Steelers at Bengals: Pittsburgh's Keys to Victory
But before you punch the Steelers victory ticket, take a closer look. This is not your typical woebegone Bengals. Cincinnati is healthy for the first time in ages and playing with renewed confidence, especially after last week's performance against Green Bay.
Now don't get me wrong, Pittsburgh should still win this game. They have more talent on both sides of the ball. The Steelers are a veteran, Super Bowl championship team, and have dominated the AFC North to the tune of 13 victories in the last 15 divisional contests.
Carson Palmer and the Bengals will need a Herculean effort to defeat the Steelers. Hard, but not impossible. Here's what Pittsburgh must do to ensure the upset never happens.
Pittsburgh's Keys to Victory
1. Get Palmer's Jersey Dirty: The Steelers defense put loads of pressure on the quarterback in two games, but have only three sacks to show for it. Pittsburgh needs to get Palmer on the ground and rattle his cage early and often.
The last thing defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau wants is giving Palmer time to throw.
2. Stop Cedric Benson: Benson has been reborn in Cincy since taking over as the feature back. He has 217 yards rushing in two games and when he's chewing up yards, it gives Palmer the luxury of more time in the pocket to pick apart defenses and use play-action.
The Steelers need to shut down Benson and force the Bengals into third-and-long situations.
3. Keep Roethlisberger's Jersey Clean: The Bengals defense has been a sack machine so far, especially DE Antwan Odom, so the offensive line of Pittsburgh needs to contain the Cincinnati blitz. Odom put on 30-pounds of bulk and the added size is a big reason he has seven sacks in two games, including five against Green Bay last week. A key match-up will be Steelers LT Max Starks against Odom.
4. Establish the Run Game: One way to neutralize the blitz is to run the football effectively. Willie Parker has had great success in Cincinnati (130.3 yards per game), and Mike Tomlin would love to see him have a breakout game.
Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians is keeping the same rotation as last week, Parker for two series with Rashard Mendenhall on the third. Both need to step up this weekend.
5. Avoid Mental Miscues: Missed field goals, dropped passes, and stupid penalties plagued Pittsburgh last Sunday. The Steelers must avoid mental mistakes against the Bengals. They can't beat themselves like they did in Chicago. The world champs need to get their focus back.
6. Stop the Bengals on Third Down: The Bengals have had the ball for over 34 minutes in each of their games and were 9-of-14 on third downs last week. The Steelers defense cannot let the Cincinnati offense stay on the field and work its ball-control magic.
The recipe for continued success against the Bengals is pretty clear: establish the running game, attack Palmer and control both sides of the line of scrimmage. If the Steelers do that, they'll be walking out of Cincinnati with another victory.
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