Cincinnati and Pittsburgh have experienced very different second halves of the season. The Bengals have been on a streak, winning five of their last six games. Meanwhile, the Steelers have been on a different kind of streak, losing four of their last five. Even with the extreme differences in second half records, the teams come in to Sunday’s showdown just one game apart, with everything on the line.
Pittsburgh has found themselves in an unfamiliar late-season slump that is causing worry for the Steelers faithful. In a season filled with injuries for the black and gold, the team has struggled through adversity in every game. When they lost their quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in week 10, the team struggled under center, losing two of three with two different fill-in signal callers. That was just the beginning of the struggles for the Steelers.
Since Big Ben’s return, Pittsburgh has yet to win a game. They lost a very winnable matchup to the San Diego Chargers by a ten point margin and turned around and lost an overtime heartbreaker to the Dallas Cowboys the next week. Roethlisberger was reported as calling out his new offensive coordinator Todd Haley, questioning his play calling in the team’s loss.
Ben has thrown an interception in each of his last two starts and is having to work extra hard in the pocket to keep plays alive down the field. The offensive line, a sore thumb for the Steelers for the past few years, does not give Big Ben the time he needs to make plays easily. That is not Pittsburgh’s only problem, though.
The run game has been atrocious recently, only ranking 26th in the NFL. In their past five games, the Steelers have combined for just 417 yards on the ground. That is only an average of 83.4 per game. In their last three losses, they have only rushed for a total of 187 yards; an average of just 62.3 per game.
Pittsburgh isn’t the only team that has had recent struggles, though. Cincinnati, though winning, has not always looked good in their matchups on offense and has had to rely heavily on their defense to get big wins week after week.
After going on a short streak of zero interceptions in games, Andy Dalton has turned the ball over through the air three times in his two of his last three matchups. In the team’s Thursday Night Football matchup last week, the quarterback went interception free, but lost two balls to fumbles when drawing back to pass.
The Bengals offensive line has not enabled Dalton to feel comfortable in the pocket in recent matchups. Dalton seems to be under more pressure from opposing defenses as the season winds down. On the other hand, the running game has picked up, on the shoulders of BenJarvus Green-Ellis. The running back has done a complete turnaround since opening the season incapable of the 100 yard mark. Since the week 11 matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs, The Law Firm has rushed for an average of 108.6 yards per game.
Another area where the Bengals struggle could prove to be most damaging on Sunday. Cincinnati has never won a game against the Steelers with Andy Dalton under center. The teams match up well together and the Bengals have had issues with finishing out games against the gritty play of their division foes.
Both teams have had their own issues all season heading into Sunday’s “Take Two” matchup. However, neither team will have any wiggle room when the ball is kicked off in Heinz Field. The situation is a must-win for both teams. Pittsburgh is currently 7-7 for the season, while the Bengals are 8-6. With the Steelers win earlier in the season against the orange and black, this game comes down to win and you’re in scenario.