The Cincinnati Bengals have been the surprise team in the AFC North through five weeks, using a mix of shootouts and strong defensive performances to get out to a 4-1 start. But, this week, the Bengals face their bitter rivals from across the river when the Pittsburgh Steelers descend upon Paul Brown Stadium Sunday afternoon. Games between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals tend to be more physical, intense and, at times, difficult to officiate than your normal NFL game.
With that in mind, we caught up with NFL on CBS play-by-play announcer Ian Eagle, who alongside Dan Fouts and Evan Washburn, will be on the call in Cincinnati when the game kicks off at 1 p.m. Eastern Time on CBS. We asked his thoughts on the Bengals’ hot start, what to expect when these teams meet and a few other topics from the Week 6 games as the countdown to Sunday begins. (Editor’s Note: This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity).
CBS Local Sports: The Bengals sit atop the AFC North at 4-1, and their wins have come in a variety of ways. When you look at this team now, five games into the season, do you consider them to be a real threat in the AFC because of that ability to win in different ways?
Ian Eagle: What a difference a year makes for Cincinnati. They have blended their productive veterans with an infusion of youth. They have already shown themselves to be a resilient group, and their offense has been kick-started by Joe Mixon’s explosiveness and versatility. Defensively, the rookies have been huge. Jessie Bates and Sam Hubbard have provided a jolt to that unit, and when you couple that with Geno Atkins playing at his usual All-Pro level, they’re a pleasant surprise. They have two big tests coming up with Pittsburgh and then in Kansas City, and those games will go a long way in determining if they are actually for real.
CBS Local Sports: The Bengals face the Steelers next in a game that’s always more physical. What are you watching for entering this weekend?
Ian Eagle: The Steelers have had a lot of drama in five weeks, and the Bengals have had very little, which is a bit of a switch for these teams. This is as fierce a rivalry as you’re going to see in the NFL right now, and it always seems to bring out the highest intensity in these two teams. How referee Clete Blakeman and his crew handle all of that will be a huge storyline. Pittsburgh can get itself right back into the AFC North race with a win and hold off any talk about the changing of the guard in the division. The Steelers are feeling good after their top-to-bottom strong performance against Atlanta, and they believe they have corrected some of their issues from the first few weeks.
CBS Local Sports: Elsewhere on CBS, the Chargers were your dark horse team to watch in the AFC prior to the season, and through five weeks, they’re right in the thick of things at 3-2. They draw the Browns this week. What’s the biggest matchup to watch in that game?
Ian Eagle: Philip Rivers against this exciting, upstart Browns defense and, in particular, against rookie corner Denzel Ward. He’s been phenomenal for Cleveland. They have 15 takeaways in five games, and he’s been a catalyst for them. Opposing quarterbacks have been seriously challenged by the Browns, but we know that Rivers can wear out a defense with his uncanny accuracy. I’m curious to see how the veteran goes against the youngster in this matchup.
CBS Local Sports: We’ve seen a few starts from Baker Mayfield now. How does he stack up among the rookie quarterbacks in your opinion?
Ian Eagle: He is fearless, extremely confident and accountable. He is making believers out of even the most cynical observers right now. There is a certain presence that you need in order to play starting quarterback in the NFL, and he has it. He’s living up to the hype that comes with being the first overall pick in the draft, and I have been blown away by his competitiveness and his leadership. He has been even better than advertised.
CBS Local Sports: In the late window, the Jaguars head to Dallas for a matchup with the Cowboys. It looks like a tough one for Dallas with the way their offense has struggled this season. From what you’ve seen, how can Dallas attack this defense?
Ian Eagle: There has been nothing dynamic about the Dallas offense so far. There are no difference makers in the passing game, and that is going to be a serious hurdle for them throughout the season. The Jaguars defense was underwhelming against Kansas City, but I would expect a better showing in Big D.