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The Steelers are back to work as they prepare for a huge AFC North showdown against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium.
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This is the first time the Steelers and Cincinnati have met in the opening week of the season. The Steelers were on an 11-game winning streak, but Cincinnati has won the last three matchups, including a 24-10 victory in Week 3 and a 41-10 blowout victory in Week 12 in Cincinnati last year. The matchup before that also favored the Bengals, a 27-17 Steelers loss in Cincinnati in 2020. Still, Cincinnati has won just 12 of the 46 games between these divisional rivals that have been played in the 2000s. This series began in 1970 and Pittsburgh leads the series 67-38. Two of those games occurred in the post season, in 2006 and 2016, with the Steelers winning both of those contests.
MATCH UP OVERVIEW
- Last year, the Bengals won 10 games in the regular season and advanced to the Super Bowl. But in the previous five seasons, Cincinnati won a combined 25 games out of a possible 80. During that same six-year window, Pittsburgh has won 62 of a possible 97 regular season games. The Steelers also played to a tie twice during that timeframe.
- In their final eight games, four in the regular season and four in the post season, the Bengals lost just two games: the Super Bowl and a meaningless Week 18 game in Cleveland in which the Bengals rested many of their best players.
- Cincinnati scored 84 more points than they allowed last year while the Steelers were outscored by 55 points over the course of the regular season.
- The Steelers and Bengals turnover differential was nearly identical last year. Pittsburgh gave the ball away 20 times compared to 21 by the Bengals. Cincinnati produced 21 takeaways compared to 22 by Pittsburgh. However, five of the Steelers offensive turnovers came in their two games against Cincinnati last year.
- In terms of time of possession (excluding overtime), the Bengals ranked 12th in the league. Pittsburgh was 24th.
- The Steelers opponents were flagged 154 times last year when including declined and offsetting penalties. That was the most in the league.
- When looking at every team's record from last year, the Bengals ended up playing the third easiest schedule in the league.
- Pittsburgh's opponents averaged .7 more yards per play than the Steelers over the course of the 2021 season. The only teams worse were the Jets and Texans. Cincinnati produced .4 more yards per play than they allowed. Only nine teams were better.
- Pittsburgh had their rookie class play 4,965 total snaps last year. That was the fifth most in the NFL. 16% of the Steelers total snaps were by rookies.
- Both teams were 4-2 in the AFC North last year, but in their two head-to-head meetings, the Bengals won both games and by a combined score of 65-20.
WHEN PITTSBURGH HAS THE BALL
- The Panthers, Texans and Giants were the only offenses that averaged fewer than the Steelers 4.8 yards per play in 2021.
- Over the past two seasons, only Tampa Bay has thrown more passes than the Steelers.
- On average, the Steelers offense got to third down more than any team in the league, averaging 14.1 third down attempts per game in 2021.
- The two Super Bowl teams, the Rams and Bengals, were the only offenses to employ 11 Personnel (1 RB/1 TE) a higher percentage of the time than Pittsburgh. The Steelers generated 5.3 yards per play out of 11 Personnel, a half of a yard better than their overall season average.
- In 2021, the Steelers ranked 29th in the league with their usage of play action and 28th in the NFL with their usage of pre-snap motion.
- In the first half of games last year, the Steelers ran a play every 29.2 seconds. That was the 26th ranked pace. But in the second halves of games, Pittsburgh ran a play every 24.6 seconds, which was the fastest second half pace in the league.
- The Steelers averaged just 6.7 points scored in the first half of games last year. The Giants were the only team lower.
- Najee Harris played 84% of the Steelers offensive snaps during his rookie season. That was the highest percentage of any running back in the league. Alvin Kamara was second at 76%. Harris also led the league by handling 84% of his team's carries. Jonathan Taylor was second at 77%. Harris finished the season with 1,200 rushing yards, the fourth most in the NFL.
- Only the Falcons, Dolphins and Texans averaged fewer rushing yards per carry last year then the Steelers offense.
- Harris' 94 catches led all running backs and only 28 players in the league caught more balls last year. Harris also led the entire NFL in receptions caught behind the line of scrimmage.
- Last year the Steelers had the fastest time to throw (2.4 seconds) and second shortest average depth of target (6.6 yards downfield).
- Only seven tight ends got more end zone targets than Pat Freiermuth in 2021.
- From a yards per route run standpoints, Diontae Johnson produced 1.89 yards every time he ran a route last year. Chase Claypool was at 1.71 and his average depth of target was 11.9 yards downfield. Johnson was targeted 8.8 yards downfield on average.
- Only six defenses blitzed at a lower rate than the Bengals last year, but Cincinnati still racked up 42 sacks, which was tied for 11th most in the league. Trey Hendrickson led the way with 14 sacks with Sam Hubbard and Larry Ogunjobi also chipping in with seven or more sacks as well. Hendrickson's 14 sacks were fifth most in the league.
- Last year, the Steelers offense produced 28.74 yards per drive. Only the Saints, Giants, Panthers, and Texans were worse. Pittsburgh's offense scored a touchdown on 17.55% of their drives. Only five offenses produced touchdowns at a lower rate and the Steelers were one of eight teams that failed to average two offensive touchdowns per game.
- The Bengals defense gave up the seventh most passing yards per game in 2021, but also the fifth fewest rushing yards on a per game basis.
- 28.8% of the Steelers offensive snaps last year were taken by rookies. That was far and away the highest percentage in the league.
- Pittsburgh's offense played 1,172 snaps in 2021. Seven players contributed with 975 snaps or more. But two of those players, Trai Turner and Ben Roethlisberger, are no longer with the team and Kendrick Green is no longer a starter.
- Cincinnati's defense was fortunate in avoiding injuries in 2021. In fact, out of a possible 1,124 possible snaps, the Bengals had a dozen different defenders on the field for at least 500 plays and five players with at least 800 snaps played. All five return to the Bengals in 2022.
WHEN CINCINNATI HAS THE BALL
- Cincinnati averaged 5.9 yards per offensive play last year. Only four offenses averaged six yards or more. In their two matchups against Pittsburgh, the Bengals produced 6.4 and 5.7 yards per offensive play.
- The Bengals offense produced 3.06 touchdowns per game. They were one of seven offenses that were over three touchdowns per game.
- This shows very impressive efficiency by the Bengals as only seven teams ran fewer offensive plays than Cincinnati last season. And they still averaged the seventh most passing yards and points scored per game.
- Not only did Pittsburgh's offense play the most snaps in the league on third downs, but the Steelers defense averaged 13.6 third down snaps played per game. Only the Saints defense was higher.
- The Bengals utilized 11 Personnel (1 RB/1 TE) for 77% of their snaps. The Rams, their opponent in the Super Bowl, was the only offense that was in 11 Personnel a higher percentage of their snaps. When Cincinnati was in 11 Personnel, they averaged 6.5 yards per play, .6 yards over their average for the season.
- The Bengals only had two running backs (or a fullback) on the field for a total of 10 snaps last year.
- While the Steelers had six or more defensive backs on the field 17% of the time, which was the 13th most, Pittsburgh only had their nickel defense with five defensive backs on the field 47% of the time in 2021. Only two defenses employed nickel at a lower percentage.
- Last year between Week 1 and Week 15, the Bengals threw the ball just 50% of the time on early downs. But after Week 15, including the post season, Cincinnati threw the ball 62% of the time on early downs during those final six games. For reference, the Buccaneers led the NFL by throwing the ball 63% of the time on early downs during the 2021 regular season and playoffs.
- Joe Burrow averaged 37.8 pass attempts and 346 yards through the air during his final six games played last year. Before those final six games, Burrow was throwing the ball just 31.1 times per game for 260 yards on average. 981 of his passing yards and eight of Burrow's 34 touchdown passes came in his final two regular season games.
- When looking back on all the numbers from the 2021 season, the Bengals faced the easiest slate of pass defenses in the entire league last year.
- For the season, Cincinnati ran the ball on only one-third of their first half snaps. Just three teams threw it a higher percentage in the first half of games.
- Burrow finished the regular season completing 70.4% of his passes. That was best in the league. Not only did Burrow have the best completion percentage, but he also had the highest yards per completion. His average completion was good for a gain of 8.9 yards. Jimmy Garoppolo was second at 8.6. Matthew Stafford was the only other quarterback over eight yards per completion.
- Burrow attempted 80 passes that traveled 20 or more yards downfield. He completed 37 of them for 1,139 yards, 14 touchdowns and six interceptions with a 96.9 passer rating on such deep pass attempts. Burrow's 108.3 overall passer rating was the second best in the NFL last year.
- After that Week 15 game against Denver and throughout the playoffs, Ja'Marr Chase averaged 7.2 catches per game for 126.5 receiving yards and one touchdown per game on 9.5 targets. Chase, the Offensive Rookie of the Year, finished his rookie season with the fourth most receiving yards in the league and the most ever by a rookie with 1,455.
- The Bengals had two pass catchers eclipse 1,000 yards last year in Chase and Tee Higgins. The only other teams to pull that off were the Ravens, Chargers, Buccaneers, and Chiefs.
- In terms of yards per route run, Higgins produced 2.26 yards every time he went out on a route. Tyler Boyd was at 1.58 and Chase came in at 2.51. Chase's average depth of target was 13.6 yards downfield compared to 8.0 for Boyd and 12.2 for Higgins. Of receivers with at least 75 targets, Chase's yards per route run was fifth best in the league. All three were targeted at least 105 times last year.
- Chase averaged 18 yards per catch. Deebo Samuel was the only pass catcher in the league with at least 25 catches that was better than Chase in this statistic.
- Cincinnati with a 5.8 average yards after the catch led the NFL on passes thrown beyond the line of scrimmage. The 49ers were the only other team over 5.0.
- While Cincinnati was outstanding after the catch on passes down the field, 73% of Higgins' receiving yardage came from at his catch point. This number shows how great of a contested catch player Higgins is and how much of his work he does in the congested middle of the field.
- Last year, the Bengals tight ends collectively received just a 15.4% target share. The Jets, Panthers, and Bills tight ends were the only ones with a lesser share of their team's targets.
- For the fifth straight season, the Steelers led the NFL in sacks, recording 55 in 2021. That was four more sacks than any defense in the league and only three teams sacked opposing quarterbacks 50 times or more. Of course, TJ Watt led the way and led the league with 22.5 sacks, but Cameron Heyward recorded double digit sacks and Chris Wormley and Alex Highsmith each had at least six sacks as well.
- The Ravens and Bears were the only offenses that allowed more sacks than Cincinnati. Bengals quarterbacks were sacked 55 times last year. Burrow was sacked 51 times, the most in the league. Ryan Tannehill was the next highest, going down on 47 occasions. That was true even with Burrow getting the ball out quicker (2.69 seconds) than the league average time to throw. Just nine qualifying quarterbacks got the ball out of their hand quicker than Burrow in 2021.
- Joe Mixon played every game last year and led the Bengals with 1,205 rushing yards. Their second highest rushing output came from Samaje Perine, but he only ran for 246 yards in 2021. Jonathan Taylor and Nick Chubb were the only two players with more rushing yards than Mixon for the year. 255 of those ground yards came in Mixon's two meetings against the Steelers. Taylor, James Conner, and Damien Harris were the only players with more rushing touchdowns than Mixon in 2021.
- Last year, Pittsburgh allowed 4.5 yards per carry during snaps in which Heyward was on the field. With Heyward not on the field, that number spiked up to 5.5 yards per rushing attempt.
- No team allowed more rushing yards per game last year than the Steelers, but Cincinnati averaged just 4.0 yards per carry. There were only six offenses that produced fewer yards per carry last year.
- As was the case with their defense, the Bengals offense was very fortunate with injuries last year. Cincinnati snapped the ball 1,098 times in 2021 and had seven different players chip in with at least 800 snaps played and 10 that played more than 696 snaps.
- Pittsburgh's defense was on the field for 1,167 plays in 2021. 10 players played over 630 snaps, but two of them, Joe Haden and Joe Schobert, are no longer with the team. James Pierre was 11th in defensive snaps played, seeing the field for 415 plays.
- The Bengals combination of Burrow, Mixon, Chase, Higgins and Boyd played zero collective preseason snaps, which was the case for the majority of Cincinnati's starting offensive players including most of the offensive line.
- Evan McPherson went 9-of-11 on field goal tries of 50 yards or longer, a rookie record. McPherson also was perfect in the post season for Cincinnati, making all 14 of his attempts, including two game winners.
- Chris Boswell has gone three straight years of making at least 90% of his field goal attempts. He has achieved that goal in five of his seven NFL seasons.
- The Bengals were very fortunate with "Field Goal Luck" last year. Opposing kickers only converted 74% of their field goal attempts vs. Cincinnati.
- Derek Watt's 16 special teams tackles was the second most in the league last year.
MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT
January 10th, 2016: Steelers 18, Bengals 16
The Bengals didn't have their starting quarterback, Andy Dalton, for this playoff game, but they had been to the playoffs in five of the previous six years. Cincinnati was a very talented football team. AJ McCarron started this Wild Card matchup in Cincinnati and after a Ben Roethlisberger shoulder injury, the Steelers had to turn to Landry Jones during this game. Jones' first pass was intercepted by Vontaze Burfict. That interception gave the Bengals the ball with 1:36 to play with a 16-15 lead and the ball at its own 26-yard line. But Ryan Shazier stripped the ball from Jeremy Hill, the Steelers recovered, and Roethlisberger returned into the game. After moving the team down the field, a 15-yard Burfict penalty put the Steelers in field goal range to win the game. But then, Adam Jones was called for his own 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty and the ball was moved to the 17-yard line. Chris Boswell sealed the deal and the Steelers moved onto the next round of the playoffs in Denver.
Facts from NFL Research
- The Steelers have finished .500 or better in 18 straight seasons, the 3rd longest streak in NFL history behind the 1965-1985 Cowboys (21) and the 2001- 2019 Patriots (19)
- Watt is the 3rd player all-time to lead NFL in sacks in consecutive seasons - Others: HOF Reggie White (1987-88) & NYJ Mark Gastineau (1983-84) - No player has ever led the NFL in sacks in 3 straight seasons
- Since 2018, there are only 4 quarterbacks with 25+ starts to post a higher win percentage than Trubisky (.658). 3 are Super Bowl champions. All 4 are former NFL MVPs: Patrick Mahomes (.790), Lamar Jackson (.755), Tom Brady (.723), and Aaron Rodgers (.711)
- Bengals LG Cordell Volson vs. Steelers DL Cameron Heyward - The Bengals gave their offensive line a major makeover this past offseason bringing in new starters in veterans Ted Karras, Alex Cappa and La'el Collins to fortify their line from center to right tackle. Jonah Williams has been a foundational player for Cincinnati at the left tackle spot after being drafted in the first round in 2019. But left guard isn't nearly as solidified. It looks as though Volson has the job after doing battle for that honor with last year's second round selection, Jackson Carman. But this is clearly the biggest question mark with the Bengals offensive front. And who is say if this group has yet gelled from a continuity perspective with all their changes.
- Steelers WR Chase Claypool vs. Bengals CB Mike Hilton - Steelers fans of course are very familiar with Hilton, who has continued to be a fine slot cornerback for Cincinnati. Hilton is tough, aggressive and a fantastic slot blitzer. But he is also vastly undersized, and it looks as though Claypool is going to do a lot of his work out of the slot for Pittsburgh this year. Claypool has a massive size advantage over Hilton. Expect the Steelers to test this matchup as well as generating more vertical production this year out of the slot.