The last time the Pittsburgh Steelers took on the Cincinnati Bengals — way back on September 11 — it resulted in arguably the craziest overtime game of the NFL season. The Steelers’ defense harassed quarterback Joe Burrow to the tune of four interceptions, seven sacks and two fumbles. Pittsburgh’s offense failed to capitalize on opportunities gift-wrapped by the defense, but it still came away with a 23-20 win.
But the Week 11 Cincinnati Bengals are NOT your Week 1 Cincinnati Bengals.
Since the opening week, Burrow’s cleaned up his act, which was initially hampered by a July appendix rupture and very little time with his receivers. According to Pro Football Reference, Burrow has thrown for 2,197 yards, 16 scores and just two picks since that fateful day.
605 of those yards and six of those touchdowns were to reigning offensive rookie of the year, Ja’Marr Chase. The star receiver put up 129 yards on 10 receptions and found paydirt 10 weeks ago. Chase has a 77-yards-per-game average versus the Steelers and a 71 percent catch rate.
But Pittsburgh catches a break, as Cincinnati is without Chase on November 20. According to a tweet from ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Chase injured his hip on October 16 versus the New Orleans Saints and reaggravated it on October 23 versus the Atlanta Falcons.
Reports are mixed on when he could return, but it won’t be anytime the Steelers play them unless it’s in the playoffs (insert joke here).
Steelers Defense Put to Test Versus Bengals
As the Pittsburgh Steelers know all too well, the Bengals can wreak havoc in a number of ways. Though they are without Ja’Marr Chase for the time being, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd will present a challenge for Pittsburgh’s secondary. Higgins has averaged 71 yards per game versus the black & gold and two scores. Boyd, who’s been around the block a few times, has 425 yards and five scores against the Steelers.
“Although he’s been without [Ja’Marr] Chase here in recent weeks, [Joe Burrow] has quality players,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said in a November 15 press conference.
“I mean, Tyler Boyd will kill you. Tee Higgins will really get after you, man. He does a good job of spreading the ball around and not allowing you to lock in on one particular guy. The way he spreads it makes them difficult – him difficult and them difficult to deal with.
While the Steelers’ defense upped its game and virtually shut down the Saints’ run game for 29 yards on 15 carries, they’ll be tested again by both Joes — Burrow and Mixon — who both make plays with their legs.
“[Joe Burrow is] probably displaying more willingness to run now than he was at the early portions of the season; we’ve seen some of that on his tape, so we better be cautious about that component of it as well,” said Tomlin. “He’s a guy that’s capable of really hurting you with his legs if you don’t give that appropriate attention.”
But Tomlin knows the Steelers can’t just focus on the pass game.
“If you spend too much time focusing on [Burrow] and his eligibles, Joe Mixon is going to beat you. I would imagine that he’s gaining real traction, particularly in recent weeks as they’ve been without Chase. It’s just kind of common sense, man. You minus one significant guy, you redistribute the responsibility.”
Minkah Fitzpatrick Could Return for Bengals Game
Mike Tomlin is optimistic the Pittsburgh Steelers secondary will be bolstered by the return of safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick was hospitalized after feeling pain during Pittsburgh’s walkthrough on Saturday, November 12, and it was determined he needed an emergency appendectomy. As recovery typically requires multiple weeks, Adam Schefter initially speculated he’d be out until, at best, the Monday Night Football showdown with the Indianapolis Colts.
But if Minkah Fitzpatrick had any say in the matter, he would’ve suited up the next day.
“I saw him Sunday at the stadium and Minkah wanted to play on Sunday,” Tomlin said. “Obviously, that wasn’t the appropriate thing to do, but that’s just the mentality that he brings in. Oftentimes, when you’re talking about injury or being unavailable, coming back from lack of availability, your attitude has a lot to do with it and so, we’re really optimistic about him.”