It’s been quite an eventful week for the Pittsburgh Steelers leading up to the Week 12 matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals.
The team, as is well-known, fired offensive coordinator Matt Canada Tuesday, turning to running backs coach Eddie Faulkner and quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan as the co-offenisve coordinators. It was also expecting safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and defensive lineman Montravius Adams to return to the lineup, but both were ruled out for the matchup.
The Steelers will also see Cincinnati wide receiver Tee Higgins and cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt miss the game, leading to some new, unfamiliar faces stepping into the lineup for Cincinnati.
That should lead to some intruding matchups overall. That said, with it being another divisional matchup with the two teams familiar with each other, some key matchups stick out immediately.
Let’s take a look at this week’s four key matchups to watch in Steelers-Bengals.
Steelers’ DT Cameron Heyward vs. Bengals’ LG Cordell Volson
This is a familiar matchup for Cameron Heyward, one he’s dominated. Last season, Heyward welcomed Bengals’ left guard Cordell Volson to the NFL in style, recording a sack and five pressures in the season opener against Volson, and then adding a sack and three pressures in the matchup at Acrisure Stadium last season.
Now, Heyward is poised for a get-right game after returning from injury. He had a strong game against the Cleveland Browns in Week 11, grading out at an 81.8 overall from Pro Football Focus and now faces a favorable matchup against the Bengals. In the two matchups last season against Volson, Heyward recorded grades of 72.3 and 80.4 overall.
Volson, on the other hand, has been a disaster this season. He holds just a 51.1 overall grade from PFF, including a 28,7 overall in pass protection. He’s allowed four sacks and 30 total pressures and is coming off of a game against the Baltimore Ravens in which he allowed four pressures and a sack.
Last season against the Steelers, Volson graded out at 54.2 and 44.6, allowing seven pressures and three sacks. He’ll have his hands full again on Sunday.
Steelers’ CB Joey Porter Jr. vs. Bengals’ WR Ja’Marr Chase
This is the type of matchup that the Steelers drafted Joey Porter Jr. for. The fact that he’s going to get a chance to shadow one of the best receivers in the NFL in Ja’Marr Chase shows that the Steelers have a great deal of confidence in him.
On the season, Porter has been charged with allowing just 12 receptions on 31 targets for just 170 yards and one touchdown. He also has three pass breakups and one interception on the season. Though he struggled at times against Cleveland’s Amari Cooper last week, Porter has handled the shutdown corner role well.
He’ll get his biggest test Sunday.
Chase is a superstar. On the season he has 71 receptions for 833 yards and six touchdowns. Though Joe Burrow is out for the season, Chase shouldn’t see his numbers drop all that much with Jake Browning under center. Chase averages a solid 3.2 yards of separation per route run, which is one of the better numbers in the league. He’ll move around a ton, too, with more than 100 snaps in the slot on the season.
It’ll be a significant challenge for Porter, one that he’s been aiming for since entering the league. Let’s see if he’s up to the task.
Steelers’ LT Dan Moore Jr. vs. Bengals’ DE Trey Hendrickson
It doesn’t get any easier in Week 12 for Steelers’ left tackle Dan Moore Jr.
After dealing with Myles Garrett last week in Cleveland, giving up a sack on the first play from scrimmage and grading out as the worst pass blocking tackle in the league from PFF, Moore now has to deal with another great pass rusher, this time in Cincinnati’s Trey Hendrickson.
Hendrickson has a grade of 84.0 overall from PFF on the season and has generated 52 pressures and 11 sacks. He’s been a force off the edge, holding a pass rush grade of 90.5, one of the top EDGE defenders in football. His issue is he’s not a very good run defender, but teams don’t run at him all that often.
That might change on Sunday because Moore is a good run blocker. But when asked to be in pass protection Moore struggles. He holds a 30.3 grade in pass protection from PFF. As a run blocker though, Moore holds a 55.6 grade. The Steelers have to start playing to their strength more offensively now that they’ve made a coordinator change. That includes running the football more.
Doing so on Sunday should help slow down a guy like Hendrickson, allowing Moore to establish himself early on in the game.
Steelers’ LBs vs. Bengals’ TE Tanner Hudson
He might not be a big name, but Cincinnati tight end Tanner Hudson has emerged in the last three weeks as a big piece in the Bengals’ passing game. Over the last three weeks Hudson has seen 16 targets, hauling in 14 of those targets.
Though Burrow is out for the season, the short, quick passing game will be leaned on heavily by the Bengals in an effort to protect backup Jake Browning, hopefully helping him avoid some turnovers. That’s where Hudson could come in.
He’s averaging just 1.80 yards per route run and just 6.3 average depth of target. That’ll put some stress on Steelers’ linebackers Elandon Roberts and Mykal Walker for the second straight week. Roberts was very good against Cleveland, finishing with a career-high 15 tackles. He played well against the run and the pass, though Browns’ tight end David Njoku dropped a lot of passes.
It’s doubtful that happens again this week with Hudson. Dealing with the dependable Hudson in the middle of the field on short routes is going to be key, helping keep the Steelers’ defense in favorable down and distance situations defensively. If not, the Bengals could have a ton of success dinking and dunking down the field, much like Cleveland did the week prior.