Are you ready for an NFL science experiment?
The Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers are going to provide one on Sunday. They’ve both been holding figurative Pyrex beakers to flames during the preseason and we’re about to see which comes away with a formula for success…
…And which has the experiment explode in their face.
Here’s the experiment:
The Steelers, founded in 1933 and the oldest franchise in the AFC, have spent the entire preseason being physical. Competitive. Old school.
Coach Mike Tomlin oversaw a quarterback competition, sure, because he needed to. So all the quarterbacks played in the preseason games while other teams kept their quarterback under figurative lock and key for fear of injury.
Mike Tomlin Believes In The Preseason
But the interesting thing is Tomlin didn’t need to have a similar approach with his defensive front. Everyone on that front, which has either led the league or tied for the lead in sacks every year since 2017, played in the preseason.
T.J. Watt, last season’s defensive player of he year, played.
Cameron Heyward, a 33-year-old three-time All-Pro, played.
Tomlin said he wants his defense to be “great and dominant” and to get them there he played Myles Jack, Devin Bush, Larry Ogunjobi — starters and young players — in the preseason.
And then we have the Bengals.
The narrative around them when they finished last season was as much about the problems they had with their offensive line, as the sudden and stunning way they burst onto the scene as a team worthy of playing for a championship.
And here we are at the start of the new season and we’re still discussing the Bengals’ ability to play for a championship and their offensive line.
The difference now is the Bengals believe they’re about to change the offensive line narrative because of what’s happened with that unit in the offseason.
Bengals Have A New Offensive Line
What happened is the Bengals signed a new starting center in Ted Karras.
They signed a new starting right tackle in La’el Collins.
Then they went out and signed a new starting right guard in Alex Cappa.
After that, they drafted a new starting left guard in fourth-round pick Cordell Volson.
Sense a trend?
The Bengals’ offensive line has only one returning starter in left tackle Jonah Williams.
“I’m excited about them,” quarterback Joe Burrow said. “They’re smart, physical, tough players that are going to help us.”
That new line obviously practiced together during training camp. But it never played together in the preseason. Fact is, none of the starters played in the preseason.
See where this experiment is headed?
We’ve got a veteran defensive front that beat the ever-livin’ (bleep) out of opponents in the preseason versus a new offensive line that didn’t see one snap in anger during the preseason.
It’s play to prepare versus sit and stay healthy.
How’s that going to work out?
Cincinnati Expects To Quickly Adjust
Is Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor, whose old line allowed seven sacks against the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LVI, worried his new line might not be ready for in-game adjustments more cohesive units can handle?
“Overall, our football intelligence up front is really high,” Taylor said. “We’ve got a lot of veterans that have seen a lot of football and so it comes easy to them when they see some adjustments they got to make and they’re communicating side by side.
“That’s something that’s really encouraging going into a season, that you’ll be able to adapt and adjust quickly based on the experience. And even Cordell’s a young guy, but he’s a smart guy, it makes sense to him. There’s always going to be a learning curve early in the season, but, again, he’s surrounded by two veterans that have seen a lot of ball.”
What did you expect him to say, “I didn’t play these guys together and now I’m going to pay the price in their first real game together?”
The true test happens Sunday.
Let the experiment be unveiled.
Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero
For a breakdown of the rest of Sunday’s games, check out Dan Zaksheske’s piece here.