Cincinnati Bengals vs. Pittsburgh Steelers Preview
At 1 o'clock Sunday, the Bengals will be in the land of the terrible towel, as the moribund team is set to take on the perennial contender and six time Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers.
Really, it's a matchup of total opposites, as the Steelers are the flagship franchise who find ways to win, and the Bengals hang tough, but always find a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
For the Bengals, who are playing out the string, it's a chance to potentially knock the Steelers out of first place, and beat them for a second consecutive year at Heinz Field, so there is some motivation to do some damage to a rival.
I've always claimed that I'd rather play the Steelers there at the gathering of the three rivers than at Paul Brown Stadium, as the Bengals have three victories going away since Heinz Field opened in 2001.
If there is ever a good time to catch the Steelers, this may be it.
True, they sit at 9-3, but Heath Miller will be out with a concussion, Ben Roethlisberger suffered a broken nose, their offensive line is terribly banged up, and punter Daniel Sepulveda is out for the season with a torn ACL..
Of course, when you sit with a 2-10 record, it's hard to feel very confident about catching a team off guard, as the Bengals, who are in the midst of a nine game losing streak, keep finding creative ways to drop ballgames.
In the last loss against New Orleans, Pat Sims jumped offside on fourth down to give New Orleans a first down, and ultimately, the go ahead touchdown.
On the final Cincinnati drive, with a realistic scoring chance, poor clock management helped do in the disorganized, dysfunctional unit that shows promise at times, but can never close the deal.
When that offense takes the field Sunday, they will be facing a nasty, hard nosed defense that has only allowed 29 points in the last three games.
Better running backs than Cedric Benson have struggled to run the ball against the top ranked rush defense in the league, as opponents only average 62 yards a game.
If Cincinnati can protect Carson Palmer, a big if, it can maybe experience some success passing, as Pittsburgh, outside of Troy Polamalu, has a secondary that gives up big plays from time to time.
On the other side of the ball, as already noted, the Steelers will be missing Miller, so that's one less target for Roethisberger to go to.
This Pittsburgh line can give up sacks in bunches, and though the Bengals aren't noted for sacking the quarterback, Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap have played well in recent weeks.
I would imagine that Leon Hall will be given the responsibility to cover speedster Mike Wallace, who is the top wide receiver on the team, with Santonio Holmes gone and Hines Ward slowing down a bit.
When Pittsburgh looks to run the ball, they will be going against the 24th ranked rushing defense. Given how excellent Cincinnati played defense last year, a definite dissapointment.
While I couldn't categorize Rashard Mendenhall as being an elite back, per se, he's still capable of being very good, as the 1,000 yard rusher will certainly be a handful at times for the Bengals.
Special teams are pretty much a wash, as Pittsburgh has a new punter, a relatively new field goal kicker, and Cincinnati has a new field goal kicker.
I don't see either team having a decisive edge in this category.
In terms of intangibles, the Steelers win this category hands down. They have more game changers, more to play for, and play with the mindset that they EXPECT to win as opposed to HOPING to win.
One can perhaps bank on the fact that it's really hard for a team to lose 10 games in a row, and perhaps the recent string of injuries for the Steelers has an effect.
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