The Bengals can clinch a playoff spot with a win over their heated rivals and a loss puts those hopes in serious jeopardy. It’s a much easier scenario for the Pittsburgh Steelers who face a must-win situation. A loss for Pittsburgh and the season is over.
Let’s take a look at the keys to the game for Cincinnati.
Every week I write this column and every week I write the same thing: Start off strong. I continue to emphasis it because in big games it is almost impossible to win from too far back.
Regardless of the record, Pittsburgh versus Cincinnati is almost always a slugfest that seems to come down to the wire. A strong start will get the Cincinnati Bengals off on the right foot.
The Cincinnati Bengals have won five of their last six by playing loose and with the carefree attitude of a team with nothing to lose.
Now that they have a chance to clinch a playoff spot, the young Bengals can’t tighten up and begin thinking about what they could accomplish. Play tight against a team like the Pittsburgh Steelers and all they will be thinking about is the off-season.
Even Pittsburgh Steelers fans will admit that it has been a struggle for Pittsburgh this season. The team has suffered through injuries to key players and has lost games it felt like it should have won.
That being said, the Steelers will, at some point, go on the type of run that will decide the game. If the Cincinnati Bengals can withstand that run, they have a good chance of pulling out the game.
Ben Roethlisberger is an elite quarterback who can beat you in a variety of ways. But he is never as dangerous as he is when the protection breaks down and he is forced to improvise.
In the past the Bengals have struggled keeping Big Ben in the pocket and as a result, he has had some of his best games. But in the games where Cincinnati has bottled him up, they have tended to come out on top.
Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. Rare is the game in which a team has pulled out a win despite turning the ball over more than their opponent.
If the Cincinnati Bengals want to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, they must take care of the ball. Otherwise, it will be a long game.
The Cincinnati Bengals have done a good job this year in not shooting themselves in the foot with penalties, but in recent weeks the flags have fallen with more frequency.
In order to beat Pittsburgh the Bengals need to avoid the silly mistakes. And nowhere are mistakes more magnified than with penalties.
Having a reliable kicker is a prerequisite for any playoff team and the Cincinnati Bengals appear to gave two of them. Whether regular kicker Mike Nugent returns from injury or relief kicker Josh Brown stays on the field, Cincinnati is in good hands.
But that doesn’t mean you have to rely on them. A field goal is a nice thing to have every now and then, but in a game like this one, touchdowns will be the difference. Settle for field goals too often and the game is lost.
Nowhere have injuries hurt the Pittsburgh Steelers more than in the secondary. Pittsburgh has been scraping the bottom of the barrel just to put two healthy corners on the field at the same time.
Enter A.J. Green. The Cincinnati Bengals’ Pro-Bowl receiver must have a big game against the stricken Steeler secondary. A big game by Green, or any of Cincinnati’s other receivers, takes the pressure off of the defense and will lead to victory.
Teams can control the tempo in several different ways. They can pound the ball on the ground, chewing up both yardage and time, or they can go with a hurry-up offense and strike quickly.
Whichever Cincinnati chooses, it needs to be successful. You beat the Pittsburgh Steelers by making them play your game, not the other way around.
Like turnovers, failure to convert in third down is a killer. When the Cincinnati Bengals are at their best, they keep drives alive with short-yardage situations that allow them to be successful.
Just as important, the Bengals must keep Pittsburgh from converting its third downs. Ben Roethlisberger has made a career out of converting third downs. Cincinnati must take that option away.