Instead of simply commenting to him, which I started, but it was WAY too long, I decided to write my reply in an article.
And I promise not to use, a) because they're the Bengals, b) because it's the Steelers, or c) because it's a big game on the road.
This Sunday, when the Bengals travel to Heinz Field, they will not be playing the same team they played in week three.
When the Steelers have the ball:
The Steelers offense is no longer the one dimensional running game, where they run on first and second down, and hope to convert throwing on third. The offensive weapons start with Ben Roethlisberger.
Big Ben has a passer rating of 103.3, and has completed 70.6 percent of his passes (the same percentage as Peyton Manning—Tied for best in the NFL). The weapons he has at his disposal are unlike any QB that has suited up for the Steelers since the dynasty days of the 1970's.
Split out wide, there are two, count them, TWO Super Bowl MVP's to catch passes, and force the safety to play honest, and not stack the box to prevent the run. In addition, rookie Mike Wallace, who had 102 receiving yards the last time these two teams met up, and Heath Miller who has 43 receptions for 371 yards and four scores.
Add to that, last years first round draft pick, Rashard Mendenhall is now playing like a first round pick should, rushing for over five yards per carry, unlike when Slow Willie Parker was in the game the first time these two teams met.
With the losses of Antwan Odom, Keith Rivers, and Roy Williams, who had a total of 17 tackles in the first game, those players, who are a big reason for the Bengals success so far, are going to have to be made up by someone.
They are going to HAVE to stop the Steelers running game, and have to do so without committing extra pressure with their secondary. If the Bengals are to stop the high powered Steelers offense, they are going to have to do it head up.
When the Bengals have the ball:
The success the Bengals have on offense is going to rely on the running game, and Cedric Benson specifically. Benson is second in the NFL, with only Titans RB Chris Johnson ahead of him. Benson showed up the Ravens in both of their meetings, by not only rushing for over 100 yards in each game, but being the only player in over 40 games to achieve that status.
IF, and it is a big IF, Benson can find success in their ground game, that will force the Steelers to commit either Ryan Clark and/or Troy Polamalu to stopping the run, which will leave either Chad Ochocinco or Laverneous Coles in man to man coverage, and Carson Palmer has the ability to get them the ball.
The Steelers defensive line, though old and banged up, has done an amazing job, leading the Steelers to the fourth ranked defense in the NFL, and first against the run.(Yes, the Bengals are second against the rush, but the Steelers lead them by 108 yards.)
When looking at the first time these two played in Cincinnati, the one key person from the Steelers that was missing was Troy Polamalu. When Carson Palmer hit Andre Caldwell for the winning score, there was no Troy Polamalu in the game. The pass that Caldwell caught was in the zone that Polamalu would have been playing.
The fact is, this Steelers team is playing as good, if not better than the unit that won the Super Bowl last year, and nothing like the unit that the Bengals beat earlier this year. With Polamalu back, there have been no fourth quarter let down, where teams (like the Bengals) have come back and won at the end.
I said prior to the season that the Bengals were going to be a surprise team this season, and I even said they had a chance to make the playoffs. I did say the Ravens would be better than them, but the Bengals have proven they are superior to the Ravens.
If the Bengals can some how beat the Steelers this Sunday in Pittsburgh, they will have the inside track to winning the AFC North, forcing the Steelers to compete for a Wild Card playoff birth. If the Bengals lose, then Pittsburgh will again be atop of the AFC North, and the Bengals will be forced to look at themselves in the mirror, and wonder if they are as good as they thought they were.
My prediction? Big Ben will throw for over 300 yards, and Rashard Mendenhall will rush for 125. Carson Palmer will pass for 225 yards, and Cedric Benson will rush for 75. Pittsburgh wins 34-21.
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