Do I regret saying the Steelers were going to blow out the Cowboys? Of course, I regret it. Do I feel bad for giving bad advice? The answer is a resounding yes.
We’ve been pretty solid this year overall, but last week was not one of those days. I should’ve respected the Cowboys more. More importantly, I should’ve had more respect for the players. That being said, the Steelers still won because the Cowboys suck. Garrett Gilbert was surprisingly decent. He managed to exploit the occasional holes in the Steelers secondary, but perhaps the most impressive aspect was his ability to avoid pressure.
The Steelers are one of, if not the best, at sacking the opposing quarterback. To add to the chaos, the Cowboys lost another offensive lineman in warmups. It appeared to be set up for a blowout. Alas, somehow, the Cowboys only surrendered two sacks.
The game made no sense in a lot of ways. If anything, last week’s conclusion about the Steelers offense only seems further reinforced. The Steelers appeared to try what we thought they’d try, going deep frequently in the game to expand the play selection for future coordinators to prepare for. The execution was just bad. It took a vintage Ben Roethlisberger short passing attack to push the Steelers ahead down the wire.
We stated last week the Steelers may try to open up the playbook to throw off defenses going forward. The Steelers did just that for much of the game. Unfortunately, it didn’t work, so it appears the book is out on the limitations of this offense.
Steelers vs Bengals Preview
I’m calling this a trap game for the Steelers. Amidst the Covid concerns and Big Ben’s ailing knees, I expect we will see the Bengals defense putting emphasis on stopping the run and keeping the safeties in to prevent Ben picking them apart in the short passing game. The Bengals are 29th against the run, 23rd against the pass, but 20th in points allowed. They are a “bend but don’t break” defense.
In many ways, the Bengals profile similar to the Cowboys on both sides of the ball. Joe Burrow is capable of making some big throws. He’s also capable of digging a hole for his team. Though Burrow has gone over 300 yards passing in six of eight games this season, he struggled against the Ravens greatly. If you like comps, the Ravens are a decent comp here. I don’t think the Steelers have the lock-down ability in the secondary the Ravens have, but having a good defense overall is promising with Joe Mixon out.
While the Bengals have slim hopes of actually carving up the Steelers defense, it’s worth noting Burrow had moderate success against the Colts solid defense, despite being stymied in the second half. We know the blueprint for the Bengals in this game. Their success rests on Burrow and their talented receiving corps. Tee Higgins will likely be matched up with Joe Haden. That’s going to be a big advantage for Higgins, as he’s been a very solid, productive receiver, even as a rookie.
The Steelers are good defensively, but last week should make us all pause. You can say they were caught off guard by Garrett Gilbert and that talented receiving corps. How do we explain the 144 yards rushing on 31 carries? The Cowboys have a shell of an offensive line, a disinterested Ezekiel Elliott, and yet they rushed for 4.6 YPC. It’s alarming, and the Steelers had better wake up this week because their lead in the division isn’t THAT big. This is a divisional game against a frisky opponent.
I expect the Bengals to try to attack the Steelers through the air in this game. The entire left side of the Steelers secondary (Haden, Edmunds) has struggled this season. Tee Higgins is going to be operating on that side in 11 personnel. I think Higgins will have a big day, going for around 100 yards and a score. I see the same matchup disparity on the other side with Chase Claypool matched up against Phillips on the right side in 11 personnel.
Bengals corner, Phillips, is 68th at the position according to PFF, while their strong safety, Bell, is rated 53rd at safety. I expect the Steelers to control this game on the ground. I also anticipate Ben will utilize both Chase Claypool and Juju Smith-Schuster moderately in this game. I like for the Steelers to win this game at home in a relatively comfortable win. However, if Ben is out, I like for the Bengals to pull the narrow upset.