Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers
Kickoff: 4:25 p.m. ET
Unfortunately for reigning No. 1 overall draft pick Joe Burrow, the nickname “Joe Cool” was taken long ago. That moniker will forever belong to the one and only Joe Montana and there shall be no reuse of it.
But Burrow sure looks the part! The Bengals (finally) have themselves a keeper at quarterback in the former Louisiana Tiger, who is enjoying a very nice freshman campaign in the NFL.
Though his passer rating only sits at 91.4 — which normally would be solid but by today’s standards, it ranks 25th — Burrow is going neck-and-neck with Justin Herbert for this year’s Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. Along the way, he’s laced 11 touchdowns tosses to five picks, a very desirable ratio for any rookie signal-caller.
His numbers are more than acceptable across the board. Not only is he completing 67 percent of his passes, Burrow also resides in the top-10 among all QBs with 2,272 passing yards — remarkably, that’s nearly 300 each week. You have to like the rookie’s moxie, too.
Burrow is the real deal. But for every youngster (except Patrick Mahomes in his first year starting), there’s going to be at least some sort of growing pains, and pinpointing such instances could be vital.
Here, Burrow enters a spot that doesn’t seem favorable. His offensive line is severely banged up and the best weapon he’s got, Joe Mixon, remains sitting today.
That presents a moody outlook as it pertains to the Bengals offense in this matchup. Pittsburgh possesses one of the better defensive units in the league, ranking tied for fifth in scoring defense with just 18.6 points allowed per game.
Additionally, the Steelers are yielding the fifth-fewest total yards per game (304.1). In the process, they’re one of only four teams giving up less than 200 yards through the air on average as well. That’s impressive given how the game is today.
A major reason for this success can be attributed to their frequent blitzing and
talented pass rush. Pittsburgh’s 32 sacks as a team currently lead all 32 clubs, and according to NFL Next Gen Stats, they’re second in pass-rush win rate. All through the depth chart, it’s a very talented group.
The Steelers can take advantage of a crippled O-line that has Cincy tied for the second-most sacks allowed (28). They also conversely rank 27th in pass-block win rate. All of these factors can definitely hinder Burrow’s first outing in the underrated Steelers-Bengals rivalry.
True, Burrow has been in a groove, logging almost 1,000 yards in his last three games, but the spot of this being his first game out of a bye week can be tricky.
In fact, rookie QBs generally haven’t fared that well in the week after the bye. Going back to 2010, there have been 37 such scenarios where a first-year starter got the nod in these circumstances (not including Tua Tagovailoa or Jake Luton this month, as they previously weren’t starting), and the results were intriguing.
In those games, rookies collectively put up an oatmeal-ish 84.2 passer rating. Not only that, they completed less than 60 percent of their throws and generated just 207.6 passing yards per game. Interesting.
Limiting the output from Burrow could be what decides this bet. I don’t expect an explosion from the Steelers on the other side of the ball, carrying some potential rust into this contest. Ben Roethlisberger didn’t practice all week while on the COVID list (that situation led to Matthew Stafford’s worst game of the season last Sunday), and they didn’t exactly excel last time out against a lame Cowboys squad.
The Pittsburgh offense is tied for 25th in yards per play (5.2) and doesn’t seem as intimidating as an 8-0 team really should. Against an improving Bengals defense, there could be enough here to keep the game from getting out of hand.
The Bet: UNDER 46 (-110)
The Record: 6-3, +2.7 units
Last Week: Panthers/Chiefs Over 51 (WIN)
*Each bet graded as if it were to win 1 unit