Week 12 is filled with mouth-watering divisional contests, and none may be more intriguing than the battle that will occur between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday afternoon. It will mark the second and final scheduled contest between these two storied foes and the last opportunity for each respective side to one-up the opposition in a tightly contested race to the mountaintop of the AFC North. The Steelers enter Sunday's game reeling after suffering a tough last-minute defeat at the hands of the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 11. The Bengals, meanwhile, are hoping to build upon their recent dismantling of the Las Vegas Raiders.
The Steelers are currently on the cusp of a wild-card spot, making Sunday's defensive game plan against Cincinnati’s high-flying offense an ever-important one. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin is a highly respected defensive genius and part of his plan to stifle Cincinnati's offense will heavily revolve around neutralizing Bengals superstar rookie receiver Ja'Marr Chase. The former LSU standout announced his arrival by terrorizing opposing secondaries through the months of September and October but has found life much more difficult in recent showings. After recording an astounding 754 receiving yards in his first seven professional appearances, Chase has seemingly hit the rookie wall as of late, failing to reach even 50 receiving yards in any of his last three contests. Chase's latest three outpours represent his season-worst marks by a fairly significant longshot.
While some may be puzzled by Chase's recent struggles, Tomlin claims to understand exactly what is occurring.
"You get plays on tape. People recognize your talents," Tomlin said regarding Chase on Tuesday. "They make necessary adjustments and efforts to minimize your talents. Everyone's professional. It's a component of the game."
Tomlin goes on to compare Chase’s current predicament to one suffered by Steelers receiver Chase Claypool, who similarly took the league by storm as a rookie in 2020 before also reaching a difficult stretch in late November and early December. Tomlin raises a fair and accurate point. The NFL has always largely been considered a league of adjustments. It’s a copy-cat business and coaches are constantly analyzing and searching for film in pursuit of ideas to nullify the opposition. Defensive coordinators and their positional assistants have undeniably spent more man-hours examining Chase's play in October and November than they did in August and September. More tape equals more exposure, and more exposure equals a wider scope of strategies to possibly deploy. Chase is simply a current victim of the details.
Tomlin will hope to see Chase's struggles continue on Sunday when their two sides meet for a crucial divisional contest. Even when taking his recent string of disappointing performances into account, Tomlin will be highly aware of the threat Chase poses on the outside. The 6-4 Bengals have served as one of this year's most shocking success stories, and Chase's ability is a big reason why. We are convinced the rookie playmaker possesses the talent necessary to swing the pendulum back in his favor sooner rather than later.