You know what week it is. It's Bengals week, and it comes as no surprise that it will be among the most physical and crucial games of the season.
The Bengals defense may be without Vontaze Burfict, but that shouldn't take away from the physicality and talent the Bengals defense possesses. This is the first divisional matchup of the season, and the Steelers need to get off to a strong start against the Bengals to set the tone for the rest of the season.
Just like last week, this week we're going to take a look at the Bengals defense to see what the Steelers can expect from them, along with how they can attack the defense.
The Bengals secondary has quite a few returning faces from last season with George Illoka, Adam Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick and Shawn Williams. The only real change is Williams being inserted into the starting lineup in place of the departed Reggie Nelson via free agency.
Dre Kirkpatrick predominantly lines up at left cornerback, while his partner in crime Adam Jones lines up at right cornerback and Josh Shaw mostly mans the slot.
What will be different, compared to Week 1 to this week, is the insertion of Darqueze Dennard as he is returning from injury. What is unknown is whether he will play in the slot or on the outside and depending on his workload in the game, we could see more of what we saw last week from the Bengals.
All I know from watching the Bengals in Week 1 is that they love to play man coverage.
The fact they trust their DB's to play in man against one of the best WR duo's in the league in Decker and Marshall, shows that we could most likely see more of the same against the Steelers.
How can the Steelers attack this secondary? Well, Antonio Brown we all know is very hard to guard, there aren't many who can cover him, so I don't need to get into that.
If Markus Wheaton isn't able to go, I'd look for Eli Rogers early and often, if he is matched up with Shaw in man coverage because Shaw lacks the hip fluidity to stay with a shiftier receiver like Rogers. That's why I'd actually expect, if Wheaton is out, to see Adam Jones on Rogers rather than Shaw because Coates as fast he is, isn't the shiftiest and best at creating separation, but Shaw has the straight line speed (4.44 40 yard dash) to stay with a guy like Coates.
Expect to see Jesse James over the middle trying to keep the safeties from committing too much to the WR's, giving them some breathing room.
The Bengals are a variant 4-3, 1 gaping defensive front with many familiar faces from last year. Their starting defensive line consists of defensive ends Carlos Dunlap on the left side and Michael Johnson on the right side (both occasionally getting subbed out for Margus Hunt) along with their defensive tackles Geno Atkins and Domata Peko.
When I mean a variant 4-3 defense, I mean they change up their formations quite a bit throughout the game. They don't just stay with same technique per formation but they stay true to mostly being a one gaping front.
This was definitely the most common formation I noticed throughout the game as Peko would be lined up as the 1 technique, with Atkins of course lined up as the 3 tech with Johnson and Dunlap lined up outside as a 6 and 7 tech.
Speaking of defensive lineman, we all know just how much of pain Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap can be. In case we don't, it's good to remind ourselves just what we are facing when going up against Atkins and Dunlap.
In case you don't know just based off the play, the Steelers are facing a quick off the snap defensive tackle, who uses his hands well to disengage (nice arm over move by Atkins on the play), along with a DE with freakish 34 1/2 inch arms which he can impact the passing game with.
If you do not get your hands on Dunlap, he has the athleticism and length to absolutely get his hands on the ball and cause either incompletions or interceptions. Don't let Atkins disengage, maintain lower pad level and don't get beat by his quickness.
I make it sound simple, but is isn't as easy as I make it sound, but that's why it helps to have an offensive line coach like Munchak who preaches technique, not to mention having the talent along the offensive line to counter the talent along the Bengals defensive line.
Should be a good matchup to watch in the trenches.
Moving onto their LB's, the unit consists of Karlos Dansby (SLB), Rey Maulaga (MLB) and Vincent Rey (WLB).
You may as well forget about seeing Maulaga at all though in this game. It comes to no coincidence against a stout Jets offense that can spread the field that according to Cincy Jungle, he only played 11% of the snaps, while in contrast, Dansby didn't miss snap and Rey played 94% of the snaps. So it doesn't take no rocket scientist to figure out that Maulaga will probably not see much action against Pittsburgh's potent passing attack.
What'll be interesting to watch is the fact that the Bengals gave up 137 rushing yards to both Matt Forte and Bilal Powell on the ground on 26 carries, which averages out to about 5.3 yards per carry. Denagelo Williams could see another big night if the Bengals don't gameplan accordingly.
Big thing I noticed when going over the film of the Jets game was how often Paul Guenther really tried to disguise his coverages ,and how often he faked the blitz and dropped his guys into coverage.
A lot of times I noticed Guenther would move his DE's around the line, Johnson in particular on this play does a splendid job of moving back into the middle zone before the ball was snapped in order to cover the H back/TE Quincy Enunwa on the drag route.
When you're able to drop your DE's back like that and cover that well, it really can making disguising your coverage a real hassle for the opposing QB.
Fitzpatrick got pressured on the play in a 3 man rush by Dunlap who really worked the tackle on the inside spin move. Both DE's really showing just how much of problem they can be whether in coverage or rushing off the edge.
Guenther's defense is definitely going to be difficult to game plan for. The TE's are going to be especially crucial in the blocking department in this game.
The Bengals defense has some good talent and a good defensive coordinator. They seem to trust their CB's vs. the opposition's WR's in man, and that might have something to do with their pass rush along their front 4.
It's a tough task but the Steelers are built to counter it with one of the best, if not the best offensive lines in the league. The TE's will play a big part in blocking the Bengals lengthy duo at DE and could be the difference between a pressure filled game, to a well protected Ben that's given time to find his receivers.
If the Bengals want to play man, they'll have to contend with the speed and quickness the Steelers have at WR, which is a tough task. Don't forget one of the best running games in the league led by backup RB DeAngelo Williams against their linebacking core led by Karlos Dansby.
The Steelers have to stay balanced on offense and keep the Bengals defense honest from throwing exotic blitzes and disguises at them. Win in the trenches.
Definitely feels like Bengals week.