Bengals Weekend Forecast: First glance at the Steelers

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 08: Le'Veon Bell #26 of the Pittsburgh Steelers rushes against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the first quarter during the game at Heinz Field on October 8, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)

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PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 08: Le'Veon Bell #26 of the Pittsburgh Steelers rushes against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the first quarter during the game at Heinz Field on October 8, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)

The Pittsburgh Steelers own one of the NFL’s ugliest losses and most impressive victories, and both have come in the last two weeks.

After dropping a 30-9 decision at home to Jacksonville in which quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw a pick-6 on back-to-back passes as part of a five-interception day, the Steelers rolled into Kansas City and upset the undefeated Chiefs on Sunday.

If you’re wondering which Pittsburgh team the Cincinnati Bengals will get Sunday at Heinz Field, the smart money is on the group that pulled off the ambush at Arrowhead to take sole possession of first place in the AFC North at 4-2.

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Even though Roethlisberger still doesn’t look right (his game-winning touchdown pass to Antonio Brown should have been his second interception of the game and ninth of the season), running back Le’Veon Bell is rounding into Pro Bowl form.

Bell staged an offseason holdout and didn’t join the team until the first practice off the regular season, leading to a slow start that saw him average 3.5 yards with one touchdown through the first three games.

But Bell ran for 179 yards Sunday and scored his third touchdown in the last three games.

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Brown, meanwhile, is off to one of the best starts of his career with 48 catches for 700 yards. He owns three of the top eight receiving yardage games of the season with 182 vs. Cleveland, 157 against Jacksonville and 155 at Kansas City.

As good as Brown and Bell have been, Pittsburgh still ranks a middling 13th in total offense and 16th in rushing offense, and the team has some injury issues on the offensive line that will bear watching this week as they prepare for a Bengals team ranked second in total defense and sacks per pass attempt. Starting left guard Ramon Foster missed the Kansas City game with a back, while starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert left Sunday's game with a hamstring.

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Defensively, the Steelers have transformed themselves into an elite group. They come into Sunday ranked third in total defense and their pass defense, which finished 30th two years ago, is No. 1, allowing 153.5 passing yards per game.

The Steelers are ranked in the top four in eight defensive categories and have six players with multiple sacks – linebacker Vince Williams (4), linebacker Anthony Chickillo (3), defensive end Cameron Heyward (3), rookie defensive end T.J. Watt (3), linebacker Bud Dupree (2) and nose tackle Javon Hargrave (2).

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Pittsburgh hasn’t allowed more than 313 yards in a game this season, but the run defense has been suspect at times. The Bears rushed for 222 yards in a 23-17 overtime win, and the Jaguars rolled up 231 yards on the ground. And Cleveland ran for 231 yards in the 2016 season finale, meaning the Steelers have allowed at least 222 rushing yards in three of their last seven regular-season games.

Prior to this stretch, the team only had three games since 2000 in which it allowed at least 222 rushing yards.

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Bengals-Steelers connections

Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis grew up in McDonald, Pa., near Pittsburgh. Lewis’ first NFL coaching job was with the Steelers as LBs coach from 1992-95 under head coach Bill Cowher. He also coached at the University of Pittsburgh from 1990-91. … Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was defensive backs coach for the University of Cincinnati from 1999-2000. … Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger is from Findlay (Findlay High School) and played at Miami University. … Steelers LB James Harrison played for the Bengals in 2013. … Bengals WR Tyler Boyd is from Clairton, Pa., and played at the University of Pittsburgh. … Steelers S Mike Mitchell is from Fort Thomas, Ky. (Highlands High School) and played at Ohio University. … Bengals linebackers coach Jim Haslett is from Pittsburgh and coached for the Steelers from 1997-99. … Bengals tight ends coach Jonathan Hayes grew up in South Fayette, Pa. and played TE for the Steelers from 1994-96. … Steelers DE Cameron Heyward and LB Ryan Shazier played at Ohio State. … Steelers LB L.J. Fort spent time on the Bengals practice squad in 2014. … Bengals LB Brandon Bell (practice squad) played at Penn State. … Bengals assistant head coach/offensive line coach Paul Alexander coached at Penn State from 1983-84. … Bengals strength and conditioning coach Chip Morton coached at Penn State from 1987-91. … Steelers inside linebackers coach Jerry Olsavsky was with the Bengals as a player during the 1998 preseason. … Bengals TE Scott Orndoff (practice squad) played at Pitt, and was originally a 2017 CFA with the Steelers and was with the team for part of training camp. … Bengals K Randy Bullock was with the Steelers briefly during the 2016 season.

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AFC North Outlook

Baltimore (3-3) at Minnesota (4-2) Sunday afternoon: The Ravens have lost three of four overall and seven of their last nine road games.

Cleveland (0-6) vs. Tennessee (3-3) Sunday afternoon: The Browns are 1-21 under Hue Jackson, but two of their three home losses this season have been by three points.

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