Game Overview ::
By mike jOHNSON >>
- This is the first game after big changes for both teams, as the Bengals deal with the loss of Joe Burrow and the Steelers attempt to spread their offensive wings without offensive coordinator Matt Canada.
- Jake Browning will take over for Burrow as quarterback for Cincinnati. Browning has thrown 15 regular-season passes in his NFL career and 14 of them were last week against the Ravens.
- Early reports out of Pittsburgh indicate that Jaylen Warren and George Pickens may have larger roles after the coaching change.
- The Steelers have a ferocious pass rush led by TJ Watt, and the Bengals have PFF’s 26th-graded pass blocking offensive line.
- This is one of three games on this week’s Main Slate with an Over/Under of 35 points or less.
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How pittsburgh Will Try To Win ::
Sometimes there is a disconnect between the fantasy/analytics community and the real-life football community. At the end of the day, the NFL is often a “results” business, for better or worse. The Steelers offense, however, appears to be a spot where the two sides came together in unison and Pittsburgh’s organization made a huge change by firing Canada mid-season. The Steelers had not made a major coaching change like this in the middle of the season SINCE 1941. Usually when an outlier change like that happens, it is caused by an incredibly awful season where everything has fallen apart. The fact that the Steelers are currently 6-4 and in the thick of the AFC playoff race speaks volumes to just how egregious their offensive performance has been this year. Canada’s offense rarely used motion, ran extremely vanilla route concepts, and failed to consistently involve their most explosive skill players. It will be interesting to see how much and how quickly those things change in the post-Canada era.
The Steelers’ first order of business will likely be increasing the roles of Warren and Pickens. Rumors out of Pittsburgh in the wake of Canada’s firing have also specifically stated that those two will see bigger roles, so there is a lot of smoke coming out here. Warren has been one of the most efficient backs in the league this year but is still splitting time equally with former first-round pick Najee Harris. While Harris has not been bad, Warren pops off the screen with the ball in his hands and is clearly a player who adds juice to an offense that desperately needs it. I would expect the Steelers to truly move Warren into a “featured” role, with closer to a 60-40 or 70-30 split in favor of Warren as opposed to the 50-50 situation the backfield has been so far. In the receiving corps, Pickens was having a solid season through Week 7 but has averaged only five targets per game over the last four weeks. A big part of that has likely been the lack of scheme creativity to open things up for him, but one way or another, we should expect something in the 7-10 target range this week.
The Bengals defense has been up and down this season, but their worst performances have mostly come against high-powered offenses. They give up the highest yards per attempt on passes and the second-highest yards per carry on rushes this season, but they’ve been best in weeks where they are able to create turnovers. This is a defense that is beatable and gives up yards consistently but has been opportunistic and preyed on opponents who make mistakes against them. They have also performed best in spots where they are able to play with a lead, so the Burrow injury likely makes things tougher for them this week. Ultimately, the Steelers’ approach this week is a bit of a wild card, as they obviously want to change things, which makes past data tough to use as a predictor for their approach. I would expect a more aggressive approach and better use of their playmakers, which gives them the chance to surprise with their offensive success in a solid on-paper matchup.