The 2-2-1 Pittsburgh Steelers are 1-0-1 on the road and 0-1-1 in their division so they could really use a win against thriving rival Cincinnati Bengals, who are currently 4-1 and high atop the AFC North.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has led his inconsistent team to an equal number of hot and cold results and one tepid conclusion, that 21-21 tie with the Browns in Week 1. They’ll come to Cincinnati after man-handling the Atlanta Falcons at home in Week 5, 41-17, in a game where the Steelers showed offensive and defensive signs that they’re still the playoff contenders they’ve been predicted to be.
Last week the Cincinnati Bengals short-circuited for three quarters against the Miami Dolphins, and when it was still 17-3 Miami at the start of the fourth quarter, most football fans wrote the game off as a Bengals loss.
But the offense scored a touchdown (quarterback Andy Dalton to running back Joe Mixon) and then after a field goal the defense scored two touchdowns (loose balls picked up by defensive ends Michael Johnson and Sam Hubbard) and suddenly the win went ‘easily’ to the Bengals.
That come-from-behind-victory-at-home energy is what Cincinnati will be throwing at the Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium.
If the Steelers win this matchup, they’ll move to 3-2-1 and be just one game out of first place in the AFC North. But if the Bengals come out on top, they’ll be 5-1 and remain the clear leaders of the division.
Who’s favored to win this Week 6 Steelers-Bengals matchup?
Which team has a better offense? Defense? Special teams?
Which team’s quarterback is more likely to lead his team to victory?
We’re going to compare the Steelers and the Bengals and attempt to answer those questions and more.
The 2018 Steelers offense surviving without Bell
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s offense moves the ball from scrimmage an average of 405.0 yards per game, eight most in the NFL, and much of that is because of exciting running back James Conner. His job was to make the Steelers world forget about the missing Le’Veon Bell, and he’s done just that by running 84 times for 342 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 4.1 yards per attempt. He’s also caught 22 passes for 239 yards.
This season 6xPro-Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown has caught 35 balls for 373 yards and five touchdowns, his longest reception being a 47 yarder. Last week he caught for 110 yards and 2 touchdowns. Second-year wide receiver JuJu Smith-Shuster, showing why he was voted All-Rookie last season, has caught 35 balls for 450 yards and two touchdowns, his longest a 67 yarder. They’ll challenge a Bengals’ secondary who are ranked 21st against the pass.
All-Pro right guard David DeCastro leads an O-line that’s only allowed quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to be sacked 9 times, 11th best in the league. The Bengals have sacked opponents 13.0 times, tied for 13th best in the NFL, so that should be a fun battle to watch.
The 2018 Bengals offense improving
Quarterback Andy Dalton’s offense is only ranked 17th in total yards per game (367.6), their passing game being slightly better than their running attack.
Dalton’s completed 123 passes for 1,445 yards and 12 touchdowns with 7 interceptions this season, mostly targeting Pro-Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd and running back Joe Mixon out of the backfield.
The Bengals’ offense does know how to score – they average 30.6 points per game while their defense allows opponents to put up 26.0. Pittsburgh’s offense averages 28.6 points per game, so this matchup should be a shoot-out. After all, the over/under for this one is a whopping 52.5.
Steelers Defense ranks 29th in the league, Bengals D ranks 25th
TJ Watt, an All-Rookie last season, is the Steelers D-man to watch in 2018. So far, in five games he’s had 6.0 sacks, 28 combined tackles (7 for a loss), a forced fumble and 9 quarterback hits. Add to that All-Pro defensive end Cameron Heyward’s 2.5 sacks and they should put some decent pressure on Dalton.
Steelers defense allows almost 300 passing yards per game (ranked 29th) so Dalton should have a big game unless cornerback Joe Haden’s crew (including first round draft pick safety Terrell Edmunds) can step up and shut him down.
The Bengals defense does better against the pass (21st) than the run (23rd) and the Steelers 8th ranked offense will attack them using both. They’ve picked off 5 balls and sacked opponents quarterbacks 13.0 times, so they’ll be able to put some pressure on Big Ben and force him to make quick decisions.
Last week against the Dolphins, Bengals safety Jessie Bates III and defensive end Michael Johnson both had interceptions, and they kept quarterback Ryan Tannehill to just 185 yards and 1 touchdown. They’ll be trying to shut down Roethlisberger, who’s used to throwing for 332.8 yards per game. They’ll get help from Bengals linebacker Nick Vigil, who had 7 tackles last week.
Pittsburgh’s punter, Jordan Berry, is in his fourth year and has been a Steeler his whole career. So far, he’s punted 25 times for a net average of 38.7 yards per punt, ranked 25th in the league.
Cincinnati’s veteran punter, Kevin Huber, has been a Bengal all ten of his NFL years and has punted 16 times but for a net average of 34.5 yards per punt, ranked 33rd in the NFL.
Pittsburgh’ placekicker, Chris Boswell, in his fourth year, has only ever been a Steeler in the NFL and so far he’s 7-for-9, his longest was a 51-yarder. He’s missed 3 extra point attempts (14/17).
Cincinnati’s journeyman placekicker, Randy Bullock, who was picked up on waivers from the Steelers last season, is 7-for-9, his longest was a 51-yarder. He hasn’t missed an extra point attempt (18/18). He had a 47-yard field goal blocked last week against the Miami Dolphins.
Pittsburgh’s punt returner, wide receiver Ryan Switzer, was All-Rookie last season and is currently ranked 18th in the league in return average. He’s returned 8 punts for 81 yards and no touchdowns, averaging 10.1 yards per return, his longest for 22 yards.
Cincinnati’s punt returner, wide receiver Alex Erickson, is ranked 26th in the league in return average. He’s returned 5 punts for 40 yards and a touchdown, averaging 8.0 yards per return, his longest was for 13 yards.
Steelers-Bengals prediction and odds
The oddsmakers have the Bengals favored over the Steelers by 2.5 with an over/under of 52.5.
CBSSports.com has two final score predictions:
Pete Prisco goes with the over and has it Steelers 30, Bengals 23
John Breech takes the under and predicts it Bengals 23, Steelers 20