The Week-7 game between the Steelers and Bengals is huge for multiple reasons. With a win, the Steelers would further distance themselves from the pack in the AFC North, as well as remaining a top team in the entire AFC. But a loss would give the Bengals newfound life in the division, and a third-straight win.
To get a better feel for this Bengals team, I sat down with Scott Schulze of Cincy Jungle, SB Nation’s Bengals website, to pose a few questions about the upcoming matchup.
Check out the interview, and his prediction for the game, below:
Steelers vs. Bengals...a rivalry which doesn't need a lot added to it. The Bengals are coming off of a bye after back-to-back wins. What has their fans confident in their team heading into Week 7?
The defense was pretty good last year, and seems to be even better this season. They are currently ranked 2nd in points allowed and yards allowed in the NFL, and they’ve added a pass rush, which was missing last season. Another reason for optimism is—after averaging less than five points per game in their first two games, the Bengals offense has averaged 25 points per game since switching offensive coordinators. So, there’s some hope that the offense has turned things around and can competently move the ball, especially with a week off to prepare with the new coordinator.
On the flip side, what has Bengals fans concerned about the matchup against the Steelers on Sunday?
The biggest challenge is that the opponent is the Steelers. There isn’t a lot of love lost between the two teams and Marvin Lewis hasn’t had a lot of success against them during his career. Digging deeper, the Bengals’ offensive line has struggled quite a bit this year. Dalton, who generally doesn’t perform his best under pressure, is currently on pace to be sacked more than any time in his 7-year career. The offensive line’s lack of execution has also made it difficult for the running backs to get much room to run the football and, heading into their last game, Joe Mixon had been tackled for a loss on just under 25% of his rushes.
Can't get through a 5-questions without talking about our favorite Bengal, Vontaze Burfict. How has he been acting, and I used that word intentionally, since coming off of suspension?
Burfict is Burfict. I don’t think that will ever change. He’s going to play aggressively, giving 100% up thru the whistle. I think he’s one of those players that you like if he’s on your team, but hate if he’s on your opponent’s team. His style of play, and the lack of a gear between all or nothing doesn’t really fit well in today’s softer, politically-correct NFL. He’s certainly done some things that have merited suspensions and fines, which has seemed to make him something of a target for the NFL. He’s getting reproved for some very ticky-tacky plays that most players with lesser reputations seem to get away with. His most recent suspension seems to fit into that realm as something that didn’t really seem malicious as much as it was just a big hit in an era when the NFL is trying to distance itself from concussions and not celebrate the bone-crushing hits as much as the league did previously. For good or bad, I wouldn’t expect to see Burfict on Sunday playing any differently than you’ve seen in any of the other Bengals-Steelers games.
The Bengals have a great RB group with Joe Mixon added to the mix. How are they utilizing their backs on game days?
In the first two weeks, the Bengals made a pretty strong effort to mix all three running backs equally. Mixon got 40% of the rushes while Bernard and Hill each got 30% of the rushes. Once they switched offensive coordinators after Week 2, they stopped being cute with the workload and Mixon has received 67% of the carries with Bernard the third down back, and Hill subbing for Mixon. Unfortunately, the offensive line has struggled substantially this season (after losing their top two offensive linemen to free agency), so the production from the running game has been underwhelming.
Give fans two players (one from offense and one from defense) who Steelers fans might not be too familiar with, but who might play a big role in Sunday’s game.
The offense took a major hit when tight end Tyler Eifert was placed on season-ending IR this week. In his absence, the backup tight end Tyler Kroft has caught 13 of 16 passes for 134 yards and a pair of scores over the last four weeks. Kroft doesn’t have the elite-caliber traits we’ve seen from Eifert (when healthy), but he has shown he can contribute and make the loss of Eifert more manageable.
On defense I’m hard pressed to go with just one, so I’ll give you two. Second year, outside linebacker Nick Vigil has been impressive over the past few weeks. He’s done a good job getting to the ball carrier and even contributing on pass rushes, which leads me to the second defensive player I’ll mention – Carl Lawson. He is a fourth-round edge rusher who has 3.5 sacks thru five games. So far in his rookie campaign, Lawson has been impressive in OTA’s, preseason, and into the regular season when it comes to getting pressure on the quarterback. It’s possible that Lawson could be a frequent visitor to the Steelers’ backfield on Sunday.
How do you see this playing out/your prediction?
The Bengals are 5-8 at Pittsburgh in the Marvin Lewis era, so it’s certainly possible that the Bengals exit Heinz Field with a victory. And defensively, I think the Bengals have the talent to limit the Steelers’ offense. But I’m not sure if I trust the offense enough to bring home the victory. I think it might take more than a bye-week and a new offensive coordinator to fix an offensive line that’s plagued by a lack of great players—since you can only scheme so much to compensate for what you don’t have. I’d be surprised if it’s not a low-scoring, back and forth game defined by a few key turnovers or big plays. Those generally aren’t the types of games that a Marvin Lewis team wins – especially against teams who aren’t bad. As much as I’d like the Bengals to win, I’d have to predict something like 16-14 for the home team.