It’s finally here.  The start of the 2022 NFL season has officially begun.  The Pittsburgh Steelers start their campaign on the road in Cincinnati.  The Bengals are of course the defending AFC Champions, and dominated the Steelers last season. Let’s preview this AFC North clash as the Steelers vs Bengals kicks off the 2022 season.

2021 Results:

The Pittsburgh Steelers were swept by the Bengals last season.  The first matchup saw Pittsburgh lose 24-10 at home.  Joe Mixon ran for 90 yards against the Steelers 32nd ranked run defense, while Ja’Mar Chase had 65 yards and 2 touchdowns.  Ben Roethlisberger threw for over 300 yards, but also had two interceptions.

The following matchup in Cincinnati got much worse as the Bengals would win by a score of 41-10.  This was one of Ben Roethlisberger’s worst performances of the season.  He had two interceptions, including a pick-six to old friend Mike Hilton.  Big Ben also had a fumble in this game for a total of three turnovers on the day.  The Bengals feasted on the matchup between James Pierre versus Tee Higgins.  Higgins ended the day with 114 yards, and a touchdown.  Joe Mixon was the star of the day however with 165 yards rushing.

2021 numbers:

Bengals Offense – 7th in passing, 23rd in rushing, 7th overall 27.1 PPG

Steelers Offense – 15th in passing, 29th in rushing, 23rd overall 20.2 PPG

Bengals Defense – 26th pass, 5th rush, 17th overall 22.1 PPG

Steelers Defense – 15th pass, 32nd rush, 20th overall 23.4 PPG

Key Matchups:

Steelers rush defense vs Joe Mixon:

This matchup did not favor the Steelers last season at all.  Joe Mixon averaged a whopping 127 yards per game versus Pittsburgh in 2021.  The healthy return of Tyson Alualu should be a key in reigning the Bengals star running back in.  The addition of Myles Jack should also give the Steelers putrid run defense a boost.  Controlling Joe Mixon will go a long way in keeping this game more competitive.

Steelers offensive line vs Bengals defensive line:

This is an area where we are a lot less optimistic of a better outcome than in 2021.  Will the Steelers offensive line be their undoing in 2021?  

While theoretically this should be an improved unit over last season, early results have not been good so far.  This team struggled in pass protection this preseason.  The Bengals have two very good outside rushers in Sam Hubbard, and Trey Hendrickson.  This could end up being even worse with the injury concerns with Chuks Okorafor.  He did not practice Friday with a back injury.

Look for the Steelers to use lots of boot legs, and play action to mitigate some of the Bengals pass rush. A functional run game would go a long way in helping this cause.  Unfortunately the Bengals are also stout along the interior with players like BJ hill, and DJ Reader.  This is shaping up to be a long day for the Steelers offensive line, especially if Okorafor can’t go on Sunday.

Steelers corners vs Bengals Wide Recievers:

This is a very big area of concern for the Pittsburgh Steelers.  As we mentioned earlier, the Bengals feasted on a depleted Steelers secondary in the second matchup.  They consistently picked on James Pierre, who was not anywhere near up for the challenge.  Look for quite a bit of zone, and two high safety looks from Pittsburgh in this game.  This should force Joe Burrow to be patient, and in theory not allow any big plays on the secondary.

The key of course to this strategy again brings us to stopping Joe Mixon.  If the Steelers have to bring a safety down into the box to help stop the run, this could be a long day in Cincinnati for this defense.  Pittsburgh’s corners simply do not match up with the talented trio of Bengals wide receivers.  They will need all the help they can get from zone coverage, and an elite pass rush to get through this game.

Prediction:  Bengals 28 – Steelers 17

At the end of the day, this Cincinnati offense is just too good to keep in check for 60 minutes.  The Steelers need to convince us that they have greatly improved that 32nd ranked run defense from a year ago.  On offense, this line absolutely terrifies us.  It’s a good thing they improved the mobility at the quarterback position with Mitch Trubisky.  He will need every bit of that talent come Sunday.  The Steelers will keep it close for three quarters, before the Bengals eventually break it open late.

A loss here against the defending AFC Champions on the road is not the end of the world.  As long as we see marked improvement in both the run defense, and all aspects of the offense, there should be things to build on going forward.