The 5: Steelers to watch versus the Bengals in Week 11

The Pittsburgh Steelers found new life in their 20-10 win over the New Orleans Saints in Week 10 of the 2022 NFL regular season, and look to carry success into Week 11 when they host the Cincinnati Bengals in their second meeting of the season with the AFC North rivals. Both teams have made some personnel changes due to injury as the second half of the season moves along, but the Steelers aren’t ready to allow the Bengals to take revenge on them for Week 1.

In this week’s “The 5” we look at Steelers players we feel are primed for big games on Sunday, making them worth watching.

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Kenny Pickett

The young gun showed, last week, that he’s got more than one weapon in his personal arsenal. Whether the playbook was opened up or Pickett is picking up what defenses are giving him, or both, the rookie quarterback threaded some needles, threw some dimes, and showed he’s not afraid to get mobile and grab yards on the run.

“Kenny did a nice job running and extending while taking care of the football while doing so. That teed up possession downs. At times, it kept us out of third-down situations, just being able to possess the ball.” – Mike Tomlin on Pickett

The Bengals didn’t face Pickett in these teams’ first meeting; they got Mitchell Trubisky who was mainly a pocket passer tasked with running a much more conservative Matt Canada offense. As favorites, and fresh off of a Super Bowl appearance, the Bengals were highly favored and the Steelers seemed to have caught them by surprise.

The Steelers want a balanced offense. They’re not going to ask Pickett to break rushing records in lieu of making the right decisions on plays that require he hold fast and get the ball to his running backs, tight ends, or receivers.

“I think every time I say quarterback mobility, I say the prudent use of quarterback mobility… Mobility is a good thing, but when and how to use it while managing the risk component of it is also an element of the equation.” – Mike Tomlin

Pittsburgh wants to be multidimensional on offense and able to exert their will. It’s something they’ve worked on week-in and week-out to improve. Pickett has shown an ability to adapt and, if he can protect the ball, a willingness to find ways to keep the offense clicking.

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The run game

Pittsburgh desires the ability to line up and be able to rush the ball when they want, and not when their opponents force it. In their past two games, the Steelers have put together 361 rushing yards. That’s still a far cry from dominance, but it’s a lot better than earlier in the season.

Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren have become an interesting tandem as the season has progressed. Harris hasn’t been 100% all season which has opened up a dual back situation that the Steelers have found more and more success with.

Against the Saints, an offensive line that has improved in run blocking and overall cohesiveness, helped George Pickens run in a short touchdown. They helped Pickett into the end zone as well. Toss in some Derek Watt at fullback and some tight end leverage and the run game isn’t just a one-dimensional, predictable gamble.

“That’s just born out of cooperative work, one man working with another… and as long as they continue to do that, it’s reasonable to expect the growth and development to continue in all areas, not just the run game.” – Tomlin on the offensive line

The Bengals have had some issues with consistency in the middle of their offensive line. Some of that can be explained by injuries, but not all of it. The Steelers could exploit that if they’re willing to up the cooperative aspect Tomlin pointed out.

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Cameron Heyward

The Bengals have been talking about getting Joe Mixon fired up to run against the Steelers like he ran against the Carolina Panthers. If there’s one guy that’s going to be locked-in on preventing Cincy from doing just that, it’s Heyward.

“The best defense is one that’s standing on the sideline.” – Cam Heyward

Heyward has been a stalwart defender this season who has motivated as a team captain, communicated, and worked with his teammates – like Larry Ogunjobi – to overcome deficits and injuries in order to get the Steelers offense back on the field.

In Week 10, the Steelers held Alvin Kamara and the Saints to just 29 yards on 15 carries in the ground game; it was the fewest rushing yards allowed by Pittsburgh since September 27, 2020 (Houston Texans, 29 yards).

Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin was positive about how the run defense has improved.

“We did the things good defenses do. We were hitting. We weren’t sticking on blocks. We made the plays we were supposed to make… Those are the things that really contribute to good run defense… Nothing has changed. Our goal is to stop Joe Mixon, because if Joe Mixon runs on us, that doesn’t leave us much of a chance.” – Austin

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George Pickens

The rookie receiver has had some phenomenal moments this season, but Pickens is due for a big game. He has chemistry with Pickett and he’ll be playing against a banged-up Bengals secondary.

Tre Flowers, Mike Hilton, and Daxton Hill all showed up on the Bengals’ injury report. That means the Bengals will have to decide if they can truly afford to double team Pickens and allow Diontae Johnson to run free, or vice versa.

If the Bengals are forced to play more zone coverage, watch for the Pickens-to-Pickett connection to develop for some potentially big highlight plays.

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