Rarely do teams through around the words “must win” when talking about games played in September. For the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Monday night matchup with the Bengals might just be that—a must win game.
After suffering a loss to the Titans in week one—a loss which snapped the Steelers ten consecutive wins in home openers—Pittsburgh is hoping to rebound with a big game against the AFC North rival Bengals in primetime for a second consecutive season.
Had the Steelers just lost the season opener, fans might have understood. But after being decimated by injuries, including season-ending injuries sustained by Maurkice Pouncey, Larry Foote, and Larod Stephens-Howling, the team is reeling a bit. From an organizational standpoint, head coach Mike Tomlin and company have made some necessary roster moves—including re-signing a controversial roster cut in RB Jonathan Dwyer. Other signings include veteran kicker Shayne Graham and former Tennessee Titan lineman Fernando Velasco.
The biggest question mark headed into the rivalry showdown in primetime will be the Steelers rushing attack. Boasting a mediocre 32 combined yards of total rushing last week, the team is hoping that the re-acquisition of Jonathan Dwyer proves beneficial—that is until Le’Veon Bell fully recovers from his Lisfranc injury. Dwyer was the team’s leading rusher in 2012.
Interestingly, it will be Isaac Redman, the same Isaac Redman that rushed for 8 yards on 7 carries and fumbled twice, that will get the nod against Cincy. It is worth noting that in an October game against the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium, Dwyer rushed for 122 yards on 17 carries en route to a 24-17 victory.
Should the team find a way to run the football effectively with either Redman, Dwyer, or Felix Jones, all signs point to a Steelers victory. Dating back to 2003, the Steelers are a perfect 29-0 in games in which the team has rushed for over 100 yards. After the struggles of Redman, Tomlin should give a healthy amount of carries to Dwyer to help bolster the league’s worst rushing attack.
“I think a consistent running game is really important, not only to be good offensively, but to strike a balance,” Tomlin said. “We haven’t been able to do that to this point.”
For the Bengals, they are hoping to get of the schneid against Pittsburgh, having lost three straight games at Paul Brown Stadium. Pittsburgh has won 10 of its last 11 meetings in Cincinnati—dating back to 2002. Despite being a clear favorite in this contest, Andy Dalton and company cannot expect the Steelers to go quietly in this divisional matchup.
The biggest storyline out of Bengals camp is the reunion between former-Steeler linebacker James Harrison, and getting the opportunity to face his own team. Despite media reports about any bad blood between the 2008 Defensive Player of the Year and his former team, Harrison says there is no extra motivation fueling him in this contest, according to the Steelers team website.
“It’s another game on the schedule,” said Harrison. “It’s a divisional game, so it means a little more than the rest. If we talk before the game, [it’ll be] ‘good luck,’ but that’s about it. We’ll see how it ends up after 60 minutes is done.”
On paper, it would appear that the Steelers do not quite matchup with the Bengals at this point in the season. With home-field advantage and an improved defensive unit from a season ago, expect the Bengals to outplay a Steeler squad that is facing questions marks on both sides of the ball. Injuries and new roster fill-ins will ultimately prove too much for the Steelers to overcome, though I do think that they improve on their performance from week one. For the Steelers to have a chance in this one, the defense must shut down the Andy Dalton to A.J. Green connection and the two-headed monster at Tight End that is Jermaine Gresham and rookie Tyler Eifert. Ultimately, I think the Bengals win a close one at home and bump the Steelers down to 0-2 in the AFC standings.
Prediction: Bengals-24, Steelers-17
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