Five Storylines Heading Into Bengals-Steelers

New coach, same Bengals?

Matt Koll
September 30, 2019 - 11:48 am
Zac Taylor

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Can we get a win here? Please?! Here are some things I'm looking at heading into this Monday Night Football matchup with a familar foe. 

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5. The Unknown

For the first time in 16 years, we’ll look to other sideline and won’t see McDonald native Marvin Lewis patrolling, mostly likely with his arm folded, disgusted at what is playing out on the field. For years, the Steelers tormented Lewis’ outfits, even in times when the Bengals had high hopes for the season or came in with the better record. It seemed like in every big moment, if there was a do or die game—playoffs included—the Steelers were the ones on top.

I had come to love and appreciate Marv Lewis for just that reason. For the Steelers side of things, he was safe. You knew exactly what you were going to get. It was going to be the same philosophies on offense and a hard-nosed, often times dirty game on defense but at the end of the day, Pittsburgh would likely win.

Now things are different. Yes, it hasn’t necessarily been a good different as the Bengals come in 0-3. Yet. Out goes Marv, in comes young Zac Taylor the former QB coach for the NFC champions LA Rams. Already a piece from the Sean McVay coaching tree, Taylor brings in a fresh perspective and new concepts to this offense and organization. What does that look like? How will it play out on Sunday?

Part of the talk coming from Cincinnati is the stark difference between how Taylor is approaching this game in particular and how Lewis did in the past. Lewis was notorious for playing down matchups with the Steelers and trying to keep things the same. Taylor is embracing the big stage, realizing this is a divisional “rivalry” game and one that holds more cache than others on the schedule. Will provide a bigger and better performance from his team? Who knows? We don’t know a lot about Zac Taylor. There’s an element of unknown for the first time in a very long time.

 

Related: Three-Point Stance: Steelers vs Bengals And Beyond

4. Can The Coordinators Coordinate?

The Steelers have had a lot of issues leading to this 0-3 start. You don’t start the year 0-3 on accident. There’s usually a myriad of reasons why that’s the case and it’s certainly no different with this team.

Yes, you can point to the franchise quarterback being out. You can point to the offensive line play that hasn’t been close to what it was the past few seasons (I’ll get to that again eventually). You can point to a defense loaded with talent that hasn’t been good enough when the Steelers have needed them and therein lies the rub for me.

It all points back to coaching. Offensively, offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner hasn’t shown much in the first three weeks. He openly abandoned the run game after it didn’t work right away in the 1st quarter against New England and seemingly chained Mason Rudolph from taking deeper shots down the field and using his big arm early on in last week’s loss to San Francisco. The offense overall looks bland outside of a flea flicker and a few end-arounds, with little pre-snap motion and virtually zero play action pass plays.

Defensively, coordinator Keith Butler has eight starting first round picks to work with and still can’t find a way to help them make a stop and get off the field when they need to. They’re still struggling in covering tight ends and stopping the run and it seems as if no adjustment have been made, whether in-game or in preparation for a new week.

They need to at least look like they know what they’re doing this week.

 

3. No AJ, No Problem?

Make no mistake, the Bengals are without their top weapon this week. AJ Green is the biggest difference maker on the roster, a man who is in the top 10 at his position in the league when healthy and by far Andy Dalton’s favorite target.

Without him, they’re left with Pitt man Tyler Boyd, who’s elevated his game in Green’s absence and finally the emergence of John Ross III.  A former first round pick, Ross had over 100 yards receiving a touchdown in each of the first two games of the year but fell off against Buffalo last week. Auden Tate may be a man to watch in the receiving corps, a 6’5’’ 230 lb target who is catching the eye of Bengals fans and coaches alike and may be emerging into this own with more playing time.

We’ll see if this group even comes close to matching the production AJ Green brings.

 

2. Running Game Control

The stats are ugly. On both sides. The Bengals come in 31st in rushing defense as a team (168.7 yards allowed per game). The Steelers, 25th (139.3). On the other side, Cincinnati enters the game dead last in rushing offense (41.7 yards per game) and the Steelers? Not much better. 29th, or 4th worst, in the NFL averaging 64 rushing yards per game.

The classic “something has to give” scenario. Cincinnati Enquirer Bengals beat writer Tyler Dragon joined The Fan Morning Show Monday and explained that the Bengals offensive line is “terrible” (his words, not mine) in run blocking. That would certainly explain why, with a weapon like Joe Mixon, the Bengals have struggled so much.

From both teams’ perspectives, it’s the perfect storm. The dream scenario. Struggling stopping the run? Play a team that can run the ball. Having trouble running the ball? Here’s a team that can’t stop it!

Who wins? Which team can overcome their own inefficiencies and capitalize on the opportunity?

 

1. As “Must-Win” As It Gets

Pretty simple…if the Steelers can’t win this game…at home…on Monday Night Football…in front of a nationally televised audience…against another 0-3 team…that they’ve historically dominated…look out.

Buckle up.

Strap in.

It’s going to be a VERY bumpy ride in 2019.

This is a game the Steelers can’t afford to drop. It’s a W you mark on the schedule with or without Ben Roethlisberger. Bottom line, the Bengals just aren’t a good team. You can’t necessarily call the Steelers a good one either through the first three weeks but…are they that bad?

With the Browns beating the Ravens yesterday, a win brings you within one game of the division lead as both Cleveland and Baltimore are 2-2. All is not lost. Season still not over.

A loss and it is.

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