Updated: Nov 21, 2020
The Steelers host the 2-5-1 Bengals at Heinz Field on Sunday and will look to extend their streak to nine straight wins and remain unbeaten. The Steelers had a scare last week with almost losing to the Dallas Cowboys, but they managed to get out of Arlington, Texas with a 24-19 win. The Steelers were going up against fourth-string quarterback Garrett Gilbert and were 14.5-point favorites. This week they'll see Joe Burrow, who was the first overall pick out of LSU in the 2020 NFL Draft and is currently the frontrunner for Offensive Rookie of the Year this season. The Bengals have lost four games this year by five points or fewer, so this game shouldn't be looked at as a gimme.
- The Steelers are 66-35 all-time against the Bengals and have won 10 straight games against Cincinnati. Their last loss to the Bengals came on Nov. 1, 2015, at Heinz Field.
The Steelers are 22-5 (including playoffs) under Mike Tomlin against the Bengals and Ben Roethlisberger is 25-7 (including playoffs) against Cincinnati. The Steelers are 10-3 under Tomlin against the Bengals at Heinz Field and Roethlisberger is 10-5 in his career against Cincinnati at home.
Roethlisberger in his career in the regular season against the Bengals has completed 626 of 987 passes (63.4%) for 7,310 yards, 40 touchdowns, 29 interceptions and has a quarterback rating of 87.1. In his two playoff wins against the Bengals, Roethlisberger has completed 32 of 50 passes (64%) for 437 yards, four touchdowns, zero interceptions and has a quarterback rating of 118.5.
- The Steelers are listed as 7-point favorites against the Bengals and the over/under is 46 points, according to Oddssharks.com. The Bengals are 6-1 against the spread in their last seven games. The Steelers are 12-2 straight up in their last 14 games against division opponents at home, per Oddsshark.com. The Bengals are 0-15-1 straight up in their last 16 games on the road.
- According to Brooke Pryor of ESPN, the Steelers are one of 28 teams in the Super Bowl era to start 8-0. Of the 27 teams to start 8-0, all made the playoffs and 15 made the Super Bowl. Eight of those teams won the whole thing. But since 2010, all nine teams that started 8-0 failed to win the Super Bowl. The last team to win a title after an 8-0 start was the 2009 New Orleans Saints.
- The Steelers under Mike Tomlin have fared well against rookie quarterbacks with a record of 22-4 (including playoffs) when going up against rookie signal-callers, according to Pro Football Reference. The Steelers are 12-1 against rookie quarterbacks at Heinz Field with their lone loss coming against Dak Prescott in 2016. The Steelers have won seven straight games against rookie quarterbacks since then.
- According to NFL.com, Burrow will be the eighth rookie starting quarterback since 1950 to face an undefeated team in Week 10 or later (excluding strike seasons). The rookies went 1-6 in those games -- Mark Sanchez was the only winner, leading the Jets over Peyton Manning's Indianapolis Colts in Week 16 of 2009.
- The Steelers have the highest regular-season win percentage when facing a starting quarterback who was drafted No. 1 overall since 1950 (when QB starts first began getting tracked) with a record of 62-32-3 (.658), according to Michael Bertsch, who is the communications manager for the Steelers. The Steelers regular-season home record when facing a starting quarterback who was drafted No. 1 overall is 34-16-3 (.670).
- The Bengals have struggled to stop the run this year, allowing 144.2 yards per game, which ranks 29th in the league. They also allow 5.2 yards per carry, which is the most in the NFL. The Steelers need to get James Conner going in this game, it's expected to be windy in Pittsburgh on Sunday, forecasts are calling for 20-30 mph sustained winds, with gusts of 40-45 mph possible, so the Steelers might have to rely on Conner and the running game against Cincinnati.
The Steelers faced a poor Cowboys' run defense last week and were unsuccessful in running the ball. Conner rushed for 22 yards on nine carries (2.4 average) against the Cowboys, who came into the game having the worst-ranked run defense, allowing 170.8 yards per game.
As a team, the Steelers rushed for just 46 yards on 22 attempts, an average of 2.6 yards per carry. The offensive line had their worst game of the year when it came to run blocking against Dallas. On four occasions the Steelers couldn't get a first down when facing a short-yardage situation, resulting in a turnover on downs twice.
"They're spitting the bit. They know it," Steelers' offensive line coach Shaun Sarrett said about the offensive line's performance against the Cowboys. "It starts at the top. We were below par on all of it. That's something these guys take great pride in and the coaches take great pride in it. We're the same way. We're just going to keep working at it, and we're going to make it better.
"We've got to get better at it. They know we've got to get better at it. It was jelling early, and it just happens sometimes. We just have to keep working."
Conner is looking to have a bounce-back game and knows that prior statistics of a defensive unit don't matter when the game is played.
"You've just got to come to work every day, even though their numbers are whatever they are," Conner said. "It's the NFL. You've got to prove it every day."
- On the other side of the ball, the Bengals' offensive line has been decimated by injuries and has allowed 28 sacks this year, which is tied for the second-most in the league. The guard play for the Bengals hasn't been good this season and they will be without right tackle Bobby Hart on Sunday, who's dealing with a knee injury. Quinton Spain or Hakeem Adeniji will start at right tackle in his place. Look for T.J. Watt and the rest of the Steelers' pass rushers to have a big game against this Bengals' offensive line. The Steelers lead the league in sacks with 32 through eight games and rank No. 1 in pressure rate at 36.1%, according to Pro Football Reference. Watt, Stephon Tuitt and Bud Dupree all have at least six sacks through eight games. Watt leads the team in sacks with seven. Burrow has played well this year, completing 221 of 330 (67%) passes for 2,272 yards, 11 touchdowns, five interceptions and has a quarterback rating of 91.4. Burrow's 2,272 passing yards is the eighth-most in the league. But Burrow could be in for a long day if his offensive line can't protect him.
- The Steelers are plus-7 in turnover differential this year with 15 takeaways and eight giveaways, which is the third-best turnover differential margin in the league. Their 15 takeaways are the second-most in the league and are tied for first in interceptions with 11. The Bengals are minus-1 in turnover differential this season with nine takeaways and 10 giveaways, which ranks 18th in the league in the turnover differential margin.
- As mentioned previously, the Steelers lead the league in sacks this year with 32 and the Bengals have allowed 28 sacks, which is tied for the second-most in the league. On the other side of the ball, the Bengals haven't been doing a good job at getting to the quarterback with just 11 sacks on the season, which is the fourth-fewest in the league. The Steelers have allowed just 10 sacks through eight games, which is tied for the second-fewest in the league.
- Today the Steelers announced that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, offensive tackle Jerald Hawkins, running back Jaylen Samuels and inside linebacker Vince Williams were all activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list. They were placed on the list on Tuesday after it was found that they were in close contact with Vance McDonald, who tested positive for the virus, with the announcement coming on Monday. All four players are eligible to play on Sunday, which means Roethlisberger will be the starting quarterback.
"I am doing good. I feel great," Roethlisberger said on Saturday. "My body enjoyed the week off. My mind from teaching pre-K did not enjoy the week off. It was fun to be home with them, but I definitely missed the guys.
"You are always a little nervous about it. I wore a mask when I was at home. If we went anywhere in the car, I wore a mask. The family got tested every other day, I got tested every day. You are always nervous. My wife said I don't care if I get it, I don't want our kids to get it. You always care more about your kids. We have been as safe as we possibly can at home."
Roethlisberger has sat out practices and still played on Sunday before, but he never had to prepare remotely.
"It's definitely different than years past," Roethlisberger said. "Typically, when I haven't practiced, I am at least on the field, behind the quarterbacks, hearing the calls that were made, hearing the play call coming in from the coach, (Maurkice) Pouncey's calls. Things like that.
"As Coach (Mike) Tomlin would say the in-helmet perspective. If you are not out there, at least you can hear it and be a part of it. It was definitely different. I watched every play of practice, but you watch on your iPad at home, so you don't get to hear all of those things. It was definitely different than anything I have experienced before."
Anthony McFarland Jr. did not practice for the second consecutive day on Friday with an illness, Kevin Dotson also missed practice today with an illness. The Steelers announced on Saturday that they've placed guard Kevin Dotson on the reserve/COVID-19 list and activated safety Antoine Brooks Jr. from the practice squad to the 53-man roster as a COVID-19 replacement. Dotson was not at the facility on Friday, according to Mike Tomlin.
"Those are illness related, but obviously being in the heightened circumstances that we are in, in terms of the intensive protocol, we're exercising all of the proper precautions and not allowing those guys to come to work, even though it's an illness," Tomlin said on Friday.
Mike Hilton (shoulder) and Isaiah Buggs (ankle) were both limited on Friday. McFarland, Hilton and Buggs are all listed as questionable for Sunday. Tyson Alualu (knee) was a full participant at practice today and Tomlin expects him to be active for Sunday's game.
Dotson and McDonald are the only Steelers' players currently on the reserve/COVID-19 list. In addition, assistant offensive line coach Adrian Klemm will not be coaching on Sunday because of an illness. Derwin Gray will most likely be active for Sunday's game with Dotson out.
"You can characterize Mike (Hilton) as questionable," Tomlin said. "He has been a limited participant all week. We'll continue to monitor his progress in the last 48 hours as we push towards game time. I think that Tyson is in a better place. His participation was a full one today. There are very little reservations regarding his abilities or availability, so he is a go."
For the Bengals, defensive tackle Geno Atkins (personal), right tackle Bobby Hart (knee), cornerback Darius Phillips (groin), cornerback LeShaun Sims (concussion) and wide receiver John Ross III (foot) have all been ruled out for Sunday. Running back Joe Mixon (foot) did not practice all week and has been downgraded from doubtful to out for tomorrow's game. Left tackle Jonah Williams (stinger) is labeled as questionable after being limited in practice all week.