The Pittsburgh Steelers are preparing for their 2022 regular season opener with a trip to Cincinnati, OH to play the Bengals in Week 1. A tough task for the Steelers who have lost three straight to Cincinnati dating back to the Monday Night Football fiasco in 2020.
With this being such a big game, not like every game isn’t a big game, I was able to ask Anthony Cosenza of Cincy Jungle, SB Nation’s Cincinnati Bengals website, five questions leading up to the game.
Check out the Q&A below, and be sure to check out DraftKings Sportsbook for all your betting needs this season.
How do the Bengals’ fan base overall view the Steelers in 2022? This is the first year without Ben Roethlisberger since 2003, and the Steelers’ win total is set at 7.5. Are Cincinnati fans seeing this as the beginning of the end, or just the start of a serious rebuild?
Personally speaking, I never count the Steelers “out” of anything. Even without their Hall of Fame quarterback, losing one of their top wide receivers and most pundits being lower on them than usual, they’re still the Steelers. Last year was interesting to watch from a Bengals perspective though, as they just didn’t seem to have as much of that trademark edge or confidence that they usually hold.
Some of that swagger seems to have been potentially recaptured with a blend of local favorites (Kenny Pickett) and those with fierce attitudes (George Pickens). Cincinnati fans are pretty in tune with the happenings around the league and the division, so they are aware that Mike Tomlin has never had a losing season with Pittsburgh. It’s somewhat hard to imagine, even with the roster turnover they’ve had the past couple of offseasons, that he’d buck that trend in 2022.
As a more direct answer to your question, I think Bengals fans are much more confident going against Pittsburgh than they have been. Not only is this because of some of the lingering questions at quarterback and the offensive line with the Steelers, but the fact that Cincinnati has seemingly hit on a lot of top picks in the Zac Taylor era.
Who is a player on the Bengals offense who could be an impact player Steelers fans might not know much about? Everyone knows about Burrow, Mixon, Chase and Higgins. Who is another weapon to keep an eye on?
I’m sure Steelers fans know about Tyler Boyd and what he can do because of past performance, his years in the league and his being a hometown Pitt guy. So, we won’t go there.
One guy I think could become a thorn in Pittsburgh’s side over the next couple of years is backup running back Chris Evans. He will get the occasional carry, line up as a receiver and return kickoffs to begin the year in 2022 and has shown a penchant to be electric.
He might be WR4 for the Bengals this season at times and could prove to be a great outlet for Burrow—particularly if/when things break down on a play.
Sticking with the offense, if there is a weakness on the Bengals’ stout team, what would it be?
One could argue Eli Apple played the best football of his pro career last year and was a nice fallback option after the Trae Waynes signing blew up in the team’s face. Still, there are spells of inconsistency and/or his looking like the guy who had struggles in New York and New Orleans—they are just way fewer and more far between because of his longtime relationship with Lou Anarumo.
Aside from that, figuring out how to get consistent pass-rush help from rotational players is a must. The good news is that Cincinnati appears to have the able players to do so in Joseph Ossai, Zachary Carter, Khalid Kareem, Cam Sample and others. It’s just that those players are young, have had injuries and/or are inexperienced to varying degrees.
The Bengals had the opportunity to pay safety Jessie Bates big-time money, but the team franchise tagged him instead. How do you see this playing out in the long run? Also, are fans confident they’ll get a long term deal done next offseason?
Most are resigned to the fact that this is likely Bates’ last year with the Bengals. His agent (David Mulghetta) is an aggressive negotiator and he wants to see his client get paid towards the top of his position. And, for largely good reason.
However, I’ve always held the notion that, at least statistically, Bates has been a “tale of two seasons within a season” kind of guy. He seems to have great portions of a season, while disappearing for stretches. And that, combined with their traditional devaluation of the position, has caused the contractual stalemate.
Regardless, his teammates love him and those on the Bengals’ defense consistently gush about his value to the unit. It will take a subpar year from Bates, the Bengals pivoting on their stance, or a combination of both for them to re-sign him in 2023, as the Bengals try to shore up long-term deals with their core players a year before they are set to hit free agency.
They’ve had two years to get something done and the franchise tag is what has come of it. It’s also doubtful a second franchise tag is on the table.
Currently, Cincinnati is a 6.5-point favorite at home in Week 1. Are you confident the Bengals will win AND cover? Or do you think this game will be a close one? How do you see this game playing out?
I don’t have the specifics at hand, but, if memory serves, even the poorer recent Bengals teams were decent at covering the spread. This looks as good of a time as any for Cincinnati to host the Steelers, given their quasi-state of transition and potentially feeling out new players.
Still…it’s the Steelers. Getting nearly a touchdown as the favorite is something that is uncharted in this rivalry. As I said above, I never count Pittsburgh out of anything, but it’s also hard to overlook the two dominant wins by the Bengals last season.
The finality of this game will be decided in the trenches. Which team did enough offensive line revamping to stymie the other defense? Did both do quality work in that regard?
Cincinnati has barely lost any key players (really just C.J. Uzomah and Larry Ogunjobi) from last year’s Super Bowl squad, so they’re primed. Pittsburgh has to hope Mitch Trubisky finds new life in a new situation and thrives (Tommy Maddox, anyone?).
I’d say Bengals win, but maybe just miss covering. I think it’ll be more competitive than last years outings.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for their season opener vs. the Bengals this Sunday in Cincinnati.