The Bengals visit Pittsburgh Sunday for their first AFC North matchup of the season.
Heinz Field has not been friendly to Cincinnati as the Steelers have won five straight and 8-of-10 matchups against the Bengals on their home field.
Pittsburgh has dominated the series, going 67-36 overall, including two playoff wins.
Zac Taylor and company are looking to get the monkey off their back in Week 3. Taylor has also posted a poor 1-15-1 record on the road since being named Bengals head coach in 2019.
"We want to have early success this season to help ourselves build momentum. A road win versus a divisional team does a lot that way. And then you’ve gotta just win games in this division," Taylor said on Wednesday. "This is an important one. It is Pittsburgh. It’s a divisional game. It’s a road game. We got a lot of work in front of us to get ready."
Sunday’s matchup could come down to a battle of the defenses.
T.J. Watt, Joe Haden, and Devin Bush are a number of key Pittsburgh defensive contributors hit with injuries to start the season. All three players practiced this week and are expected to play on Sunday, barring a setback.
Despite the early adversity, the unit has kept the team in their first two games. They rank 9th overall in team defense; 10th against run and 29th in pass defense.
The Steelers front-seven has been stout thus far, posting 31 quarterback pressures (3rd in NFL), 19 quarterback hurries (t-1st in NFL), and five sacks.
This is not ideal for a Cincinnati offense that has given up 10 sacks and 21 quarterback pressures through two games.
Cameron Heyward has made his presence known early this season pushing offensive linemen backwards. The defensive tackle has a combined 11 tackles (6 solo, 5 assisted), two tackles for loss, one sack, one quarterback hit, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, and three passes defended.
Watt has been limited in practice this week after exiting last week’s game against Las Vegas early with a groin injury. Prior to the linebacker’s exit, Watt had three sacks, two forced fumbles, seven tackles (6 solo, 1 assisted), and one tackle for loss.
Pittsburgh’s pass defense has been shaky to start the season. The group has given up 627 passing yards, 4th-worst in the NFL. They have yet to haul in an interception as well.
Haden was held out of last week’s contest with a groin injury. He practiced in full on Thursday.
Joe Burrow and the offense are looking to rebound from their dismal four turnover performance in Chicago. They will need to use pass protection packages to keep Burrow upright and give him time to throw.
Joe Mixon and the rest of the Bengals' offense will also need to tuck the ball in tight. Pittsburgh has forced five fumbles in two games.
On the other side of the ball, the Cincinnati defense has been a surprise to many to start the season. They are ranked 11th in the NFL in total defense. They're 9th in passing and 10th in rushing.
Ben Roethlisberger has been pressured 25 times in two games. He's taken 12 hits and four sacks over that span. This bodes well for the Cincinnati defense that has produced six sacks, 14 quarterback hits, and 22 pressures.
Logan Wilson is making strides in his second year. The linebacker has 16 tackles (6 solo, 10 assisted), one quarterback hit, one interception, and one pass defended.
Mike Hilton has flashed his versatility by allowing seven receptions for just 29 yards in pass coverage. He's blitzed six times, and forced three quarterback hurries.
The cornerback is looking forward to facing his former team. Hilton credits his time in Pittsburgh to teaching him winning intangibles and leadership skills. He gave a speech to the defense prior to this week’s preparation on the importance of this game.
Pittsburgh’s offense is off to a slow to start. They rank 24th overall; 18th in passing, 32nd in rushing.
It will be imperative for Cincinnati’s defense to keep the Pittsburgh offense in check. The front-seven needs to continue to apply pressure and keep the quarterback contained in the pocket. If Roethlisberger gets loose, he has the ability to turn a broken-play into a big gain. He has a plethora of weapons at his disposal, including JuJu Smith-Schuster, Chase Claypool, and Najee Harris.
Fans should expect a physical, defensive-led matchup in the 104th meeting between the divisional foes.
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