The 5: Steelers to watch in second showdown with Bengals

Every week, ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ regular-season games, Steel City Underground will analyze the depth chart, injury reports, and key matchups against their upcoming opponent in order to point out “The 5” – Steelers players to watch.

This week, we bring a bit more attention to “The 5” by presenting the views of two of our Steel City Underground team members, Ben Beberman and Christina Rivers, for the Thanksgiving edition.

After the heartbreak loss against the Los Angeles Chargers, the Pittsburgh Steelers return home to face a familiar foe in the Cincinnati Bengals. This will be the Steelers’ third division game this season, and it has arrived at the perfect time. Now, the Steelers have been given a chance to prove who they really are, contender or pretender? This week we will look at who can help the Steelers secure a win in week 12.

With news that T.J. Watt and Isaiahh Loudermilk were limited in practice on Tuesday, with Eric Ebron, Trai Turner, Joe Haden, and J.C. Hassenauer not practicing, it appears that the Steelers’ second showdown with the AFC North rival Cincinnati Bengals will feature a lot of personnel changes once again for the black and gold.

It’s nearly December football, and the Steelers need more of their “backups” and young players to find themselves this week and make a real difference in the team’s performance. Here are five players that fans should keep an eye on in Week 12 on the road in Cincinnati.

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The defensive backfield

Christina:  In his presser this week, head coach Mike Tomlin admitted, “I didn’t do very well last week (of patching together a defense), and hopefully that won’t be the challenge of this week…”

With anticipation that Minkah Fitzpatrick will be ready for Sunday, and the potential that Haden may also be available, the indications given by Tomlin were that the quality of their preparation, individually, would determine their use against the Bengals.

Against the Chargers, Tre Norwood, a rookie corner, was often left out to dry with poor over-the-top help. It allowed L.A. to capitalize on a mish-mash defensive backfield that was obviously out of sync. Norwood, and the entire back end of the Steelers defense, could use a boost in consistency, and his play will be something worth keeping an eye on against the Bengals.

Ben:  Another familiar face is returning from the reserved/covid list and he will definitely make his presence known this week. The lack of Fitzpatrick last week showed itself all night long. The defense was getting torched over the top for many plays and with their star safety back in the fold, we should see many busted coverages disappear. Hopefully he will get his first turnover and not have it be reversed this time, please?

One of the underrated players on the defense, Cam Sutton, can have another great performance and continue to improve week by week. He came up clutch in the 4th quarter last week and I think that he can snag another interception this week. It depends who he is matched up against. Just don’t let them get behind you and you will be ok.

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Devin Bush

Christina:  The 2021 Steelers Ed Block Courage Award winner has struggled to return to form since a serious ACL injury last season. He hasn’t looked 100 percent on the field, his play called “spotty at times” by Tomlin.

Being asked to cover sideline-to-sideline in this Steelers defense has proven to be a tough task for Bush. He hasn’t necessarily been completely outplayed by his fellow interior linebackers, although more consistency is expected. If Bush can get on track, it would make Joe Burrows‘ job much harder on Sunday offensively.

Ben:  Coming back off injury has been tough this season for Bush. Lots of yinzers are already calling Bush a bust. I admit, so far this year, Bush has looked bad. I think he can turn things around as long as they are confident in him, but he needs to finish the play. The Bengals will want to run the ball and Bush needs to show Steelers Nation that he belongs as the number one because, if he does not, they have his possible replacement already here. So let us give him the benefit of the doubt for now.

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Kendrick Green

Christina:  The rookie center has had his fair share of up-and-down moments. Lately, he’s snapped quite a few high balls. He hasn’t always leveraged his size and build to prevent himself from being pushed into the Steelers’ offensive backfield, and has made some “noob” mistakes.

It should be worth watching this week whether Green progresses the right direction and reactivates the nasty up-front disposition she showed flashes of early in the season. If Green performs at a high level, Ben Roethlisberger and Najee Harris should immediately benefit. The trickle down would then give the passing game a boost as well.

The remaining personnel on the offensive line should also, then, be more cohesive as a unit. The center is the anchor, and Green needs to show he has the ability to fill that role.

Ben: It’s easy to say that Green has had a very up and down rookie year so far. Last week he had some very noticeable moments especially with his pass-protection. This week will be another tough task up front. Greene seemed to struggle in one-on-one blocking and he will most likely face similar situations. Can he have a bounce-back game? I hope so.

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The outside linebackers

Without Watt opposite him, Alex Highsmith did his job last week. He wasn’t splashy. He didn’t really add highlight reel material for all of us to drool over, but he was mostly solid in his play.

Taco Charlton and Derrek Tuszka saw plenty of snaps as Keith Butler utilized various sub packages to stem the flow of blood the Chargers inflicted against the Steelers in Week 11.

If Watt is able to rejoin the team on the field, Highsmith should see his production improve from a pass-rush and pressure standpoint. If Charlton and Tuszka are relied upon once again this week as co-starters, giving Watt time to work back in, Highsmith will need to dig deeper in maintaining the edge and be more disruptive.

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Christina: Special teams coverage/return

There are a lot of guys being asked to show their ability as special-teamers. There have been moments, like Miles Killebrew‘s blocked punt last week, that were game-changers. Other times, the unit has not come through in much-needed fashion.

This week, the Steelers need their coverage unit to play well in order to force the Bengals into long field situations. If Pittsburgh can force Burrow to need long drives to score, the time of possession and field position battles should be easier to manage.

They can’t afford costly mishandling of the ball on returns, either. This unit, from Chris Boswell to Pressley Harvin to Derek Watt, et all, need to be sharp and up to the task.

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Ben: Zach Gentry

With the injury to Ebron, expect to see many more snaps for Gentry. We got a small taste of Gentry against Cleveland a few games back, and maybe they will use his skill set in the red zone.

Gentry is easily the best blocking tight end on the roster and they should use that ability to run the ball down the Bengals’ throats. Don’t be surprised if they throw in some more screens to him in short yardage. Eyes will be on Pat Freiermuth, so Matt Canada should take that into consideration.

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