The 7-7 Pittsburgh Steelers will play their fifteenth game of the 2023 regular season on Saturday afternoon, and this week it will be a home contest against the 8-6 Cincinnati Bengals. This week, the Steelers will enter their game as slight home underdogs following three consecutive home losses, two of which were 2-10 teams at the time. Below are five key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do Saturday afternoon at Acrisure Stadium to come away with their eighth win of the 2023 season.
Don’t Get Teed Off – The Bengals won’t have injured WR Ja’Marr Chase on Saturday, but they will have WR Tee Higgins, who missed the Week 12 game against the Steelers due to an injury. Last week, Higgins played a big part in Cincinnati’s win over the Minnesota Vikings as he registered four catches for 61 yards and two touchdowns. With Chase out, Higgins should be the primary target of QB Jake Browning and especially when it comes to a few downfield shots.
Higgins has had quite a bit of success against the Steelers to date as he has 27 receptions for 435 yards and two touchdowns in five games played against them so far. The last time Higgins played against the Steelers in Week 11 of the 2022 season, a game played in Pittsburgh, he caught nine passes for 148 yards. On Saturday, Steelers rookie CB Joey Porter Jr. will likely travel and cover Higgins quite a bit on Saturday so that certainly will be a matchup to watch closely. It’s one Porter really needs to win.
No Rudolph Gift Giving – QB Mason Rudolph will make his first start of the 2023 season on Saturday against the Bengals, and it will also mark his first one since the 2021 season. Rudolph is starting on Saturday against the Bengals because QB Mitch Trubisky had been turning the football over too often in the last three games that he played in.
On offense this the last two season, the unit has struggled to score points and thus any turnovers play an even bigger part in games than they already would otherwise. The Steelers are 11-2 the last two seasons when they don’t turn the football over. The Bengals, on the other hand, have 23 total takeaways on the season with 15 of those being interceptions. So, while Rudolph will guide the offensive sleigh on Saturday for the Steelers, he can’t be giving away gifts in the process.
Week 12 ReRun – In the first meeting this season against the Bengals in Cincinnati in Week 12, the Steelers offense effectively ran the football. In total , running backs Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren combined to have 148 yards on 28 total carries against the Bengals defense. Two of those runs by Harris were of the explosive play variety, a statistical area the Steelers offense has struggled in once again this season.
The Bengals’ run defense remains one of the worst in the league entering Saturday and to make matters worse, they lost one of their best players a few weeks ago to a season-ending injury in DT D.J. Reader. There is no reason why the Steelers offense shouldn’t be expected to have another solid ground outing on Saturday against the Bengals. It will be very embarrassing if they don’t. The offense must stay committed to running the football if the team hopes to exit Week 16 with their eighth win of the season.
See The Screen Scene – Since Browning took over as the starter for the injured Joe Burrow, the Bengals have been running a ton of screen plays. In fact, since Week 12, the Bengals are second in the NFL in screen pass attempts as only the Kansas City Chiefs have registered more. While Cincinnati has used their wide receivers and tight ends in the screen game, their running backs have been used the most and with great results to boot.
The Steelers defense must be cognizant of the fact that Bengals running backs Joe Mixon and Chase Brown are likely to be used quite a bit on Saturday out of the backfield. While both are able to execute as pass catchers as part of the screen game, Brown, who just recently returned from injury a few weeks ago, is super dangerous out in space with the football in his hands. He has six catches for 108 yards and a touchdown in the last two games while Mixon also has six catches in the last two games for 60 yards. That’s 168 yards on 12 catches for those two Cincinnati running backs in the last two games. In short, those running backs need attention in the passing game.
Game Of Thirds – In the last meeting against the Bengals, the Steelers offense converted 8-of-17 third down opportunities. Additionally, the Steelers defense only allowed the Bengals offense to convert two of their 10 chances in that contest. Since that Week 12 game, the Steelers offense has converted just 11 of their 37 (29.7%) third down chances while their defense has allowed 20 of 45 (44.4%) opportunities to be converted.
Since last losing to the Steelers in Week 12, the Bengals have been better on third downs on both sides of the football on average. The team that has the better third down percentage on Saturday is likely to win this contest barring a weird balance in the turnover and explosive play categories. A repeat of Week 12 for the Steelers on third downs should go a long way in helping them beat the Bengals again.