Following a disappointing loss to the Cleveland Browns that ended in disgusting fashion, the Pittsburgh Steelers have had a long ten days to regroup for another AFC North matchup this Sunday.
The Steelers are on the road once again this week to face their AFC North rival, the Cincinnati Bengals. While the Steelers are looking to get back to their winning ways to stay in playoff contention, the Bengals are just looking to create anything positive for their season. They are currently sitting at an 0-10 record and have been eliminated from playoff contention.
While they have been terrible this season, anything can happen in this game as this rivalry has a tendency to be close (minus this year's Monday Night Football blowout) and the Steelers are dealing with some key injuries. With all of this in mind, let's take a look at this week's opponent, the Cincinnati Bengals.
Much like the Steelers, the Cincinnati Bengals have been dealing with several key injuries throughout this season. Star wide receiver A.J. Green has yet to play this season due to an ankle injury and isn't looking likely to play this week as he is listed as questionable and did not practice on Wednesday. The Bengals will be looking thin at receiver as they also look to be without Auden Tate (Concussion) and John Ross (Shoulder).
Ross is out for sure, as he was placed on Injured Reserve, while Tate is listed as questionable and did not practice on Wednesday. Wide receiver Stanley Morgan also missed Wednesday's practice and is listed as questionable with an illness. Some other injuries on the offensive side of the ball include offensive guard Billy Price (Back) and tight end Drew Sample (Ankle). Sample has been ruled out for this weekend while Price is listed as questionable and was able to have limited participation in Wednesday's practice.
On defense, strong safety Shawn Williams is the only new injury that they are monitoring. He is listed as questionable with a thumb injury and was limited in practice on Wednesday.
Can Ryan Finley get a win in his first game against Pittsburgh?
After a terrible start to the season, head coach Zac Taylor decided it was time to make a change to this Bengals offense. During the Bengals' bye week, he decided to bench veteran starting quarterback Andy Dalton for rookie Ryan Finley.
While I have never thought that Dalton is a good quarterback, Finley has not done any better so far as his replacement. In his first two games as a starter, Finley has thrown for only 282 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions.
With Cincinnati's receiving core looking thin, Finley will be looking to Tyler Boyd to be his go-to target this weekend and likely the rest of the season as Green doesn't look eager to return. Boyd is 30th in the league in receiving with 58 receptions for 598 yards and only one touchdown so far. This week, he will be joined by Alex Erickson and Stanley Morgan in the receiving core along with tight ends C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Eifert.
To make things even more difficult, they will be facing a Steelers secondary that has stepped up big time since acquiring free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. They rank ninth in the league against the pass, allowing 223.1 yards per game and 17 total passing touchdowns while coming away with 14 interceptions, five of those coming from Fitzpatrick.
With the passing game looking very mediocre, the Bengals will likely be leaning on the ground game this weekend. As their record shows, they haven't had much luck on the ground either. Star running back Joe Mixon had high hopes coming into this season but has struggled for the most part behind a terrible offensive line.
Mixon is 18th in the league in rushing with 520 yards and only one touchdown so far. He will be going up against a Steelers defense that ranks 14th in the league against the run, allowing 105.2 rushing yards per game and only five total rushing touchdowns so far this season.
Bengals defense must step up against injury-filled Steelers offense
While the Bengals have been pretty bad on the offensive side of the ball this season, they have been even worse on defense. Cincinnati ranks dead last in the league in total defense, allowing 425.1 yards of total offense per game and 27.6 points per game this season.
Against the pass, the Bengals rank 24th in the league, allowing 258.1 yards per game and 15 total passing touchdowns while only coming away with four interceptions so far. Their secondary is led by free safety Jessie Bates III who leads the team with two interceptions. He is joined in the secondary by Shawn Williams at strong safety, who will be replaced by Clayton Fejedelem if he can't play.
They will be joined at the corner slots by B.W. Webb and William Jackson III with Darqueze Dennard at the nickel. Tony McRae will also see time in the rotation. They will look to take advantage of a short-handed Steelers receiver corps that will likely be without Juju Smith-Schuster and could also be without Diontae Johnson.
This Bengals defense has been even worse against the run this season. They have allowed 167 yards per game and 13 total touchdowns on the ground so far.
Their front seven is led by veteran defensive tackle Geno Atkins who is solid against the inside run but has also been a force as a pass rusher, leading the team with 4.5 sacks. He is joined on the defensive line by Andrew Billings at nose tackle with Carlos Dunlap and Sam Hubbard at the defensive ends. Carl Lawson will also see some time at defensive end. Behind them, Nick Vigil and Germaine Pratt will be with starting linebackers with Jordan Evans rotating in.
They will look to improve this week as the Steelers will also be without starting running back James Conner. Back up Jaylen Samuels hasn't got much done on the ground when asked to be the lead back but he is talented enough to still get the job done if the offensive line can create some space.
This game has "trap game" written all over it as the Bengals will do just about anything to get their first win, especially against their rival and the Steelers have been hit with some tough injuries.
However, it is important to keep in mind that the Bengals are dealing with injuries of their own and are still a terrible football team.
I simply don't see Ryan Finley being able to get the job done in this game and Mixon won't be able to run the ball all day. The Steelers will force Finley to throw at least two interceptions in this game and stop the run when they need to the most. On the opposite side, I see this being a big game for Jaylen Samuels to take pressure off Mason Rudolph and it will help if Benny Snell Jr. can play as he returned to practice this week.
I see Samuels having at least a couple touchdowns with Rudolph hitting college teammate James Washington for some big plays and also getting tight end Vance McDonald involved in a big way. I've got the Steelers winning this one 31-13 to make it ten wins in a row against the Bengals.