The Cincinnati Bengals are entering week 4 as they prepare to take on the Steelers. With every game of the season, there will be things to watch and focus on. Here are five things to watch for in week 4.
1. Will the Offensive Line Continue to Improve?
Last week against the Bills, the offensive line played better than they had all season. Even though they were banged up, Joe Mixon rushed for a season-high 61 yards. Andy Dalton was also only sacked twice, which is good news because the Bills have a quality defense. The re-shuffled line played well, but will they be able to do take another step forward this week?
The offensive line will be challenged again this week as they take on the Steelers. Pittsburgh has a very good front seven that is good at stopping the run and rushing the passer. With a pass-rusher like T.J. Watt, the line will have to be aware of where he is at all times. They’ll also have to clear holes for Joe Mixon to help control the clock to win the game.
2. Will Prime Time Andy Dalton Return?
It is well-documented that the Bengals struggle in prime time games. While football is a team sport and several players have struggled, the quarterback position always gets the most heat. Andy Dalton has not played well in prime time throughout his career. Can he shake that off and lead the Bengals to a win in Pittsburgh on Monday?
This season is similar to all the past seasons of Andy Dalton in that he has shown some flashes of good, but has also made some critical mistakes. His 978 passing yards rank him third in the NFL, but his QBR of 41.2 ranks him 20th in the league. For Monday, Dalton will need to protect the football and help move the chains if he is given enough time to throw. He doesn’t have to play the game of his life, just those two things and the Bengals can come out on top.
3. Joe Mixon’s Usage
In the third game of the season, Joe Mixon showed vast improvement. He had made comments about needing to improve and backed it up. As mentioned earlier, Mixon rushed for a season-high 61 yards, but also had 34 receiving yards. For a player that led the AFC in rushing yards last season it is imperative that he continues to get better as the season goes on.
With Pittsburgh’s front-seven being very good, it will be tough for Mixon to pick up a lot of yards on the ground. In the first few weeks of the season, Zac Taylor has done a solid job of trying to get the ball in his hands in a variety of different ways. If the run game is stuffed, Mixon will have to be used in the passing game. Expect to see a lot of screens, angle routes and dump off passes to Mixon.
4. Can the Defensive Line Pressure Mason Rudolph?
Rudolph has looked solid filling in for the injured Ben Roethlisberger, but the offense is clearly not the same. The Bengals can win this game with Rudolph starting at quarterback, but they will need to force him into making mistakes. It won’t be so easy, as the Steelers still feature a good offensive line.
The Bengals had just one sack against the Bills, as they created pressure, but couldn’t bring down Josh Allen. With Geno Atkins and Sam Hubbard still playing well and getting pressure, there is some opportunity for them to change the game. Carlos Dunlap and the rest of the defensive line will need to step up to help them. Getting sacks and forcing Rudolph into mistakes could turn the tide of the game.
5. Will the Bengals Tackle Better?
The defense is still struggling with tackling. In the first game of the season, they actually decently well, but it has been downhill from there. The 49ers looked like they couldn’t be tackled and Cincinnati had a tough time bringing down Frank Gore and Josh Allen for the Bills. They will need to better to win this week.
Luckily, Mason Rudolph doesn’t have the same escapability as Roethlisberger. Pittsburgh’s lead running back James Conner has also struggled to get anything going on the season. The Bengals should be able to do better this week.