Ben Roethlisberger continues to lead the offense at age 38 with reliable targets like Chase Claypool and JuJu Smith-Schuster to throw to, and James Conner among the top rushers in the league with 520 yards and five touchdowns.
But, the defense – allowing just 20.1 points per game -- has been what seems to cause teams the most trouble, bringing a lot of blitzes and causing a lot of turnovers. Boyd believes the Bengals have the weapons to be successful against the Pittsburgh defense, especially after seeing the improvement of rookie quarterback Joe Burrow during the first half of the season.
“I think we all believe that we are a top five offense,” Boyd said. " ... As long as we out-execute guys, it’s really hard to stop us because I don’t think the Steelers have faced a receiving corps like us other than the Cowboys, you know, but they didn’t have their quarterback.
“It was just like the Titans week last (game), they had the No. 1 defense, but we found ways to diagnose everything that they were trying to throw at us, so I just feel like the offense is just elevated week by week, and Joe is getting so much better and the line is starting to improve and the receivers like us, we’re starting to make more and more plays and gain yards after the catch. So as long as everybody continues to fight and smell victory, I feel like I mean, it’s gonna be tough to stop us.”
Cincinnati should be a little healthier this week, aside from possible absences related to COVID-19 positives that surfaced with tackle Fred Johnson, cornerback Trae Waynes (already on injured reserve) and now practice squad defensive back Winston Rose. Linebacker Jordan Evans and cornerback Mackensie Alexander were considered “close contact” additions to the Reserve/COVID-19 list in the last week but they were both cleared Wednesday. Pittsburgh has five players now on the COVID list, including Roethlisberger and three others who are considered “close contact” risks.
The Bengals will be getting center Trey Hopkins and left guard Michael Jordan back from injury and illness this week, coach Zac Taylor said Wednesday, and right guard Xavier Su’a-Filo was cleared to resume practice for the first time since going on injured/reserve Sept. 15. Offensive tackles Bobby Hart (knee) and Jonah Williams (stinger) and running back Joe Mixon (foot) did not practice Wednesday but Taylor said he likes their progress, and he expects defensive end Sam Hubbard, who also came off IR this week, to play Sunday.
Linebacker Josh Bynes views the midseason bye last week as a chance to wipe the slate clean and start fresh, especially now knowing the Bengals can beat top teams after ending the first half of the season with a 31-20 win over AFC South-leading Tennessee.
“Whatever we did in the first half of the season, not saying that it completely doesn’t exist, but we know what we have to get better at and build off on,” Bynes said. “Now, it’s the second half of the season. Now, this is November football all the way into December. … Who’s showing up now can falter and all of a sudden, it can go the other way. Or teams who haven’t had the greatest start, all of a sudden, turned it around and make a push and go the other way. Right now, this is 1-0 week for us. That’s all we’re caring about. Right now, our record is zero and zero. Definitely can’t wait to get out there and practice with the guys and definitely get after it this week.”
Bengals at Steelers, 4:25 p.m., Fox, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7