Two winless teams are meeting up at Heinz Field when the Cincinnati Bengals take on the Pittsburgh Steelers for an AFC North edition of “Monday Night Football.”
We have some big questions for both teams as we look ahead to this must-win game.
Can James Conner finally get going?
After a solid 2018 campaign, many figured Conner was set to take flight in his second year as the main running back for the Steelers. Through three weeks, though, that has not taken place. In fact, Conner has been one of the biggest disappointments in fantasy football because he simply hasn’t done much on the ground, or through the air.
Conner has just 97 yards and one touchdown on 34 carries, and he has caught just 11 passes for 70 yards. Some of this may be due to Pittsburgh’s entire offense struggling without Ben Roethlisberger. But Conner only has one play over 20 yards through three games. That has to change if the Steelers are going to win Monday night.
Can Cincinnati protect Andy Dalton?
The Bengals have shown some ability to create explosive plays in the passing game, but there are a couple of glaring issues. First, Dalton has been sacked 11 times for a loss of 53 yards through three games. That number is trending down on a week-to-week basis, with just two sacks last weekend.
However, the second issue is that Dalton has gotten more careless each week, too, throwing three interceptions the past two weeks. What we’ve seen is that Dalton is starting to panic a bit when it comes to getting rid of the ball due to poor protection and a ton of pressure. Pittsburgh’s defensive front can bring the heat, so this will be an interesting dynamic to track throughout the game.
Will Mason Rudolph take more shots downfield?
In his first career start last weekend against the San Francisco 49ers, Rudolph completed just two passes that went beyond the line of scrimmage.
Given the talent Pittsburgh has on offense, and given that the Steelers did find success throwing deep against San Francisco, we’d fully expect Rudolph to let ‘er rip Monday night against Cincinnati. Especially considering the Bengals have been atrocious at defending the pass in 2019.
Will John Ross III come through again?
Once thought to be a first-round bust, this former Washington Huskies star has blossomed in Zac Taylor’s offense. Ross came into Week 4 with the fourth-most receiving yards in the NFL (292 yards), and the Seattle Seahawks can tell you how potent he is at scoring touchdowns.
The Pittsburgh defensive secondary is susceptible to being roasted, allowing 9.1 yards per attempt this season. So this could be a dream matchup for Ross and fantasy football owners starting him on Monday night.
Can Zac Taylor outsmart Keith Butler?
Despite having a very good front seven that can get after the quarterback, Keith Butler’s defense has been abysmal so far this season. The Steelers rank third-worst in the league in passing defense, and teams are averaging over 139 yards per game on the ground.
Needless to say, if Cincinnati’s rookie head coach can get his offense back on track in Week 4, the Bengals can have a field day against this Pittsburgh defense. Will Taylor roll out a winning game plan, or will Butler fix what’s broken and help the Steelers finally win a game in 2019? If he can’t, then it’s not out of the question than Butler will end up being Mike Tomlin’s scapegoat as an early-season casualty.