A pair of 1-1 teams meet in an AFC North divisional battle on Sunday. After upsetting the Bills in Buffalo in Week One, the Pittsburgh Steelers lost at home to the Raiders last week, 26-17. The Cincinnati Bengals have played a pair of three-point games. They topped the Vikings in overtime to start the year, then lost to the Bears last week.
Cincinnati Bengals vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Sunday, September 26, 2021 – 01:00 PM EDT at Heinz Field
A pair of 1-1 teams coming off of losses meet in an AFC North divisional battle on Sunday. After upsetting the Bills in Buffalo in Week One, the Pittsburgh Steelers lost their home opener to the Raiders, 26-17 on Sunday.
The Cincinnati Bengals have played a pair of games decided by three points, topping the Vikings in overtime to start the year, then losing to the Bears in Chicago last week.
Looking to Break the Pattern
The Bengals have been dominated by the Steelers in Pittsburgh in recent years, losing five straight in the Steel City and eleven of their last twelve games there.
Of course, Cincinnati has struggled everywhere in the division recently. Coach Zac Taylor is just 2-10 in division games, although one of the wins came at home against Pittsburgh last year.
Taylor appears to have things going in the right direction in his rebuild of the Bengals, but he’ll need to break through with a big divisional win at some point.
Cincinnati’s pass rush appears to be much improved over last year when the Bengals finished last in the NFL in sacks. They already have six sacks on the year, nearly a third of the full-season total from last year. They’ve also pressured the quarterback fifteen times in two games. That could be a problem for a Steelers line that allowed the Raiders to hit the quarterback ten times last week.
On offense, the Cincinnati line struggled last week, and both quarterback Joe Burrow and receiver Ja’Marr Chase complained in postgame remarks about the conservative offensive game plan drawn up by Bengals coaches.
One potential deep threat, receiver Tee Higgins, is also nursing a shoulder injury. He missed time in last Sunday’s game after taking a hit and is day-to-day for this week.
The Steelers have an extensive injury list for this week’s game, and the biggest name on the list belongs to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The 39-year-old passer suffered a pectoral injury during the Raiders game, perhaps one of the ten times he was hit. The team doesn’t know when or how the injury occurred, however.
“I don't know specifically when Ben got injured in-game,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “I don't know that he does. You know, sometimes just in the midst of competition, adrenaline, and so forth, you just don't know. Sometimes things just come up after.”
Roethlisberger was able to finish the game and throw 40 passes, but if he can’t go, Mason Rudolph is next up on the depth chart.
Despite the potential loss of the starting quarterback, it was the Pittsburgh defense that took the brunt of the injury hits. Four defensive players are nursing groin injuries. Linebacker Devin Bush and corner Joe Haden both missed last Sunday’s game with injuries. Linebacker TJ Watt left the game in the first half after suffering his injury, and linebacker Alex Highsmith suffered his at some point in the game, although it wasn’t disclosed until the start of the week’s practice.
“I'm not making any drastic statements about the availability of any of these guys because of the degree of the injury changes, the prognosis," Tomlin said. "And the man himself changes the prognosis. ... We'll give them an opportunity to practice during the course of the week.”
The team is already without defensive linemen Tyson Alualu and Stephon Tuitt, both on I.R.
For the NFL pick, the Bengals have built an explosive offense, with young skill players looking to make a name for themselves. This week, against a longtime AFC North power whose defense is ravaged by injury, maybe their chance to make a splash. Add to that the fact that Roethlisberger is battling injury and Cincy seems to be an easy pick with the points.
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