Steelers vs Bengals: Predictions and expectations for 2nd straight AFC North matchup

What to expect in Sunday's upcoming AFC North matchup

New Orleans Saints v Pittsburgh Steelers
New Orleans Saints v Pittsburgh Steelers / Joe Sargent/GettyImages
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After a hectic week for the Steelers following a loss to the Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh is now gearing up to rebound against another AFC North contender, the Cincinnati Bengals. Both teams have been in the spotlight this past week, with the Bengals dealing with the season-ending injury to Joe Burrow and the Steelers making headlines for the dismissal of Matt Canada.

With both squads coming off defeats to division rivals, this game is a must-win for both teams, crucial to keeping their playoff aspirations alive.

What will the offense look like without Matt Canada?

As mentioned earlier, the significant news of the week was the removal of Matt Canada, a move long overdue. With Eddie Faulkner and Mike Sullivan now co-handling Offensive Coordinator duties, a fresh perspective emerges.

The dual viewpoints allow for a more in-depth game plan and a more personal connection with the offensive players. However, it's important to temper expectations; while the scheme and playbook remain unchanged, anticipate improved play sequencing and an expanded playbook.

The close collaboration between Mike Sullivan and Kenny Pickett could unveil a different dimension of Pickett's capabilities. In Canada's offense, play-calling often neglected the players' strengths, but this coaching change might bring about a welcome shift.

Here's hoping for more play-action and passing plays with Pickett on the move, capitalizing on his strengths outside the pocket, complemented by a now thriving running game. These elements are expected to play crucial roles on Sunday.

Despite the potential improvements, caution is necessary against the Bengals' formidable defense, led by one of the game's best defensive coordinators, Lou Anarumo. While anticipating an opening up of the passing attack, it's crucial not to become overly aggressive, considering the Bengals' opportunistic defense; any misstep could play against Pittsburgh's favor.

Defense must be aggressive

Defensively, the absence of Joe Burrow is a relief, but the Bengals' offense remains dangerous with playmakers at every level. The Steelers' defense needs to employ creativity in approaching this formidable offense.

Learning from last Sunday's game, where Cleveland protected their inexperienced QB with horizontal throws, the Steelers must anticipate a similar strategy from Cincinnati. Unlike the previous game, the Steelers defense needs to be the aggressor against Jake Browning, employing various blitz packages and pre-snap coverage looks to keep him uncomfortable.

The return of Minkah Fitzpatrick could be an X-factor in baiting Browning into poor decisions. The Steelers' pass rush must be consistently impactful throughout the game; they are paid too much to disappear for stretches. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin needs to reprise the strategy of moving Alex Highsmith and TJ Watt around.

Final thoughts and predictions

In conclusion, AFC North matchups are known for being close and gritty. With the Steelers getting healthier and in a better playoff position, I anticipate a bounce-back win in a closely contested game. Hopefully, we witness a new dimension of Kenny Pickett's skills, rallying the team around the two new coordinators. After a week of distractions, it's time for the team to shut out the noise and secure an important victory.