Bengals’ defense looking for repeat performance vs. Steelers

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) is sacked by Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Sam Hubbard (94) during the second half an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Don Wright)

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Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) is sacked by Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Sam Hubbard (94) during the second half an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Don Wright)

CINCINNATI -- When Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor thinks back on the Week 3 game at Pittsburgh, the turnovers created by the defense are the first thing that comes to mind.

The Bengals got two interceptions from linebacker Logan Wilson and the defensive line made things difficult for Ben Roethlisberger with four sacks as Cincinnati rolled to a 24-10 win on the road.

Nine weeks later, the Bengals are preparing to host the rival Steelers on Sunday in an important AFC North matchup, where takeaways again could be key.

“Our defense created some big plays for us,” Taylor said of the first game. “…That was a good example of our defense coming up with some big-time turnovers and gave us some really good field position. Then, capping it off with good red zone football on both sides of the ball in that game.”

Wilson made a one-handed grab to pick off Roethlisberger in the first quarter at the Pittsburgh 42-yard line, and that set up the Bengals’ first scoring drive. The second interception Wilson returned 13 yards to put Cincinnati in the redzone in the third quarter, and Burrow threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Ja’Marr Chase three plays later for a 24-7 lead.

The Bengals defense had slipped up in recent weeks but got back on track in a 32-13 win at Las Vegas, as two late turnovers – an interception by Eli Apple and a fumble recovery by Sam Hubbard – led to 10 more points for the offense .

In addition to creating turnovers, Cincinnati’s defense has been very good after its offense loses the ball. The Bengals have turned the ball over 14 times this season, including two pick-6s. In the other 12 sudden-change situations, the Bengals have given up only one touchdown.

Burrow fumbled on a sack the first drive in Vegas, and the Raiders settled for a field goal despite starting at the Cincinnati 9, the eighth time a turnover has put the opponent in Bengals’ territory and third time inside the 10.

“I tell them all the time we’re like the fire department,” Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said. “We’re here to put the fire out. We don’t ask how or why. We go out there and we just put it out.”

The Bengals defense will have to snuff out trouble Sunday regardless of what situations the offense puts it in, especially with running back Najee Harris capable of creating problems out of the backfield and in the passing game and with wide receiver Diontae Johnson healthy this time as a deep target for Roethlisberger.

Harris only rushed for 40 yards in Week 3, but he caught 14 passes for 102 yards. Johnson missed the first matchup with the Bengals because of a knee injury. He’s in the midst of a career year, recording 714 yards and four touchdowns on 59 catches in nine games.

“I know they’re really going to try and establish the run game with Najee Harris,” Bengals defensive end Sam Hubbard said. “It’s Big Ben. They play Steelers football. He’s one of the best at getting the ball out. He’s going to try and distribute the ball. Get their offense rolling early. We’ll go in with a game plan, but it’s Steelers vs. Bengals. AFC North football. It’s going to be a battle.”

Safety Jessie Bates said Johnson is “very underrated” because of how he creates separation and what he does after the catch. His presence alone has the ability to make this a much different game for the Steelers, who have JuJu Smith-Schuster on injured reserve.

In the game at Pittsburgh, Roethlisberger had just 92 yards passing in the first half but finished with 318 after the Steelers tried to play catchup in the second half. The Bengals ended up sacking him four times and the pass rush in the first half played a part in his struggles. Harris had the bulk of his production in the second half.

“Our guys will be ready,” Taylor said. “I think they feel good coming out of the bye, feel rested. Some of those DBs, some of those rushers feel probably better than they did leading into the bye, which is a great thing for our defense to have right now.”

SUNDAY’S GAME

Steelers at Bengals, 1 p.m., CBS, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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