The first divisional game of the 2021 NFL season is upon as the Cincinnati Bengals roll into the Steel City to take on the Steelers at Heinz Field. Here’s everything you need to know for Sunday’s game.
What: Cincinnati Bengals (1-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1)
Where: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA
When: 1pm ET Sunday September 26th, 2021
Weather: 64 degrees and sunny. Winds at 12mph.
Line: Steelers -3 O/U 43
Last Week: The Bengals went on the road for the first time in 2021 and lost 20-17 to the Chicago Bears. Meanwhile the Steelers had their home opener spoiled by injuries and the Raiders as they went down 26-17.
TV: CBS Kevin Harlan (play-by-play), Trent Green (analysis), Melanie Collins (sideline)
TV Coverage in Your Area: Check the coverage map at the506.com.
Radio: Steelers Nation Radio/WDVE Bill Hillgrove, Craig Wolfley with Missi Matthews and Max Starks on the sidelines. (RIP Tunch Ilkin)
Head Official: Clete Blakeman. Blakeman is now in his 12th season as a head official after he spent just two as an assistant. He did not officiate ANY Steelers games in 2020 but did have the 2019 loss to the Patriots and the win over the Browns in Pittsburgh.
Key Injuries/Game Status (courtesy steelers.com) PIT: WR Diontae Johnson, Knee, OUT… OLB Alex Highsmith, Groin, OUT… DT Carlos Davis, Knee, OUT… OLB T.J. Watt, Groin, Questionable CIN: WR Tee Higgins, Shoulder, Doubtful… G Xavier Su’a-Filo, Knee, Doubtful… CB Trae Waynes, Hamstring, Doubtful
UPDATE: T.J. Watt has been officially ruled out for Sunday.
Injury Notes: The Steelers enter Sunday’s game thin on the defensive line and at OLB. There will be tremendous pressure on Cam Heyward to anchor the D-Line with Davis out, Stephon Tuitt still out and Tyson Alualu out for the foreseeable future. If Watt can go and be effective then that is obviously a huge development. Johnson’s loss on offense will give James Washington more snaps but it could also mean more targets for Najee Harris and Pat Freiermuth as Big Ben looks for those other options.
2021 NFL Ranks:
Total Offense: PIT 28th CIN 24th Passing Offense: PIT 18th CIN 28th Rushing Offense: PIT 32nd CIN 18th
Total Defense: PIT 22nd CIN 6th Passing Defense: PIT 29th CIN 9th Rushing Defense: PIT 10th CIN 11th
AFC North Rankings: Cincinnati 1-1, Pittsburgh 1-1, Baltimore 1-1, Cleveland 1-1
This Week in the AFC North: Chicago at Cleveland 1pm, Baltimore at Detroit 1pm
What You Need to Know: T.J. Watt now has 35 sacks in 33 career games at Heinz Field… Pittsburgh has started rookies nine times in two games including 8 on offense which leads the NFL… Ben Roethlisberger needs two touchdown passes to reach 400 all-time… The Steelers have scored 20 points or more at home in 96 of Big Ben’s 117 starts at Heinz Field… He is 62-19-1 all-time versus the AFC North.
Cincinnati Bengals Names to Know: QB Joe Burrow, RB Joe Mixon, WR Tee Higgins, WR Tyler Boyd, WR Ja’Marr Chase, S Jessie Bates III, DE Trey Hendrickson, CB Mike Hilton, DT Larry Ogunjobi
What’s at Stake: With all four teams in the AFC North locked at 1-1 and with both Baltimore and Cleveland playing very winnable games, the pressure mounts on both teams here to walk away with a ‘W’. One could argue the stakes are slightly higher for the Steelers as they are home and still have to make a trip to the Queen City later in the season.
All-Time Series: Steelers lead 67-36 and they lead in Pittsburgh 35-16
Last Meeting: In Cincy December 2020, Bengals 27 Steelers 17
Check out the latest Steel City Blitz Steelers Podcast for more on this game.
Three Things We Need to See for a Steelers’ Victory:
1. Death By a Thousand Cuts. If you can’t run the ball effectively the you’ve got to be able to do something in the passing game. Matt Canada and Ben Roethlisberger should have looked at last week’s tape and thought, “Why aren’t we hitting Najee Harris more often?” The rookie was open many times as he leaked out of the backfield yet Big Ben bypassed him for deeper throws. With a defense hounded by injuries and guys being much less than 100% the offense has to help out. Take the short throws and let you receivers make plays. Look what Harris did on the one for crying out loud. Take the sure thing, give your defense a rest on put points on the board. They don’t always have to be flashy.
2. Make Some Picks. So far through two games the Steelers have yet to record an interception. Minkah Fitzpatrick played a superb game in week one and followed it with one of his poorest last week. Nothing would get him going quite like a interception. But the same can be said for the others. Cam Sutton covers well enough that he should get his hands on some balls and with Joe Haden back the same can be said for him. Joe Burrow threw three interceptions last week in Chicago so I expect him to clean things up Sunday but that doesn’t mean we have to allow it. Pressure on him plus solid coverage should mean some takeaways.
3. All 11. On this week’s podcast, we showed you some plays from last week where the Steelers were literally one block or so away from a big run. In each case, it only took one lineman to miss on his block to make the play unsuccessful. This is what happens with young linemen so I’m not overly surprised. Many coaches going back decades used to say that a perfect play, where all 11 men do exactly what they are supposed to do, is very rare in football. Maybe perfection isn’t the goal. The goal should be just trying to get all 11 guys in position to have successful plays. If that can happen on a more regular basis for the offense then I believe we will finally see this group take the next step. Why not start Sunday>
Prediction: Heinz Field has often been a House of Horrors for the Bengals. Rarely have they scored more than 20 points in a game there and Ben Roethlisberger has largely had his way with them too. This Steelers’ team is in no position however to hang their hats on past history. Regardless of who plays and who doesn’t, this is a divisional game and in my eyes it’s a “must-win” game for numerous reasons. Cincy has talent. I expect they’ll make some plays whether it’s Joe Mixon or one of the receivers but the Steelers have to limit that and they have to create turnovers. The offense hasn’t seen a short field all season. I expect to see a team that is disappointed in itself after last week’s performance and they should have just enough to get by.
Steelers 23 Bengals 20
Season Prediction Record: 0-2