Sitting at 0-2 in the AFC North, the Pittsburgh Steelers will find themselves under some pressure to earn their first win over a divisional opponent this weekend against the surprising Cincinnati Bengals.
Behind rookie quarterback Andy Dalton and running back Cedric Benson, the Bengals are riding a five-game winning streak, but will find two tough tests over the next couple of weeks with the Steelers and Baltimore Ravens.
Just as the Steelers have a lot at stake, so do the Bengals.
While Pittsburgh will likely try to force Dalton into making rookie mistakes, something he has avoided for much of this season, they will also have to be concerned over what Cincinnati offers on defense.
The Bengals have the second leading rush defense in the league and rank 10th against the pass. They will provide a stiff challenge for Pittsburgh’s offense.
Here are the keys to earning a victory against the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Bengals were not supposed to be sitting at the top of the AFC North. Andy Dalton was not supposed to be one of the best rookies this year.
After half of the NFL season, “supposed to” has been thrown out the window, and reality has set in. The Bengals look to be for real.
Well, maybe. Their two real tests will come over the next two weeks with the elite of the AFC North.
This week, the Steelers want to end Dalton’s run of success.
Dalton has 12 touchdowns to only seven interceptions and has thrown a touchdown pass in five straight games, which happens to coincide with the Bengals’ win streak.
Last week, the Steelers got burnt by Joe Flacco for much of the game, but were especially hurt on the final drive.
Pittsburgh’s defense faces a talent group of receivers and tight ends this week, and they do not want to make Dalton look like a star.
Dick LeBeau’s defense typically does very well against rookie quarterbacks, and this week should be no exception.
He will likely devise a complicated package to send at Dalton, but when it comes down to it, James Harrison may be the best pure pass rushing threat. It is imperative that Pittsburgh executes the scheme to get pressure on Dalton.
They cannot allow the rookie quarterback to play efficiently in front of what expects to be a raucous home crowd, though much of it will likely be filled with Terrible Towels.
Pittsburgh’s defense struggled all night against the slow Ravens receiving corps and had particular problems against the speedy Torrey Smith.
This week, the Steelers get to face the 6’4” A.J. Green.
Green has been a big play threat for Cincinnati with an average of 15.0 yards per reception and five touchdowns, including three in the past four games.
Green has also had a reception of at least 20 yards in all but one game this season. His size and speed will make for a tough matchup.
Ike Taylor will likely see a lot of Green on Sunday, and he should. He has the size and speed to run with the star rookie receiver. However, that does not mean he should not get some help.
Green can stretch the field, and Taylor has lost his receiver deep on several occasions this year. Ryan Clark will have to perform better than he did last week on deep coverage.
The last thing that Pittsburgh needs is for Dalton to connect with Green for a big play.
Pittsburgh could have won the last two weeks fairly easily if they converted in the red zone, but they haven’t.
The Steelers have only converted on three of their last nine trips to the red zone. Quite simply, they are wasting too many opportunities for touchdowns.
The major reason Pittsburgh has struggled in the red zone is their lack of push in the ground game. Rashard Mendenhall has nowhere to run when deep in the opponent’s territory.
With little room to run routes, the Steelers will either have to improve their rushing game or change things schematically when inside the 10.
Hines Ward is the Steelers' best option that deep given his propensity of finding open space in the defense.
Pittsburgh needs their young receivers to match Ward’s savvy that close to the goal line.
If Pittsburgh is having success running the ball, this would be the way to go, but there has been no evidence that they can successfully move the ball on the ground while in the red zone.
Antonio Brown has been outstanding over the past two weeks and figures to be a big threat again this week.
Brown is a tough matchup for any team and is quickly becoming a go-to receiver for Roethlisberger. He should have a high number of passes thrown his way again this week.
By shifting attention to Brown, things may open up for Mike Wallace.
As for Brown, he only has one touchdown on the year. His quickness could be a threat near the end zone, and they should give him more targets when they are in scoring position.
In a passing defense, the a lot of the focus will be on the pass rushers or the cornerbacks. This week, it is back on Ike Taylor.
Taylor will have to spend a lot of time covering the talented Green, and Taylor will have to improve his play from last week.
If Taylor can take Green out of the game, the Bengals will be without a true big play threat, and their pass rushers may begin to get to Dalton.
- Pittsburgh leads the all-time series 48-32.
- Mike Tomlin needs one more win to reach 50 for his career.
- Hines Ward is 40 yards away from 12,000 for his career.
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