As the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare for their second divisional rematch of the season, this time against the Cincinnati Bengals, the time has come to look back at the lessons the Steelers need to have learned from their Week 10 victory.
For a look back at my "lessons learned" piece click here!
Here's a look ahead at what the Steelers should remember most from their first matchup with the Bengals and what they need to do to ensure a second victory against their division rivals on Sunday afternoon.
The Steelers should be playing this game with Troy Polamalu and might be fielding a fully-healthy linebacker corps for the first time since the team's Week 4 loss to Houston. The word is that Lamarr Woodley could return this week.
They might need him. They'll definitely need Polamalu.
One thing the team learned in Week 10 was that the Andy Dalton to A.J. Green rookie connection can be lethal. They were burned for a touchdown that way in the first game. Luckily for the Steelers, Green was unable to contribute after that catch. Had he been healthy, the game may have turned out very different.
There is no way the Steelers can afford not to double cover Green. I would recommend an Ike Taylor and Ryan Clark combination. That leaves Polamalu able to rove and cover tight end Jermaine Gresham and gives the Steelers two good coverage guys on Green.
I'm leery about it, but I think William Gay can cover the other side in single as long as he remembers not to let the receiver get behind him. Perhaps playing a tight zone would be good for him, giving him the ability to make plays while still allowing him to stay in front of the play.
Ben Roethlisberger was able to make bank against the Bengals mostly because the Bengals, especially without Leon Hall in coverage, cannot handle the speed that Pittsburgh boasts from its wide receivers.
Possession guy Jerricho Cotchery was big in the red zone, something that I'd like to see again, but getting there is all on Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown.
Something I haven't seen nearly enough of this year is a formation that puts Brown and Wallace on the same side of the field. I would recommend this against the Bengals, as it would shift their coverage and open up more for Heath Miller, Emmanuel Sanders and their possession guys Cotchery and Hines Ward.
The Bengals have a decent pass rush and they are getting healthy now that Rey Maualuga is back in form. Getting rid of the ball quickly with some bubble screens or quick slants will keep them neutralized and allow the team's speedsters to create after the catch, which is something they are all good at doing.
The Steelers didn't have Sanders in the last game, so it will be interesting to see how involved he can get this time now that he's back to near full speed.
The Steelers experienced a lot of success in the red zone against the Bengals.
What worked best was the use of Rashard Mendenhall out of passing formations and also allowing him to pound the ball near the goal line. Those changes to the team's normally bland red zone system were very helpful.
Another big boost came from Bruce Arians allowing Ben Roethlisberger to mix things up inside the 20. The more off-balance the Steelers kept Cincinnati, the better they were able to move the ball in the tight space in front of them.
Involving the team's possession guys also was a nice touch. The team still seems to be searching for a red zone target for Roethlisberger and, based on previous evidence, I would nominate either Jerricho Cotchery or Heath Miller. Both guys were good against the Bengals the first time around and both have the ability to break tackles.
Speed isn't as big an issue that close in, but I would like to see what happens if the Steelers ran some of those bubble screens or quick hitches closer to the goal line, especially if the corners play off of Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown.
This is a lesson that was taught in the first game with the Bengals this season and also by the tape from the game between Baltimore and Cincinnati that came after.
Andy Dalton went into the game with Pittsburgh looking a lot like his opposite number that day. Ben Roethlisberger's rookie season has become the stuff of legend, going down with Joe Flacco and a couple of others as some of the best work done in history by inexperienced quarterbacks.
But Dalton showed some cracks against Pittsburgh and then against Baltimore. Those cracks can be traced to two things: pressure up front and confusion in the back.
The Bengals have a big offensive line, but when the Steelers or Ravens were bringing a lot of rushers, they couldn't contain every time and Dalton got flustered. The more pressure he felt, the more he felt when it wasn't coming and the more he forced throws.
The other factor was the work done by William Gay and others in the secondary. The more they were able to disguise coverage, the harder it became for Dalton to read the defense and anticipate. He's a smart kid, but he's not Peyton Manning or Drew Brees. He makes mistakes in his reads. Those lead to turnovers.
Turnovers won the game against the Bengals. That has to happen again or it could be a very long, scary day for the Steelers.
I know, this isn't just a lesson from the Bengals game. But in a way it is.
The Steelers mixed it up early in Cincinnati. They ran some end arounds with their fast receivers, allowed the no-huddle to be more than a last-ditch offensive scheme and allowed Ben Roethlisberger to make some of the calls.
It worked. The Steelers jumped out to an early 14-point lead. Then they went conservative and tried to protect it against a team that does have the ability to strike quickly.
It got close in a hurry and then it got scary.
The Steelers defense is still a top-notch group, but they aren't the turnover-crazy, quarterback-devouring group they used to be. They allow more runs (which must tighten up this week), they don't always have good coverage and they are banged up more than most teams could stand.
They shouldn't be asked to win every game. They just won a game last week. It's time the offense really put a team away. Let's make it this week.
Keep the pedal down. Punch the Bengals in the face with your offense. The Steelers offense should be throwing all day and should only start protecting if they get a lead of around twenty points. That's when it's a little bit safer. Until then, keep mixing it up, trying new plays and seeing exactly what can catch an opponent off guard.
They aren't a doormat anymore. They aren't a sideshow.
Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco are gone. The Bengals are a serious football team that makes headlines for winning games the right way and not for getting arrested.
This is a football team on the rise.
If there is one lesson that Pittsburgh needs to learn, it's that those years of facing off with Baltimore for the division title while the two Ohio teams in the division fell to pieces are over. This is now a three horse race and quickly becoming a very difficult division.
A win on Sunday puts that team in the thick of the playoff conversation and keeps them alive in the division race. A loss, while not necessarily devastating, makes the division nearly impossible to top and makes a playoff race even more difficult in a field that still is full of intrigue.
These aren't the old Bengals. These are a tough, well-coached and disciplined group that's starting to resemble the kind of team that could give Baltimore and Pittsburgh fits.