- The Steelers had to scale back the offense a bit in Week 3 to hide Rudolph’s weaknesses, so what could we see against their winless divisional opponent?
The NFL’s Week 4 wraps up with an AFC North matchup when the 0–3 Bengals visit the 0–3 Steelers on Monday Night Football. Need a reason to watch two winlesss teams duke it out on national TV? We have three for you—plus a bold prediction and a score prediction.
1. At this point in his career, Mason Rudolph can’t innately read the entire field like Ben Roethlisberger—and Rudolph, like many quarterbacks, doesn’t have Big Ben’s sandlot ability—so the Steelers had to move from their spread-empty formations and semi-isolated routes when Rudolph took the field in Week 2. To define Rudolph’s reads, Pittsburgh called for more designer route combinations, which had the side effect of helping their callow wide receivers, many of whom appear incapable of getting open on their own. In Week 3 the Steelers scaled back the offense a bit, hiding Rudolph with an array of screen passes. It will be interesting to see how aggressive they get in Week 4, now that Rudolph has some experience under his belt. But let’s also remember: it doesn’t matter what the Steelers call if Rudolph can’t throw accurately. He has been scattershot on too many dropbacks.
2. The Bengals are primarily a zone-based defense under new coordinator Lou Anarumo, but this might be a week to dabble in more man-to-man. Dre Kirkpatrick and William Jackson are quality cover corners outside and the only Steeler you’d need to provide additional help against is JuJu Smith-Schuster. Then again, if your opponent’s QB is struggling, why not just do what you do best and trust you’ll out-execute him? If the Bengals do want to stick with zone, Anarumo will likely get to those coverages out of various disguises, especially early in the game.
3. Zac Taylor’s system is intriguing, but it’s hard to see that because it’s hamstrung by a makeshift offensive line. Cincinnati’s injury-riddled front five competes, it just lacks the requisite athleticism to execute an outside zone running game, on which much of Taylor’s scheme is predicated. Pittsburgh is about the last defensive front you want a struggling O-line to face, and Taylor would be wise to take some shots early in the game in hopes of stealing some points. It will be difficult for the Bengals to find a snap-to-snap rhythm as the game goes on.
Bold Prediction: James Conner rushes for 120 yards, primarily on outside runs behind pulling right guard David DeCastro. The Bengals front seven has struggled to defend the edges the last two weeks.
Score Prediction: Steelers 21, Bengals 20