Burrow looking forward to his second matchup vs. Steelers

CINCINNATI -- When the Cincinnati Bengals stunned the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football last year, quarterback Joe Burrow was watching from afar, recovering from knee surgery and disappointed not to get a second chance at the AFC North rivals who gave him trouble five weeks earlier.

Now he is perhaps better prepared for the Steelers going into his second matchup with the Steelers on Sunday at Heinz Field, and he’s expecting to make more of an impact.

Burrow threw for just 213 yards and one touchdown, while getting sacked four times, in a 36-10 loss at Pittsburgh in Week 10 of the 2020 season. The Bengals defense led the way with three takeaways in the second meeting last year, while now departed backup Ryan Finley ran a scaled-back offense that rushed for 152 yards en route to a 27-17 win at Paul Brown Stadium.

“It was tough the first time, and I was looking forward to getting to play them again,” Burrow said Wednesday as preparations for the Steelers officially got underway. “Unfortunately, it didn’t happen, got injured and so it is what it is, but I’m planning on being here for a long time so I plan on playing the Steelers a lot of different times.”

Burrow took quite the beating at Pittsburgh last year, including five hits on top of the four sacks and he was under pressure all day with the Steelers blitzing 17 times. Bud Dupree pushed him out of bounds just before halftime and he rolled his ankle, then he exited briefly in the fourth quarter before returning.

The Bengals had just 24 passing yards from Burrow in the second half as he struggled against the best pass rush in the league. Pittsburgh led the NFL with 56 sacks in 2020 and got 27 takeaways from those plays.

“It’s a combination of all of it (scheme and personnel),” Burrow said when asked what makes Pittsburgh’s defense so tough. “That’s what the great defenses do. They have great players and great scheme to back it up, and they have, obviously, TJ Watt and Cam Heyward. Now, they’ve got Melvin Ingram over there. We played him last year too. He’s a really good player, so they’ve got a lot of different guys that can create pressure from a lot of different ways.”

Watt exited the second half of the Steelers’ Week 2 loss to the Raiders with a groin injury, but reports indicate it is not serious and he could be available this week.

Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd said he hopes they luck out and don’t have to face Watt. Watt had two of the sacks on Burrow last year and four quarterback hits. He already has three sacks in three halves this year and finished with a team-leading 15 sacks in 2020.

The Bengals have had trouble keeping Burrow upright so far this season as well, as he’s been sacked nine times through two games. Guard Xavier Su’a-Filo remains day-to-day, as is wide receiver Tee Higgins, and neither practiced Wednesday.

“We’ve just got to be better all around,” Burrow said when asked what the offense as a whole can do to address that. “I can be better, backs can be better, O-line can be better, receivers can be better, coaches can be better. We can all be better. That’s what you try to do each week.”

The Steelers’ pass rush takes a hit if Watt isn’t available, as defensive end Stephon Tuitt also is on injured reserve, but Heyward has been effective in the past and Ingram, the former Chargers linebacker, joined the team this offseason and had a sack in the opener as he tries to get back to his pre-2020 form when he was posting between 7.0 and 10.5 sacks per year.

Pittsburgh’s secondary also can cause problems, featuring Pro Bowl free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.

“You can’t just read the coverage and expect him to be in a certain part of the field,” Burrow said. “He does a good job of understanding where his job is and does a good job of understanding whether the route concept allows him to go to a different area. He’s not always where you expect him to be. And he makes a lot of plays doing that.”

Burrow is just focusing on what he can do to keep improving his own game to make it challenging for opposing defenses to stop the Bengals’ offense. He was disappointed he threw three interceptions Sunday, including one pick-6, but said he is still feeling more comfortable each week on his surgically repaired knee.

The Bengals could use a big game from Burrow on Sunday. They haven’t won in Pittsburgh since 2015 and the win in Cincinnati last year ended the Steelers’ 11-game win streak in the series overall.

“First division game you want to start off strong, and you want to come out fast and explosive and win that game to propel you for the rest of the year,” Burrow said. “We’re 1-1 through two games and that’s better than what we could have said last year. We’ve got 15 games left and we’re excited about where we’re at and we’re excited about the improvements we’re going to make. It’s a big game this week. We’d love to go out with a win and be 2-1 and be 1-0 in the division.”

SUNDAY’S GAME

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