- Cincinnati's stellar cornerbacks could keep Pittsburgh's top receiver to one of his lowest-yardage games all season.
1. The Steelers found themselves in tight contests against the diminished Colts’ and Packers’ offenses for one reason: because their secondary gave up some big plays. Chances are the Bengals will go after that secondary, particularly corners Coty Sensabaugh and Artie Burns, with deep shots to A.J. Green. Pittsburgh plays a lot of single-high coverage, leaving receivers one-on-one outside, so when Cincinnati has the ball near midfield, look for Green to align in the slot and attack deep. If he’s on the short side of the field (near the hashmarks where the ball is spotted) watch for him to run a bender route along the seams, attacking Pittsburgh’s zone coverage. (Andy Dalton is terrific on firm touch passes here.) If Green is in the slot on the wide side of the field, the Steelers will convert their zone coverage into man-to-man when Green runs vertically. (This is because the wide side of the field leaves too much space for defenders to handle in zone.) Picking up Green here will be either No. 3 corner Mike Hilton or, worse, a safety (or worse yet, a linebacker). Advantage: Bengals.
2. Joe Mixon is one of the five most talented runners in football. His lateral agility and body control are tremendous, and once he improves his patience and timing, which he will with experience, he’ll be one of the five best running backs in the NFL. (Expect this to happen by early next year.) Mixon’s greatness, however, won’t be reflected statistically until Cincinnati’s offensive line plays better. Before an impressive showing last week against an underrated Browns front seven, that o-line had been terrible, and this week it’s facing an accurately high-rated Steelers front seven. Cincinnati should try to keep things simple again by featuring straight double-team blocks inside. If they start putting blockers on the move, Mixon will get hit in the backfield.
3. Last time the Bengals faced the Steelers, the Cincinnati defense was surprised by how often Le’Veon Bell got carries behind lead-blocking fullback Roosevelt Nix. The Steelers consistently pulled stud guard David DeCastro to the side Nix was going, further complicating matters for the defense. Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley will try this again, but he knows Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther will have his men ready. Don’t be surprised if Haley calls a lot of spread formations early, like he has in recent weeks. That’ll get the Bengals into their foundational Cover 2 looks, and Ben Roethlisberger can audible to runs from there.
Bold Prediction: Antonio Brown will be held to under 65 yards receiving for just the third time all season. Cincinnati’s cornerbacks are stellar, especially Dre Kirkpatrick and rising second-year man Willie Jackson. They’ll get safety help over the top for much of the game.