Cincinnati Bengals vs. Pittsburgh Steelers: 5 Pivotal Matchups in Week 7
On Sunday night, the Cincinnati Bengals are at home against their AFC North rival Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers lead the all-time series 52-32 since the rivalry began in 1970. The Bengals have not won a game against Pittsburgh since they swept the division in 2009.
There are a lot of similarities between these two teams in 2012, thus far, and there are certain surprises that have altered the way each of these teams has approached its game plan on a weekly basis.
Both quarterbacks are having nice statistical seasons and have been the primary focus of their respective teams’ offense.
Ben Roethlisberger of the Steelers has amassed 1,487 yards passing with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions for a quarterback rating of 99.9.
Andy Dalton of the Bengals has gained 1,726 passing yards along with 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions for a quarterback rating of 91.7.
Each team has struggled to run the football to this point. This is very surprising for the generally run-happy AFC North division. The Steelers are currently averaging a dismal three yards per carry, and the Bengals are not much better with a 3.9 yards-per-carry average.
Defensively, the Steelers are playing with more of a stout defense than that of the Bengals as they have allowed far less yardage by opponents on the ground and through the air.
The Bengals, on the other hand, have had a much better pass rush in 2012 and are tied for a league lead with 20 sacks on the season.
All indications point to another very close AFC North football game. Let’s take a look at some key matchups that could make or break either team on Sunday night.
Ben Roethlisberger vs. Bengals' Defensive Line
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Roethlisberger is a very agile quarterback for his size and uses his quick feet to scramble away from the pass rush. Even when he fails to get out of the reach of a pass-rusher, he is still a formidable opponent to take down.
Cincinnati will have to concentrate not only on getting pressure on Roethlisberger but containing him as well.
To effectively rush Roethlisberger, a defensive line needs to close the pocket down on him from both sides which will not allow an escape route. This will also bring more large bodies around Ben which the Bengals will need if they want to take him down for a loss.
When Roethlisberger is on the run, he is dangerous in two ways. He can throw with accuracy while moving and extending the play, and his wide receivers are very capable of improving along with him.
Even if the Bengals secondary does not break down in coverage, Ben is still a threat to run for a gain. The Bengals are going to want to keep a linebacker in on certain downs to spy on Roethlisberger and limit his yardage when he decides to tuck the ball away and get up field.
Andy Dalton vs. Steelers' Pass Rush
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Even though the Steelers have not had a great statistical year with sacks, they are still very dangerous on getting to the quarterback from many different angles.
Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is a mastermind with exotic blitz packages. Being that Dalton has not been impressive under duress this season, expect many different looks from the Steelers defense.
LeBeau will generate a pass rush from anywhere on the field. Sometimes, he will only rush his three down linemen. Generally, he will bring a linebacker in as well. He has a tendency to also involve his secondary and overload one side of an offensive line with a large rush.
This will not only be a test for Dalton, it will be a test for the Bengals offensive line as well.
Cincinnati’s offensive line has only played together for seven games now. Guard Travelle Wharton and center Kyle Cook have been sent to injured reserve, and guard Kevin Zeitler is still getting his feet wet as a rookie.
The key to a successful offensive line is chemistry. This is only created after many snaps side by side. Cincinnati has not had that luxury as they have shuffled around their offensive line from early in the preseason.
For Dalton and the Bengals offensive line, this could be the most daunting test they have faced, so far, this season.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis vs. Jonathan Dwyer
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It is has been determined that Rashard Mendenhall will not play on Sunday night, as he is still suffering from an Achilles injury, according to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Since Mendenhall cannot go, Jonathan Dwyer will get the start for the Steelers as Isaac Redman has also been hit by the injury bug.
Mendenhall would have be the Steelers' best option going into this game, as he is the only Pittsburgh running back that has an average of over three yards per carry. However, Dwyer is only averaging 2.9 yards per carry with a long rush of 11 yards.
Compare that to BenJarvus Green-Ellis of the Bengals who currently has a mediocre 3.4 yards-per-carry average and it becomes a matter of who can actually contribute more to their team.
Especially in the AFC North, it is very important to establish a running game. Generally, these contests are very brutal and clock-killing capabilities are necessary. With both of these backs struggling, it will be difficult for either team to achieve this.
Both the Bengals and the Steelers run defenses have been stout over the past few weeks, and this certainly looks like a football game that will not showcase running backs. However, each team will need that pivotal first-down yardage on the ground to sustain a drive.
Dwyer sits third on the depth chart for the Steelers behind Mendenhall and Redman and typically does not see a full workload very often. Green-Ellis has had trouble finding the right holes in the Bengals offensive line and will easily miss his running lane.
The back who can contribute solid yards on first-down running plays and can establish himself as a presence in this football game will give his team a much more viable chance of pulling off a victory.
Quarterback Play vs. Secondary Play
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This goes for both teams on both sides of the ball. Each quarterback has showcased a great amount of talent this season and has been the driving force of his own offense. Each team has also struggled in the secondary due to injury. This makes things interesting.
The Bengals secondary has been depleted all season long with injuries to rookie Dre Kirkpatrick, Leon Hall, Jason Allen and Nate Clements. This week, there is a possibility that only Allen will miss time, and Kirkpatrick may see his first ever NFL action.
The Bengals secondary has been looking for an identity in 2012. They moved corner Nate Clements back to strong safety after poor play by Taylor Mays and Jeromy Miles. Terence Newman has tried to pick up slack at second corner opposite Leon Hall. Adam Jones has filled in nicely in the nickel.
The Bengals also resigned a familiar face before Week 4 when they brought back safety/nickel corner Chris Crocker for some veteran leadership. Crocker currently has the only interception of the season by Cincinnati’s secondary.
The Steelers will be without All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu on Sunday. Whenever Polamalu is on the field, he needs to be accounted for. This is a sigh of relief for Andy Dalton. Polamalu has plagued the Bengals quarterbacks ever since he entered the NFL.
With Polamalu out, the Steelers have opened up a bit of a hole in their secondary as they will need to find a way to handle the Bengals' deep-threat wide receiver A.J. Green.
Green has been outstanding this season as he has already amassed 628 receiving yards and six receiving touchdowns.
Generally, Polamalu would be the guy that the Steelers would place over the top of Green in double coverage. Pittsburgh will have to find a different way to slow down this big-play receiver.
Expect both the Bengals and Steelers secondary to give up a good amount of yardage to the opposing quarterback on Sunday night. It may just come down to which team is able to make a game-changing play late in the contest.
Mike Nugent vs. Shaun Suisham
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Special teams will weigh in heavily in this contest. The field-position battle will be one that could potentially decide the outcome of this game, and both kickers will be especially important on Sunday night. This may not seem to be a pivotal matchup in this divisional game, but it most certainly will be.
Being that these divisional games are generally so closely contested, there is a great possibility that this one will come down to one field-goal attempt as time expires.
Even if the game is not won with a field goal, both of these defenses have been playing a bend-don’t-break style of defense this season. They have given up yards and have allowed field goals but no touchdowns.
This will force these two kickers to take the game into their own hands (or feet). One slip-up by either kicker could be very costly as a result.
Both of these teams are coming off a tough loss in their last contest. Both teams want redemption, and what better time to do it than against a divisional rival. This will certainly be an entertaining matchup on Sunday Night Football.