Monday Night Football, Color Rush jerseys, an AFC North rivalry game, the stakes couldn't be more fun for the Bengals' Week 4 matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Both teams enter the contest 0-3. However, with both teams only two games back of the division lead and more than 75 percent of the year left to play, the AFC North rivals are still within striking distance of the postseason.
Here are the three things to watch:
1. First Down Efficiency – In the postgame press conference at Buffalo, head coach Zac Taylor said this was the area that needed to be corrected the most moving forward. The Bengals have had a three and out on 25 percent of its drives this year. Taylor stated part of the reason for the offense not staying ahead of the sticks was to call better plays and avoid penalties to help get into a better rhythm.
"(The difference) was getting the first, first down of the drive," Taylor said on Monday. "It's really as simple as that. Now we have some momentum, and now we can be in attack mode. You're never really in attack mode when you jog off the sideline, call the first play and it's not as efficient as you'd like it to be. Now it's second down, you're a little behind, they're still attacking you, and you're off the field on third down."
2. Hit Intermediate Throws and Downfield Shots – There are yards to be had against the Steelers defense. Pittsburgh is allowing 442 yards per game, fourth-worst in the NFL, and 302.7 passing yards per contest, which is the second-worst in the league. In fact, the Steelers have allowed 15 plays of 20 or more yards, tied for the third-most through three games.
Even without wide receiver A.J. Green, there are matchups on the outside that favor the Bengals against the Steelers secondary. Where Cincinnati's offensive success will hinge on is the offensive line. The Bengals' O-Line righted itself last week in Buffalo after a sluggish first half and will need to provide Andy Dalton ample time to push the ball downfield.
Succeeding here will require a good run-pass balance, though, because while Pittsburgh hasn't got much out of their pass rush it does feature Stephon Tuitt (team-best 3.5 sacks in 2019) and Cameron Heyward (8.5 sacks in 2018) who can still get after a quarterback if a passing play becomes obvious.
3. Variance in Coverages – With Ben Roethlisberger out for the season, second-year quarterback Mason Rudolph take the reins of the Steelers' offense. Monday night will be his second career NFL start and he will be working with a talented, but inexperienced receiving core. Two of his top three receivers, James Washington and rookie Diontae Johnson, have a combined 29 NFL catches for 399 yards.
It's a great opportunity for defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo to mix up coverages and put the Steelers offense in scramble mode. The Bengals have mostly used a 5-2 front to showcase the depth and talent on the defensive line. That type of front should help contain running back James Connor, who had five 100-yard rushing games last season.
Kickoff: 8:15 p.m. Eastern.
Television: ESPN broadcast with Joe Tessitore (play-by-play), Booger McFarland (analyst) and Lisa Salters (sideline analyst). In the Cincinnati market, the ESPN broadcast also will be simulcast on WLWT-TV (Channel 5).
Radio: The game will air on the Bengals Radio Network, led by Cincinnati flagship stations WLW-AM (700), WCKY-AM (ESPN 1530) and WEBN-FM (102.7). Broadcasters are Dan Hoard (play-by-play) and Dave Lapham (analyst).
The game also will air nationally on Westwood One Radio. Broadcasters are Kevin Harlan (play-by-play), Kurt Warner (analyst) and Ryan Harris (sideline reporter).