At 3-5 on the season, the Cincinnati Bengals need a win in the worst way this week. It's at this point in the season they will either prove they can be a contender or fade into obscurity.
Unfortunately, the odds will be stacked against them as they host the New York Giants. The Giants are 6-3 on the season and had a four-game win streak before losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers last week.
A win against the Giants at home would be a defining moment of the 2012 season. A loss would likely put any thoughts about another playoff berth in serious jeopardy.
With the season on the line, the Bengals will need to pull out all the stops to pick up the win and gain momentum for the rest of the season. Here are the keys to the kind of performance that will see them pull off the upset.
Establish the Run
The Bengals can thank the Steelers for laying out the blueprint to beating the Giants. Pittsburgh ran the ball early and often with great success.
The Steelers, much like the Bengals this season, usually love to air it out with Ben Roethlisberger, but they established the run early and often.
Pittsburgh has struggled to run the ball consistently all season, but Isaac Redman gouged the Giants for 147 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries. The run game not only allowed the Steelers to put up 24 points, but they dominated time of possession and never allowed Manning to get into a rhythm.
With the excitement that Andy Dalton and A.J. Green brought to the offense last season, the Bengals have had a tendency to fall in love with the passing game. Utilizing the two of them is fine, but it can't come at the expense of the run game.
Despite the addition of BenJarvus Green-Ellis, the Bengals haven't had a 100-yard rusher all season. If that trend continues this week, it'll be a sad day in Cincinnati.
Limit Ahmad Bradshaw
Eli Manning and Victor Cruz steal all the headlines, but it's the Giants running game that really moves the offense.
When Bradshaw doesn't get his numbers, the Giants rarely win. In the Giants three losses this season Bradshaw has run for 78, 39 and 48 yards.
The Bengals have been inconsistent in stopping the run this year. They've shut down Trent Richardson, Reggie Bush and Willis McGahee in recent weeks, but they allowed Jonathan Dwyer to rack up over 100 yards in Week 7.
Andre Brown is sure to get some carries in relief of Bradshaw at times, but keeping him under wraps will be key if the Bengals want to slow down the Giants offense.
No Turnovers from Andy Dalton
Andy Dalton had a great rookie year as the Bengals quarterback last season. This year it appears he has taken a step back.
With the shaky ground game, the Bengals have called on Dalton to do a lot in the offense this year. To say that it hasn't worked out might be an understatement.
In 2011 Dalton was adept at managing the game. He could make plays when he was forced to but for the most part, he was a distributor that took good care of the football. This season he's been asked to do much more and he has yet to play an interception-free game.
At this point last season, Dalton had four games without an interception. By the end of the season he had nine such games and only threw 13 on the season. Dalton has 11 already this year.
With Jermaine Gresham and A.J. Green, the Bengals have the weapons to do some damage against the Giants secondary but Dalton must take care of the ball.