Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
The Steelers are facing an almost “must win” game tonight against the Bengals in Cincinnati. While it would be nice to see Pittsburgh playing a team like Jacksonville this evening, they will surely find themselves in a knockout brawl against a tough divisional foe.
Although every player will need to bring their “A Game” tonight, there are five players in particular who will draw the most difficult assignments during the upcoming game:
Kudos must go to Fernando Velasco for earning the start tonight against the Bengals. The veteran center played well enough during his first week of practice to wrestle the starting job away from Kelvin Beachum, and he has the chance to be a solid stop-gap at the center position while Maurkice Pouncey is shelved. Of course, Velasco will have the most difficult job of all of Pittsburgh’s players tonight since he will be tasked with containing Geno Atkins and Domata Peko in the trenches.
Shut out from catching the ball last Sunday and a liability in the blocking department, David Paulson must rebound in a big way this evening. The Steelers will need Paulson to emerge as a reliable red zone target, assuming that their offense can move the ball into that area, and also chip in with some competent play in the running game. I for one would rather see Markus Wheaton out there spreading the field as an extra receiver, but Pittsburgh’s coaching staff will give the former Oregon Duck another chance to redeem himself this week.
With larry Foote out of the lineup, Kion Wilson will need to step up in a huge way tonight for the Steelers. Manning the “buck” spot next to Lawrence Timmons will be a difficult assignment, and Wilson will have to be stout at the point of attack against the run. Tonight’s game will mark the first time that the third-year linebacker will start a regular season game at the professional level, so Wilson must do his best to replace the veteran Foote.
“Shark” Thomas will see an extended amount of playing time this evening as Pittsburgh’s nickelback since Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown will both be sidelined. Thomas will probably be asked to cover Cininnati’s tight ends in the forms of Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham at times, but he will also have to take on their secondary receivers as well. The rookie, who is a safety by trade, will have his coverage skills put to the test this evening for the Steelers.
With Allen sidelined, Gay will be thrust into the starting lineup from his nickelback spot. While the veteran Gay has plenty of starting experience under his belt, he was torched numerous times during preseason play and Mohamed Sanu is an effective number two receiver for Andy Dalton to look to in the passing game. If he is needed to do so, Gay might also have to be responsible for covering one of the Bengals’ two terrific tight ends if Thomas and the linebackers struggle. The veteran has been picked on by opposing quarterbacks for much of his career, and he will be keyed on tonight if Ike Taylor can keep A.J. Green in check.
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