The Pittsburgh Steelers squeaked into the playoffs on Sunday after beating the Browns and getting some help from the New York Jets losing to the Buffalo Bills. Prior to the game, people were wondering whether the Steelers were still that dangerous team that everyone was mentioning as a dark horse to make a run in the playoffs. After a loss to Baltimore in Week 16 and a close win over the Browns to end the year, are they still that team?
“Well they sure enough believe it in the Steelers facility,” said Charlie Batch, former Steelers QB and current Steelers radio analyst on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “Now I will tell you that I don’t know because of that loss that you just mentioned to the Ravens because everyone was shocked. With how beat up that team was and the Steelers were really just not able to step their play up and get that win.”
The Steelers did beat the Browns on Sunday, but in the process running back DeAngelo Williams injured his ankle and has been in a walking boot all week. He’s been a key contributor this season with LeVeon Bell out, and the question remains whether he will play this weekend.
“They feel like that was the best pick-up of the free agency period,” said Batch. “They knew what to expect there, they just didn’t know if they were going to have LeVeon Bell. They didn’t want to run into the same situation that they did last year, by losing LeVeon in Week 17 against the Bengals facing the Ravens without a running back. Ironically, we’re almost in the same situation we were in last year. DeAngelo, he is day-to-day, they’re going to leave the door open for him. It’s going to come down to a game time decision. I don’t expect him to practice all week. They will probably put him through an intense pre-game workout and if he’s ready to go, they’re going to go with him. If not, they’re prepared to go with Fitzgerald Toussaint.”
The opponent for Pittsburgh on Saturday night is a familiar one in the NFC North division rival Cincinnati Bengals. This rivalry is always a heated one, so should fans expect more of the same on Saturday night?
“I do expect that, but I also expect both head coaches to say ‘Listen, we’ve got to narrow that down’ because we don’t know if at this point as we talk the NFL is saying ‘Hey, you better tone it down, but if not, the fines are going to double, we are going to kick players out of the game because this is a national game’,” said Batch. “So you expect–you don’t want to have any players do anything that is going to turn around and jeopardize the team. So, I want to say it’s not going to happen, but listen, this is Cincinnati-Pittsburgh III and you know what’s on the line. End of the season, the winner moves on so there is no tomorrow.”
The Bengals are dealing with a major injury of their own as all signs point to QB Andy Dalton missing the game because of the broken thumb he suffered in the last Steelers match-up, which leaves AJ McCarron as the starter. McCarron hadn’t seen much action until being thrust into that game, what should the Steelers expect from him the second time around?
“Watching him, you didn’t know what to expect because he hasn’t really thrown an NFL pass up until that point three weeks ago,” said Batch. “Of course he ended up hitting AJ Green over the top of Antwan Blake and that’s something they cannot allow AJ McCarron to do is hit his first read. They have to force him to get to the second and third. Now, here his is three weeks later, more experienced, he’s had those starter reps. He just faced the Baltimore Ravens who have the exact same defense as this Steeler team so you know he’s going to be more comfortable. He’s going to take his shots down field and you know you’re going to expect a little more polished AJ McCarron. The one good thing about him is he’s not turning the ball over, he’s got six touchdowns and two interceptions, but at the same time, they’re not averaging the yards per game that they were with Andy Dalton.”
The Steelers and Bengals square off on Saturday night with kickoff set for 8:15 on CBS.