Pittsburgh Steelers: 5 Key Matchups vs. Cincinnati Bengals

Dave Gibbs@thedavegibbsContributor IIINovember 28, 2011

Pittsburgh Steelers: 5 Key Matchups vs. Cincinnati Bengals

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    After a narrow road victory against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Pittsburgh Steelers return to Heinz Field to face off against the Cincinnati Bengals.

    With a 24-17 win the last time out, Pittsburgh will be looking for a more comprehensive victory this time around. Cincinnati is coming off a close win over the Cleveland Browns and will look to continue its run of form.

    With both teams trying for playoff berths, a loss would be detrimental to either team's postseason hopes.

    Here are five key matchups that will be crucial in this game.

Ike Taylor vs. A.J. Green

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    A.J. Green, the first-round rookie wideout for Cincinnati, has quickly become the favorite target for QB Andy Dalton, having caught six touchdowns so far this season.

    The Steelers' run defense is strong and should be able to limit Cedric Benson on the ground, so Cincinnati will be forced to go to the air.

    Ike Taylor will have to be at his best to stop the athletic Green. While Taylor is faster in terms of straight-line speed, Green has a great vertical leap and can be trusted to go up and get the ball.

Mike Wallace vs. Nate Clements

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    Mike Wallace is the key weapon in the Steelers' arsenal, offering QB Ben Roethlisberger a deep receiving threat down the field.

    With Leon Hall injured, covering Wallace will likely be left to Nate Clements.

    Clements is a veteran corner and a good cover man, but he lacks speed. Wallace, however, has speed to burn.

    The potential for an aerial assault led by Wallace means that he will likely draw safety help all day to help make up for Clements’ speed deficiency. This will create more space for the inside receivers and Heath Miller to make plays across the middle of the field.

James Harrison vs. Andrew Whitworth

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    After returning from injury, James Harrison has been back on form, with five sacks in six games.

    His opponent at left tackle this week is Andrew Whitworth, who has had a great season and has been receiving more widespread recognition for his work.

    Whitworth is big and strong, as well as being quick off the line to deal with rushers. This means Harrison will be forced to mix up his pass rush moves in order to beat him, rather than using his typical speed bull rush.

    Whitworth also has great balance and footwork, giving him a good base from which to make his blocks.

    Harrison will have to be at his stellar best to beat Whitworth consistently.

Rey Maualuga vs. Rashard Mendenhall

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    Rey Maualuga has become a leader on the young Bengals defense and plays the position consistently, showing good burst and play recognition.

    Against Rashard Mendenhall this week, he will have to deal with a powerful, agile runner.

    Maualuga hits hard, wraps up well and flows sideline to sideline. This means that Mendenhall will have to beat Maualuga at some point to have any chance of making yards on the ground.

    With a strong front seven for the Bengals, as well as their seven-man rotation on the line, look for the Steelers to try some outside runs in order to make consistent yardage on the ground.

Andy Dalton vs. Ryan Mundy

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    Andy Dalton has been one of the rookie revelations of the season.

    With Troy Polamalu taking a hit to the head and displaying "concussion-like symptoms," Ryan Mundy will likely see some playing time in his place. Mundy has shown himself to be a capable player, getting an interception against Tyler Palko and the Kansas City Chiefs.

    What the Steelers will really lack without Polamalu is the dynamic, impromptu plays that he makes.

    Mundy is more of a traditional safety, good enough in run support but best in coverage.

    Andy Dalton won’t have to account for Polamalu whenever he drops back to pass, so the Steelers pass rush will have to compensate by pressuring Dalton and forcing mistakes.