. Maybe that’s the philosophy being brought aboard by Taylor, who has been an assistant for the Dolphins (indeed, interim offensive coordinator at one point) and the Rams (where he was an assistant wide receiver coach just two seasons ago). But the Steelers are 2nd in the league with regard to average seconds per “quarterback hurry,” and translated, that means they’ll be in Dalton’s face for much of the night unless he can effectively work some play action.
Pittsburgh is the team most likely to be able to establish a running game here, in my humble opinion. Everybody’s screaming to see a little more of Jaylen Samuels, and that’s something that might happen. They have to make it as easy as possible for Rudolph to operate, but to turn him loose a little as well and let him show some of the things that won him the backup job in training camp. We’re looking for a little Steeler pride in front of the home folks, helping them extend their winning streak over the Bengals to nine straight.
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