The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their tenth game of the 2022 regular season at home on Sunday afternoon against the Cincinnati Bengals, and they’ll once again enter that contest listed as a slight underdog. Below are five key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do at home on Sunday afternoon to come away with their fourth win of the 2022 season and their second one against the Bengals.
Make Joe Tee It Up – The Bengals won’t have star wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase on Sunday so that’s one huge break for the Steelers’ defense, which should have all their pieces back this week. You can count on the defense trying to take Bengals’ running back Joe Mixon away on Sunday both as a runner and a pass catcher. In short, the Steelers defense probably needs to make Bengals’ quarterback Joe Burrow beat them down the field with throws to the team’s other talented wide receiver, Tee Higgins. In the Week 1 meeting between the two teams, Higgins was limited to just two catches for 27 yards and mainly due to him being knocked out of the game with a concussion. The Bengals’ offense mostly relied on Burrow to chase in Week 1 and to the tune of 10 receptions for 129 yards and a touchdown. On Sunday, the Bengals’ offense must be made to run through Higgins to see if he can carry the team to victory. Higgins has just one 100-yard receiving game this season. Additionally, the Bengals are 2-3 this season when Higgins has been held to under 93 yards receiving.
Kenny Needs To See Red – Field goals are not going to cut it on Sunday against the Bengals. The Steelers’ offense must start getting better in the red zone starting on Sunday. Last week, the Steelers’ offense was in the red zone a season-high five times, but the unit only managed to come away with two touchdowns and just 20 overall points. Rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett has not been great at all in the red zone this year when asked to pass. In fact, he still has just two touchdown passes this season and only one of those was a ball that was thrown into the end zone. The Steelers are going to likely need at least two touchdowns on Sunday so the offense must bury a few red zone opportunities. The Bengals’ defense has a 53.85% red zone rate entering Sunday.
Up The Gut Punches – The Steelers offense managed to get the running game going in week 10 and now the unit will look to do that again on Sunday against the Bengals. The best running plan on Sunday will likely be trying to force the football right up the middle as that is where the Bengals’ defense has struggled this season. In fact, the Bengals’ defense has allowed 5.27 yards per carry on 30 runs up the middle so far this season and 5.03 yards per carry on runs to left guard. The Bengals will get defensive tackle DJ Reader back on Sunday and he has been sidelined since Week 3. His practice window was just opened this past week so he might not be able to play a full complement of snaps. Additionally, he might be a tad rusty upon his return. If the Steelers’ offense can get the running game going early on Sunday, that should keep Pickett in manageable third down opportunities. A good up-the-gut-running game could potentially shorten Sunday’s game and help keep Burrow and company off the field in addition.
Big Johnson Time – Steelers’ wide receiver Diontae Johnson has yet to have a huge game this season and on top of that, he’s yet to score a touchdown. Johnson is one of the NFL’s top wide receivers when it comes to getting open and that shouldn’t change on Sunday against the Bengals. Johnson’s best game so far this season came in Week 3 with him registering 84 yards. In the other seven games, Johnson averaged just five receptions for 41 yards. A Sunday stat line like that isn’t likely to cut it. A 100-yard receiving day for Johnson with at least one touchdown reception would go a long way in helping the Steelers beat the Bengals on Sunday. It’s now been 15 games since Johnson has had 100-yard receiving in a contest. It’s time for that streak to end on Sunday.
Impressive Insiders – The Steelers should have inside linebacker Myles Jack back alongside Devin Bush on Sunday and those two players probably need to have strong games at Acrisure Stadium. Stopping the Bengals’ running game will obviously be important on Sunday along with being sharp when it comes to sniffing out screens and short passes to zone spots or option routes. Jack and Bush really need to lead the charge in the tackling department on Sunday and within five yards of the line of scrimmage as well. The better those two inside linebackers play on Sunday, the better the chance there will be at holding the Bengals under 21 total points. Jack and Bush have combined to register just three tackles for loss, no sacks, and no forced turnovers so far this season. That pitiful combined stat line needs to be added to quite significantly on Sunday.