In the NFL, there are important individual matchups that help to decide each and every game. Whether it’s a position group against another position group, an individual against a position group, or an individual against an individual, these matchups can determine winners and losers. Every week throughout the season, I break down at least two matchups for both the Bengals’ offense and defense against their opponents.
Jeff Driskel, Quarterback vs. Steelers Secondary
Jeff Driskel is giving it his all for the Bengals, that much we can sure of. Lack of playing time up to this point, field vision, and pocket awareness are holding him back. He brings a dangerous running aspect to the game but teams are so unafraid of him as a passer that they just prepare to stop him as a runner. There have been outstanding flashes of accuracy and arm talent but they are outweighed by the errant passes and panic in the pocket. The offensive line has not helped him much but when the pressure comes he just takes off instead of keeping his eyes downfield. He is showing why back up duty is probably the ceiling for his career, and that is no insult. Driskel looks to have a long career ahead of him as a solid, sometimes dynamic back up quarterback.
The glaring weakness of this Pittsburgh defense is the secondary. Cornerback Joe Haden is the best player they have in the back end and even he is showing his age at times at 29 years old. Former first-round pick Artie Burns is finally seeing less playing time after struggling constantly. Mike Hilton is best in the slot, where he looks like one of the best defenders on the team. Coty Sensabaugh has stepped in for Burns and is just another guy that shouldn’t scare any quarterback. Sean Davis, Morgan Burnett, Terrell Edmunds, and Marcus Allen make up a very good run-defending safety group that is downright terrible in coverage.
Driskel is struggling in a big way as a passer and needs to improve this week if the Bengals are to have any hope. With wide receivers A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd both injured, Driskel will be relying on a lot of young and inexperienced pass catchers. This is a secondary that Driskel can take advantage of if he stays in the pocket and doesn’t panic when pressured.
Alex Redmond, Guard vs. Steelers Interior Defensive Line
Alex Redmond has put himself squarely in the running for worst offensive linemen not only in Cincinnati, but in the entire NFL. He gets mean and physical as a run blocker but fails to even be an object in the defender’s path as a pass blocker. He’s rivaling tackle Bobby Hart for the worst starting player on the team. Missed assignments, poor balance, and even worse footwork make him a liability on every play.
The talent along this Pittsburgh front is outstanding. Cam Heyward is having a down year at defensive end but still dominates throughout games. Stephon Tuitt has developed into the run-stopping force Pittsburgh hoped he would be when they drafted him in the second round of the 2014 draft. Tuitt has also become a bit of a threat as a pass rusher as he learns the nuances of the game. Nose tackle Javon Hargrave is quietly one of the better nose tackles in the league. He brings more penetrating ability than your usual nose tackle.
I fully expect Redmond to get dominated by this Steelers defensive front. They are big, powerful, athletic guys and Redmond is a big, strong guard with terrible technique and quickness. No matter who lines up against him, expect Redmond to look as if he has no clue how to play guard at the pro level like usual.
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William Jackson III, Cornerback vs. Antonio Brown, Wide Receiver
The breakout season I predicted for Jackson never came to be. I feel like I’ve said it multiple times throughout the season, but he has been a good-but-not-great cornerback week in and week out. The athleticism still shines and allows him to keep up with the best wide receivers but he will lose some ugly reps due to the lack of development to the mental side of his game. The great corners can anticipate routes and use their athleticism to jump, Jackson has the athleticism but not the anticipation. If the technique and mental aspects ever come together, we could see the next great cornerback in Cincinnati.
Antonio Brown is arguably the best wide receiver in football. There really isn’t much else to say about him. He is the best route runner you’ll find and uses all-time great quickness in and out of his routes to destroy opposing defenses. Everything he does looks smooth and easy. Brown brings some of the best hands in the game to his skill set as well.
Jackson won this matchup in both games against Pittsburgh last season. While he didn’t shut down Brown in the first game of 2018, he did hold his own. The Bengals will need him to shut Brown down this time if they want to win this game. I’m not sure he will do it, but he sure has the talent and capability to do it.
Sam Hubbard, Defensive End vs. Ben Roethlisberger, Quarterback
Rookie Sam Hubbard has been playing better and better as the season goes on. It seems every week that he has been getting closer and closer to getting multiple sacks and pressures on the quarterback. He has earned himself more playing time over incumbent dud Michael Johnson as well. The progress is showing for Hubbard and the final week of the season against a hated rival may bring out the best in him.
Big Ben is aging and it’s beginning to show in the pocket. He was never the most mobile quarterback but was easily the hardest to sack. The maneuverability in the pocket and overall strength made him difficult to bring down. He can still sling it with the best of them and has great weapons to throw to. The offensive line is stout and allows Roethlisberger all the time in the world sometimes. He is still more than capable of picking apart a defense at any given time. The regression of Big Ben is real but has been slightly exaggerated.
With the loss of Carl Lawson, Hubbard is the best young pass rusher the Bengals have. If the Bengals want to beat the Steelers this weekend they will need Hubbard to step up and put some pressure on Big Ben. Known for his ability to stand strong in the pocket, Roethlisberger might be difficult for Hubbard to sack. With that being said, Hubbard is good enough to get to him and bring the pressure.
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