Steelers @ Bengals
Final Score: Steelers 23, Bengals 20 (OT)
Writer: Ryan McDonough (@RyanTalksFF on Twitter)
This game was ugly. No, I mean really ugly. The combination of bad turnovers and missed field goal/extra point attempts culminated in a brutal overtime period. Chris Boswell was able to shake off an earlier field goal miss from the OT period and drill a 53-yarder and walk the game off.
The biggest takeaway from this game should be for all fantasy managers to fade any and everyone who is playing the Steelers’ defense for a given week. Despite fans seeing both T.J. Watt and Cameron Heyward exit with injuries, Mike Tomlin and co. were able to hold one of the NFL’s most explosive offensives from last season to only 20 points through essentially 5 quarters of football.
It should be noted that both teams lost key offensive pieces in Sunday’s action with both Tee Higgins (concussion) and Najee Harris (foot) exiting with injuries. Even with all of the negatives that emerged from this showdown between divisional rivals, there were definitely some positive takeaways that should intrigue fantasy owners.
Mitch Trubisky: 21/38, 194 Yards, TD | 3 Carries, 9 Yards
If the Pittsburgh Steelers are perfectly happy with winning games as a result of their defense and not turning the ball over, then so be it. It would extremely unfair to compare Mitch Trubisky to the likes of prime Big Ben and his production in this offense, but the former number 2 overall pick does provide a different dimension to this team with his athleticism. Mitch’s escapability definitely came in handy when he was able to get out of a few sacks with all the pressure the Cincinnati defense threw at him. None of his escapes proved to be more important than the one with 31 seconds left in overtime, as he evaded pressure to connect with Pat Freiermuth for a 26-yard gain that put his team in position to knock through the game-winning field goal. I wouldn’t say that the quarterback blew me away with his play, but he did what it took to take down the defending AFC Champions.
Najee Harris: 10 Carries, 23 Yards | 2 Targets, 2 Receptions, 3 Yards, TD
Jaylen Warren: 3 Carries, 7 Yards | 1 Target
You know that it’s a down day for the running backs when the team’s leading rusher is a wide receiver, but that tends to happen when your workhorse guy gets injured. Many fantasy managers are holding their breath to get more detail on the significance of Najee Harris‘ injury, as it was known to many that he had already endured an injury to his foot during the preseason. While Najee never really found any consistency on the ground, (if you eliminate his one run of 11 yards, he only averaged 1.33 yards-per-carry) he did manage to make a nice play on a slip route for a receiving touchdown. It was unclear whether the lack of production comes by way of poor offensive line play, indecisive by Harris on draws, or (the most likely option) a combination of both. Losing Harris would be a tremendous loss to an offense that already looked as though it was running stale with him in the lineup.
Rookie Jaylen Warren seemed to be the next man up for the Steelers today, but don’t be surprised if they go shopping for some of those deep stash guys in the free agent market. The running back position in this offense is super valuable to roster, as their system often stays away from using a committee.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
Chase Claypool: 6 Targets, 4 Receptions, 18 Yards | 6 Carries, 36 Yards
Diontae Johnson: 12 Targets, 7 Receptions, 55 Yards, Fumble (Recovered)
Pat Freiermuth: 10 Targets, 5 Receptions, 75 Yards
If there is anyone who can find a positive in one of the game’s brightest stars going down, it is those who roster Chase Claypool. The Notre Dame product finally showed that he is more than just a one-trick pony who can run down the sideline, as he was used in a variety of ways throughout the game. While he isn’t used in a Deebo Samuel-esque role, lining up in the backfield constantly, he made the most of his jet sweep touches to be the team’s leading rusher. Both Claypool and Diontae Johnson made insane highlight reel catches over the course of the game. Claypool’s came in the second quarter when he reeled in a nasty one-handed catch on the three-yard line. Johnson went up and over Chide Awuzie to reel in an unbelievable one-handed snag on the left sideline for a 25-yard game in the overtime period. As is the nature when adapting to a new quarterback, Johnson was missed on more than one target as he tries to build chemistry, but still retained the same agility and great footwork that we saw last season.
Pat Freiermuth appears to really have solidified himself as a top pass-catching tight end in this league. Although his longest reception came as a result of a trick play, the amount of trust that the organization has in him was evident. The sophomore Penn State product seems to have spent a lot of time this off-season developing his ability to find holes in the defense and when to be patient on his routes. This aspect of his game really bodes well for him as the team prepares rookie Kenny Pickett to eventually take the reigns at quarterback. If Freiermuth can continue to display an enhanced understanding of how to find space to add on to his already impressive ability to break tackles, don’t be surprised if he finishes in the TE5 range.
Joe Burrow: 33/53, 338 Yards, 2 TD, 4 INT | 6 Carries, 47 Yards, Fumble (Lost)
The first half of this game is definitely one that Joe Burrow is going to want to forget. The third-year quarterback was intercepted three times in the first half, one of which was returned for a pick-six, and lost a fumble. Burrow added another interception to his stat line in the third quarter before finally finding some sort of rhythm in the fourth. The young passer was running for his life basically the entire game, as his constantly struggling offensive line couldn’t keep anyone out of the backfield. If Tee Higgins is going to miss a couple of games, the first few weeks of this season may be a bit bumpy.
Joe Mixon: 27 Carries, 82 Yards | 9 Targets, 7 Receptions, 63 Yards
Samaje Perine: 1 Carry, 4 Yards | 5 Targets, 3 Receptions, 33 Yards | Fumble (Recovered)
Joe Mixon looked as good as ever, especially considering how much the offensive line struggled to create any sort of hole for him. Mixon was met behind the line of scrimmage on more than one occasion and frequently had to break more than one tackle to gain even one yard. The receiving numbers may be a bit misleading for both of these guys, as the Bengals were trailing for a large majority of this game, managing to score a game-tying touchdown with a few seconds remaining. Perine has carved out a solid role for himself, but will likely be hated when he inevitably is misused by Zac Taylor as the first receiving option out of the backfield. Mixon is stronger, and faster, and he did absolutely everything possible to put that on display in this matchup.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
Ja’Marr Chase: 16 Targets, 10 Receptions, 129 Yards, TD
Hayden Hurst: 8 Targets, 5 Receptions, 46 Yards
Tyler Boyd: 7 Targets, 4 Receptions, 33 Yards, TD
Mike Thomas: 5 Targets, 1 Reception, 5 Yards
When C.J. Uzomah left for the Jets, many wondered who would be the next guy to step into the TE role in this high-octane offense. Many were surprised when it was Hayden Hurst who was brought on, especially with how he had primarily been used as a blocker over the past few seasons in Atlanta. However, Hurst certainly seems to fit the part, as he was targeted on several key downs and delivered the toughness needed to get something going on the ground.
If Tee Higgins is going to miss a few games after leaving this game with a concussion, it will mean one of three things:
A.) Tyler Boyd will slot up to the Higgins role and average around 15 fantasy points per game for that period of time. While Boyd could do this in the short term, he lacks the physical tools necessary to win jump balls with the frequency of Higgins. This was shown throughout the game today, inducing on his touchdown grab. Tyler Boyd belongs in the slot.
B.) Mike Thomas slides in for a few weeks so that Boyd can stay in his usual role. Thomas actually catches the balls that hit his hands, unlike what occurred in this game, and proves to be a serviceable waiver option for a short period of time.
C.) The third, and in my opinion, most likely option: Ja’Marr Chase continues to prove that he is indisputably a top 3 receiver in this game, eats up both his and Higgins’ target share for a couple of weeks, and puts up absolutely monster fantasy performances. The play calling at the end of this game was simple: “Give Ja’Marr the ball.” If he was open: he was targeted. If he was doubled: he was targeted. This plan may seem ludicrous for a head coach to use after an entire offseason to create new creative ways to spread the ball around, but it was working. Even when it wasn’t working…it was working! This includes the video game-esque one-handed grab Chase made in the end zone, in which his left toe came down out of bounds. Not to worry though, as he was able to reel in the tying TD pass just a few moments later. This guy truly does it all, inside outside, long, short, speed, with breakdowns. Don’t be shocked if we see historic fantasy numbers from Chase…again.