3 Things To Watch – Pittsburgh

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It's all about momentum.

The 1989 Dallas Cowboys under first year head coach Jimmy Johnson went 1-15, but lost eight of those contests by 10 points or less. The next season they improved to 7-9 and then made the playoffs in Year 3 of the Johnson era. From there the Cowboys began a Cowboys dynasty in the 90s that was highlighted by three Super Bowls.

While a lot of draft picks, transactions and good fortune came after that 1989 season, Johnson stated in numerous interviews being competitive that year helped build the infrastructure needed to achieve greater success.

The Bengals this season are 0-6 in games decided by 10 points or less. Cincinnati Head Coach Zac Taylor believes his team is close and a couple of plays away from turning those defeats into victories. The Bengals get another opportunity for win No. 1 hosting a Pittsburgh team that is clinging to its playoff chances.

Here are the three things to watch.

1. Pass Protection – There was no doubt that the Week 4 matchup at Pittsburgh was the lowest point of the year for the Bengals' offensive line. The Bengals allowed eight sacks and mustered 171 passing yards against the Steelers in Pittsburgh. 

Since then the Bengals have shown steady improvement thanks to a rejuvenated running attack. Cincinnati has out-rushed its opponents in three straight games. Joe Mixon continues to lead the way. The third-year running back scored his first rushing touchdown of the season last week at Oakland and is averaging 89 rushing yards per game in his last three contests.

A big component to Pittsburgh's pass rush revolves around linebacker T.J. Watt. His 24 quarterback hits lead the NFL, while his four forced fumbles rank tied for second, his 10.5 sacks rank third and Watt's three fumble recoveries rank tied for third.

2. Stretching The Field – For the first time since 2003 neither Andy Dalton or Ben Roethlisberger will start at quarterback for their respective teams. Enter Ryan Finley for the Bengals and Mason Rudolph with Pittsburgh. 

Both Finley and Rudolph appear more comfortable with short to intermediate throws early on in their NFL careers. Finley has only three competitions this year of 20 yards or more whereas Rudolph, in six more games, has 18 of those 20-plus yard plays.

Both have played without their top playmakers in stretches this season. That is where scheme and offensive creativity will come into play to generate high-yardage plays.

3. Continued Development – If there is a group to watch in the remainder of 2019, it's this year's rookie class and the continued development of the future nucleus of the team. Finley is already a part of that making his third NFL start at quarterback. However, it will continue to be baptism by fire for some of the other rookies as well like linebacker Germaine Pratt and receivers Stanley Morgan and Damion Willis.

Don't be surprised if due to injury or wanting to take a second look if other Bengals first and second year players see significant action against the Steelers. Keep in mind, many of those players are entering uncharted territory as they're going to play several more games in a season than they did during their collegiate careers.

GAME COVERAGE

Kickoff: 1 p.m. Eastern.

Television: The game will air on CBS-TV. In Cincinnati, it will be carried by WKRC-TV (Ch. 12). Broadcasters are Andrew Catalon (play-by-play), James Lofton (analyst) and John Schriffen (sideline reporter).

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).

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