The Bengals and Steelers square off on Sunday for the second time this season. Since their last matchup, the teams have went in opposite directions that no one would have seen coming when they played each other in October. The Steelers have experienced troubles navigating through the second half of NFL play, while the Bengals have found their stride.
Cincinnati has also changed the face of their game. The last time these two met, the Bengals struggled with their ground game; BenJarvus Green-Ellis and the offensive line could not seem to sync up and all of the pressure was put on Andy Dalton and his arm week after week. In Cincinnati’s last five games, though, The Law Firm has rushed for over 100 yards in four of those matchups and in the past six games comes in second in rushing yards in the NFL, only led by the phenom Adrian Peterson.
Pittsburgh’s defense is ranked fourth overall in the NFL against the rush and could cause some problems for BJGE on the ground. This formidable matchup will prove to be the biggest key in the game for both teams. If the Bengals running back can stay on pace and get the tough yards against this stout defensive line, Cincinnati will be able to control the clock and beat the Steelers where it hurts.
Another matchup to watch will be Andy Dalton’s arm and Pittsburgh’s backfield. Their defense has struggled against the pass recently and their season has been plagued by injuries throughout the backfield. With Ike Taylor taking a seat on the bench and the rest of the team banged up, A.J. Green and the receivers have the opportunity to be the beneficiaries of big games on Sunday.
There are not many viable options left for the Steelers to match up against Green’s skill and determination on the field. On the other hand, if Pittsburgh can take Cincinnati’s star wide receiver out of the game, Dalton may struggle from the pocket. However, that would leave all other options on the field, such as, Andrew Hawkins and the up and coming speedster, Marvin Jones.
The last key to the game will be Ben Roethlisberger and the Cincinnati defense. The last time these two teams went head to head, the Bengals defense was a mockery in the NFL. Their offense was putting up big numbers, but their defense was still overcoming injuries and issues.
Cincinnati’s defense has been much improved as players have rehabbed and returned to play. They are also playing better as a unit. They currently rank 9th in the NFL against the rush and 12th against the pass. Their pass rush is the best in the league and they lead the NFL in sacks.
The Steelers are among the worst in the league at offensive line breakdowns, allowing Roethlisberger more time on his back than the team would like. This matchup should prove fruitful for the Bengals’ defensive front. Though Roethlisberger is known for his ability to keep plays alive and make it hard for teams to finish him off, if Atkins, Geathers, and Johnson can keep at Big Ben, the quarterback will eventually wear down and will mentally be taken out of the game.
Like any head to head matchup between these two teams, this game promises to be a good one. Pittsburgh has the ability to expose Cincinnati and break their will, but Andy Dalton and A.J. Green are due a win on Heinz Field. Like all things in the NFL, anything can happen.