It's rivalry week Steeler Nation! This Sunday, our Pittsburgh Steelers travel to Cincinnati to face off against the Bengals. The Bengals head into this game with a record of 4-1, sitting alone at the top of the AFC North. This Bengals team has been playing their best football to start off the season, but as well all know it is still early and still anyone's division. Expect this game to be no different than past contests between these two teams, a hard-nosed battle until the very end. With that being said, let's take a look at this week's opponent.
The Bengals come into this game dealing with some tough injuries on both sides of the ball. On offense, running back Giovani Bernard as listed as doubtful with an MCL injury after missing last week's game against the Dolphins. Wide receiver John Ross (Groin) and tight end Tyler Kroft (Foot) are listed as questionable. On the offensive line, center Billy Price (Foot) and guard Clint Boling (Hip) are listed as questionable as well. Price, Boling, Kroft, and Bernard did not practice on Wednesday while Ross was limited.
On defense, cornerback William Jackson is listed as questionable with a knee injury. Linebacker Preston Brown is also listed as questionable due to an ankle injury. Cincinnati could be limited on the edge as defensive ends Carl Lawson (Ankle) and Michael Johnson (Knee) are both listed as questionable. Luckily for the Bengals, all injured players on defense were able to have limited participation in practice on Wednesday.
Andy Dalton leads an impressive Cincinnati offense
The Bengals offense has played beyond expectations so far this season. This is due in large part to the solid performance for quarterback Andy Dalton. Dalton is 14th in the league in passing with 1,445 yards. He has also thrown 12 touchdowns with only seven interceptions. Dalton's main target hasn't changed a bit as AJ Green has led the team with 409 receiving yards and five touchdowns. Another receiver that has emerged as a very reliable target this season is Tyler Boyd. Boyd has accounted for 393 yards and two touchdowns so far this season.
Although it is less impressive than their passing attack, the running game can still be a threat for the Bengals. Joe Mixon has been the leading rusher for Cincinnati this season with 272 yards and one touchdown. I look for Mixon to get a lot more carries in this game with the injury to Bernard. Rookie running back Mark Walton will be another player to watch as he will likely come in to give Mixon some rest.
Bengals defense has a lot of work to do
When looking at the stats, the Bengals have definitely been carried by their offense. Their defense has struggled so far this season, at a ranking of 23rd in the league. They have allowed 394.8 yards per game and 26 points per game. They have experience at the corner positions with Dre Kirkpatrick and William Jackson, who are joined in the secondary by rookie Jessie Bates and Shawn Williams at the safeties. Bates has shined as a rookie, leading the Bengals in interceptions with two. Unfortunately, that hasn't been enough as they have still struggled against the pass, allowing 276.6 yards per game and ten touchdowns through the air.
The front seven of the Bengals consists of Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson at the ends, Geno Atkins at defensive tackle, and Andrew Billings at nose tackle. Atkins has been of the few positive aspects of this defense as he is tied for first in the league with TJ and JJ Watt with 6 sacks on the season. The linebacker core against the Steelers will consist of Nick Vigil, Preston Brown, and Vontaze Burfict, who will be a huge addition to the Bengals defense as he returned to the lineup last week against the Dolphins. The front seven has been the strength of their defense as they have allowed 118.2 rushing yards per game and only four rushing touchdowns so far this season.
As always, this game should be a very hard-fought game. Tension always rises very quickly in this matchup and we can expect the same on Sunday. I strongly believe that this game could come down to the final possession. If the Steelers can protect Ben Roethlisberger, he could be due for another huge game against this Bengals secondary. With that being said, I have the Steelers winning this one, but believe me when I say this one will be very, very close!