Pittsburgh (20) @ Cincinnati (22)
-Steelers OLB TJ Watt (hip/knee) will return after missing last week. Thank God.
-Steelers CB Joe Haden (foot) was injured week 10 and missed week 11. He is questionable this week, but did get in two limited sessions Thursday and Friday.
-Steelers S Minkah Fitzpatrick was removed from the Reserve/COVID-19 list and will play.
Spread update: The line has moved to Bengals -3.5. Get your damn bets in early, folks. 62% of tickets and 72% of cash are on the Steelers.
When Pittsburgh has the ball:
The Steelers offense is 21st in DVOA and 22nd in EPA/play. Big Ben, who may or may not be old, is 36th of 38 qualifiers in PFF passing grades (57.3) while completing 65.3% of his passes (1.8% below expectation) and gaining 6.6 yards per attempt. Ben's style of play has an aura of senioritis -- he's getting rid of the ball in 2.3 seconds, fastest in the league. His aDOT of 7.2 is 3rd lowest and 49.9% of his passes travel in the 1-10 yard range, 9th highest in the league. It's a style that fits in with the offensive line, which is objectively horrible. His receiving core is solid, however, led by Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, rookie RB Najee Harris, and rookie TE Pat Freiermuth. The Bengals defense is 15th in DVOA and 8th in EPA/play -- the later stat is inflated due to their easy schedule. The strength of the defense is the pass rush -- giving them an edge in the trenches, but it's difficult to take advantage of that with the QB getting rid of the ball so quickly. The Bengals are 10th in the league in pressure % (26.1%) despite blitzing 21st most often (21.8%). It's led by edge rushers Trey Hendrickson (46 pressures), Sam Hubbard (32), and interior rushers Larry Ogunjobi (23) and DJ Reader (19). Reader is also strong against the run, and is the Bengals top graded player in the front 7. Chidobe Awuzie has been strong at corner, but his counterpart, Eli Apple, has been very generous to opposing QBs. Jessie Bates was one of the leagues best safeties last year, but has just a 49.8 run defense grade and a 55.4 coverage grade. His partner, Von Bell, has been solid. The Bengals are 22nd in DVOA defending short passes and 13th defending long passes, which is the type of team Ben would prefer to play against.
When the Bengals have the ball:
The Bengals are 23rd in DVOA and 17th in EPA/play. Joe Burrow sits at 7th in PFF passing grades (82.2) while completing 68.3% of his passes (4.7% above expectation) and gaining 8.4 yards per attempt. The offensive line has been above average at LT (Jonah Williams), LG (Quinton Spain), and RT (Riley Reiff). However, C (Trey Hopkins) and RG (Hakeem Adeniji) have been horrid. The receiving trio of Ja'Marr Chase (outside), Tee Higgins (outside), and Tyler Boyd (slot) gives Burrow plenty to work with. Joe Mixon will handle the majority of the RB carries. It's a team that has the talent to play well, but consistency has been a major issue -- the offense ranks 27th in variance. In the last 4 weeks, they've put up monster performances against the Raiders and Ravens with a stinker against the Browns. The Steelers defense is 25th in DVOA and 16th in EPA/play. They ran into major trouble against the Chargers last week, but TJ Watt coming back is a massive boost to the defensive line. Watt (28 pressures) along with Cam Heyward (40), Alex Highsmith (20), and Chris Wormley (12) make up a solid pass rush. They can no longer be referred to as the "Blitzburgh Steelers" -- they blitz just 22.1% of the time, 20th most often in the league. Burrow has been the best QB in the league against the blitz, so I'm happy with this change. Their problems exist in the secondary, particularly if Haden can't return. Minkah Fitzpatrick is known as one of the leagues better safeties -- but he's been a train wreck this season with a PFF grade of 43.2.