Andy Dalton struggled against the Steelers during their last meeting in Week 7.
Week 16 is a showdown of AFC North rivals, the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers. Only one of these teams will come away with a playoff berth this season, and this will undoubtedly be decided on Sunday.
The last time these two teams met in Week 7, it was a display of sloppy football full of miscues by both clubs.
With so much riding on this matchup in Week 16, these teams will look to play a much cleaner game as one crucial mistake could prove to be the final nail in the coffin for either of their respective seasons.
Over the next 10 slides, questions regarding this contest posed by Bengals fans on Twitter will be answered. On the final slide, a special question regarding the future of these teams after their Week 16 meeting will also be addressed.
Without further ado, let's get to the questions.
The Bengals got to Ben three times in their last meeting. Can they do better this time around?
@seanodiesel how much of a presence does Geno have against the Steelers and how will this open things up for other pass rushers?— Chase Fitzgerald (@Cfitzwrites) December 19, 2012
@seanodieselWill the Bengals defensive front four present a match-up issue for the Steelers offensive line?— guttersnake (@guttersnake) December 19, 2012
@seanodiesel 3 sacks on big Ben. More or less?— Zack Joerger (@CinciSeabee) December 18, 2012
Ah, the Bengals defensive line. Such a hot topic these days, especially since Cincinnati currently leads the NFL with 43 sacks this season.
One of the largest factors to this success is sophomore defensive tackle Geno Atkins.
Atkins leads all interior linemen with 10 sacks on the season and is a constant disruption in the backfield.
Atkins will more than likely get the attention of Steelers star interior offensive lineman Maurkice Pouncey.
With Pouncey on Atkins with the possibility of a double-team as well, this opens the door for the rest of the Bengals defensive line to take advantage of the Steelers depleated offensive line.
Even if Atkins does not put up gaudy numbers on Sunday, he will most certainly be the reason for the rest of his teammates success.
The last time that these two teams met in Week 7, Cincinnati recorded exactly three sacks against quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
The same starters on the Bengals defensive line will be lining up opposite Ben again this coming week. However, there are differences in the way this defensive front is playing that favors Cincinnati here.
In Week 7, Steelers running back Jonathan Dwyer rushed 17 times for 122 yards for a 7.2 yard-per-carry average.
Recently, the Bengals have been one of the toughest teams to run against in the NFL, and the Steelers running game has been more than subpar of late.
If the Bengals are able to continue their dominance stopping the run, this will not allow Roethlisberger to utilize the play-action pass in which he is so effective.
This will allow pass-rushers to focus more on getting to Ben rather than balking at the hint of a run.
The prediction here is over three sacks.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis has handled the bulk of the Bengals offensive workload over the past five weeks.
@seanodiesel Can the Bengals keep running effectively vs. Pitt?— Abur Chol II (@MomLikesmySwag) December 18, 2012
On one hand, Pittsburgh has continued its dominant ways on defense this season in its ability to stop the run effectively. On the season, the Steelers are only allowing an average of 92.7 yards per game and have held opposing running backs to just 3.7 yards per carry.
In his past five games, Green-Ellis has rushed for over 100 yards four times. His lowest yard-per-carry average in that span is 4.0. This is certainly the right time for this running back to get himself on track.
Green-Ellis is now up to 4.1 yards per carry on the season after a dismal start to the year, however, he only seems to be getting better as the season progresses.
Recently, the Pittsburgh defensive line seems to be wearing down. Last week against the Dallas Cowboys, they struggled to contain DeMarco Murray who only averaged 2.5 yards per carry against Cincinnati one week earlier; against the Steelers, he averaged 5.8.
With the Steelers line seemingly worse for the wear and Green-Ellis just hitting his stride, all indications point toward a very solid game for this running back in Week 16.
The Steelers have struggled of late while dropping two games in a row. Will they be able to bounce back against Cincinnati?
@seanodiesel their heads or come into play in a winner take all game both teams need to win?— ← Brandt. ⚾ (@B_Bailey17) December 19, 2012
This is a very loaded question.
Certainly Pittsburgh is reeling from their two consecutive losses against teams in which they could have handled with ease in the past.
Cincinnati, however, is not in much better shape. Even though the Bengals are 1-1 in their last two, their win against Philadelphia was ugly to put it kindly.
Both of these teams know that this is a do-or-die situation this week, and in these matters, experience generally has the upper hand.
The Bengals are still a very young team and have not faced pressure like this as much as the Steelers veterans have in the past. Yes, both teams equally know what is at stake here, but Pittsburgh has the veteran leadership to be better prepared for this contest.
Cincinnati has been a great road team over the past two seasons, but the edge here will go to Pittsburgh playing in front of a home crowd that knows the implications of this game just as well as the players whom they support.
There are plenty other factors that will equate to the team that will be victorious, but the mindset coming into the game favors the Steelers.
A.J. Green has been dominant all season long and will be a major threat against a depleted Steelers secondary.
@seanodiesel what's the best offensive approach for the bengals take to attack? Which WR is going to step up and help out besides AJ Green?— josh madden (@whodey83) December 19, 2012
First off, the Bengals need to run a very balanced offense. Aside from the end of the Dallas game, they have been sticking with Green-Ellis and their running game to complement the passing game.
The last time these teams met, the Steelers controlled the clock with a dominant 37:30 time of possession.
This time around, Cincinnati will need to keep the dangerous Pittsburgh offense off the field and control the clock with its running game and high-percentage passing plays.
It will be important for the Bengals to sustain long drives that eat up as much time as possible, and more importantly result in points.
The best defense in this matchup for Cincinnati is a balanced offense.
No doubt, A.J. Green has been a highlight reel once again this year. He will demand lots of respect for a Steelers secondary that is without its starting cornerbacks.
As stated above, the Bengals need to rely on high-percentage passing plays, and these two targets have sure hands and can create yards after the catch on short routes.
Andy Dalton has been erratic lately, but is it his fault?
@seanodiesel More of a concern for you: Recent offensive line play or Dalton's recent play?— Joe Goodberry (@JoeGoodberry) December 19, 2012
There is no doubt that Andy Dalton has struggled lately. In fact, Dalton has not had a game in which he has passed for more than 230 yards within the last six weeks.
Dalton has most definitely made some suspect throws recently, and in turn, he has not made throws in which he should have.
So, is Dalton to blame for these miscues, or is it his protection that has suddenly broken down?
Over the past five weeks, Green-Ellis has been on fire as the Bengals featured back while Dalton has suddenly started to struggle. This was a completely opposite scenario earlier in the season.
For the season, the Bengals offensive line has given up a total of 38 sacks; 17 of them have come in those past five weeks.
It seems as though the offensive line has changed gears and is focusing more on run-blocking than pass protecting.
Granted, Dalton has not been as advertised recently, but it may be safe to say that his struggles are, in part, due to his sudden lack of protection from his offensive line.
The blame for these struggles should be put on the shoulders of the five players protecting Dalton. If they can get back on track, it could be safe to assume that Dalton's numbers could return to what they were toward the beginning of the season.
Dalton and Green have struggled lately to get the deep passing game going.
@seanodiesel Is Andy Dalton's lack of deep throw accuracy and strength actually diminishing the value of AJ Green?— Island Sports (@MrDerivatives) December 19, 2012
Throughout the season, there have been questions and concerns about Dalton's ability to throw the deep ball.
These questions seemed to have been put to rest earlier in the season as we witnessed Dalton connecting on some perfect passes deep down the field. Not only does he have the arm strength to throw deep, but he has absolutely rifled some short throws into tight coverage.
Deep ball accuracy is another issue.
Dalton seemingly has some difficulty throwing the deep sideline routes. He is a smart quarterback and knows when to direct his throw to his receivers outside shoulder to avoid a defensive play on the ball.
This backfires slightly because Dalton does not seem to possess the pin-point accuracy to keep the ball in bounds when doing so.
Until Dalton learns to make this throw consistently, he needs to trust the 6'4" Green to go up and get a jump ball down the sidelines.
Yes, this does decrease the value of Green at the moment until this duo can get things sorted out. However, it does not affect Green in such a way which makes him irrelevant on the deep passes as other routes are available in Jay Gruden's offense.
Andrew Hawkins is one of the most dangerous playmakers on the Bengals roster.
Currently, the main kick and punt returners for the Bengals are Brandon Tate and Adam Jones. Both have been about average on kick return duties, thus far. Tate is averaging 24.6 yards per return on 30 attempts with a long of 45 yards. Jones has only had three attempts and is averaging 21.3 yards per return with a long of 31 yards.
Tate seems to struggle at times with his decision-making and will take the ball deep out of his own end zone only to be tackled immediately, giving the Bengals poor starting field position.
Andrew Hawkins is a much more explosive player when in space and more than likely would excel at these opportunities.
One of the largest reasons why Hawkins does not get these duties is that he is the most multi-purpose player on the Bengals roster.
Hawkins is the main slot receiver on offense and also serves as a gunner on punts.
He suffered a back injury earlier in the season, and with his small frame, could prove to be injury-prone when hit more often.
Tate lost his receiving duties early this season and serves specifically as a return specialist for the Bengals. He seemingly has not proven himself worthy of maintaining a roster spot going into 2013 which may give Hawkins more opportunities in the future.
Until that happens, Hawkins should continue to be utilized only in his current roles.
Dan Herron has quickly found himself on the active roster after injuries to other Bengals running backs.
@seanodiesel has Herron done enough to earn a roster spot?— Rob Bergeron (@RobertBergeron) December 19, 2012
Dan Herron has been an interesting case this year in Cincinnati. He was drafted with the Bengals sixth-round selection in 2012 out of Ohio St.
"Boom" has been Herron's nickname throughout his football career. Last week against the Philadelphia Eagles, Herron lived up to the name with the special teams unit. He bull-rushed his blocker straight back into the punter forcing a block and a Cincinnati recovery. Herron also added a special teams tackle to his portfolio.
Late in the game, Herron was given three carries which totaled eight yards for the first rushes of his professional career.
Herron may not have done enough yet to solidify himself a roster spot when the other backs become healthy again, but if he keeps up his current pace, that could change very quickly.
If he does make the game-day roster, do not look for him in the backfield often as he will be worked in with the special teams units first. Once he proves himself, there is a good possibility to see him in a backfield timeshare in the future.
Kevin Huber has had to punt too many times this season after failed third down attempts by Cincinnati.
@seanodiesel bengals are 22nd in 3rd down %. How can they improve?— Garrett Miller (@garrett2k) December 19, 2012
The funny thing about the Bengals third-down woes is the fact that they begin on first down.
Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has become one-dimensional with his play-calling of late and continues to run the ball up the gut of the defense on first down.
Defenses are able to read this scheme and decipher what the Bengals are going to do before they do it.
The first call of the series needs to be mixed up in order to be successful.
Running on first down is fine. Every team does it. But, to make it work, it needs to be integrated with other plays in the same situation.
If Gruden wants a high-percentage play on first down that is almost certain to gain yards, why not go to a bubble screen to the shifty Andrew Hawkins or run a play-fake tight end screen to Jermaine Gresham?
These plays are equally as effective as handing the ball to a running back, but instead of gaining three yards and setting the offense up with a 2nd-and-7, these plays could easily lead to a more manageable 2nd-and-3 instead.
Looking into the future, if the early play-calling gets a little more sophisticated, it could lead to a more versatile offense which will cause confusion amongst opposing defenses.
Dwayne Harris torched the Steelers last week. Can Andrew Hawkins be that guy on Sunday?
@seanodiesel what is your fav Bengals podcast? Haha jk. Can Baby Hawk be the difference maker Sunday like 'Boys Dwayne Harris was last Sun?— Nick Seuberling (@whodeyweekly) December 19, 2012
First off, this question has been proposed by Nick Seuberling, the host of the Who-Dey Weekly Podcast (a personal favorite).
Last week against the Cowboys, the Steelers secondary had a very difficult time containing speedy wide receiver Dwayne Harris. Harris only had four receptions for 46 yards, but was only targeted four times.
Harris proved to be a great weapon against a very depleted Steelers secondary. Even though Harris plays the outside receiver position and Andrew Hawkins a primarily a slot receiver, they share the same athletic ability and elusiveness.
If Cincinnati can get Hawkins involved early, he could prove to be even more dangerous than Harris was last week.
Always one of the fastest players on the field, Hawkins shows great vision after the catch and is tough to track down in the open field.
If the Bengals can get the short passing game going with him, it could very well suck in the Steelers safeties and allow deep-threats like A.J. Green to be available for big gains.
If he is utilized correctly, Hawkins could potentially be the Bengals most dangerous weapon on Sunday.
Tom Brady and the Patriots have been a dominant force this season and look to make another deep run into the playoffs.
This final question has been submitted by Joe Soriano, the lead editor of Musket Fire, a blog for the New England Patriots. Being that the Patriots are currently the three-seed in the AFC playoff picture, and the winner of this game could very well meet them at Gillette Stadium in the first round.
New England has the fastest-paced offense in the league. Teams fall to the Patriots by trying to keep up with their offense. For most NFL teams, this is just not possible.
The 49ers knew this and decided to control the game by playing sound defense and controlling the clock by successfully running the football.
San Francisco learned very quickly, however, that this must be maintained through four quarters of play as they saw the Patriots come very close to a huge come-from-behind victory.
So, between Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, which team has the tools to get this done?
First off, which team can manage the clock by running the ball effectively and sustaining long drives?
Next, which team has a very stout defense that is great in the red zone and can hold high-powered offenses to field goals?
Finally, which team has the depth to keep these traits intact for the duration of a football game?
The answer in unanimously Cincinnati.
Running the ball, no back has been more successful over the past five weeks than Adrian Peterson. Second to Peterson is BenJarvus Green-Ellis. He peaked at a perfect time and has fresh legs to continue his streak into the playoffs.
Cincinnati's defense has also been lights-out recently and has been stout against the run and the pass. Pittsburgh, unfortunately, is decimated with injuries right now and would allow an offense such as New England's to pass all over them.
Lastly, Cincinnati has the depth at each defensive position to keep up solid defensive stands for the 60-minute duration of a football game. Also, this defense has only allowed three touchdowns in their opponents last 13 red-zone trips.
Granted, Pittsburgh has the playoff experience, but based on player talent and the ability to succeed against such a high-powered team, the advantage goes to the Bengals.