These aren’t the Cincinnati Bungles that the Steelers are playing this Sunday.
As Pittsburgh found out just a few weeks ago, Cincinnati is a contender and rookie quarterback Andy Dalton is playing like a calm and collected veteran.
With A.J. Green at receiver, Jermaine Gresham at tight end and Cedric Benson carrying the load on the ground, the Bengals have a good foundation on offense to pair with their already solid defense that has kept them in the AFC North race and playoff hunt.
A win at Pittsburgh will put the 7-4 Bengals in very good position heading into the last quarter of the season.
For the Steelers, they want to rebound with a better performance after a lackluster showing in Kansas City last week.
Pittsburgh expects to be in good shape health-wise as both LaMarr Woodley and Troy Polamalu should be in uniform this weekend.
Here are the keys to earning a season sweep against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Pittsburgh’s defense usually dominates rookie quarterbacks. That wasn’t the case against Dalton, who isn’t your ordinary rookie quarterback.
Though his numbers were not very impressive in the last meeting in completing only 50 percent of his passes with two interceptions, Dalton led the Bengals back from a 14-0 deficit after throwing two touchdowns.
The Steelers did manage to hold Green to one reception, but that one reception was a 36-yard touchdown catch over Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu. He would leave the game early due to injury.
Pittsburgh’s defense does not want to get beat by the two star rookies for Cincinnati for a second time this season.
Ike Taylor will again match up against Green, and Woodley’s return should boost a pass rush that has a paltry 24 sacks this season.
Dick LeBeau will need to get creative to force the cool Dalton off of his game and get his uniform dirty on the Heinz Field turf. If they do not, there is no reason to not believe that Dalton will once again keep this game close.
Though he had six receptions in the first game this season, Wallace was held to 54 yards.
Last week was Wallace’s worst game of the season, when he was held to 17 yards on only two receptions.
Wallace only has one 100-yard receiving game in his past seven and has caught a touchdown in one of the past four games.
Much of this has been the result of increased focus on him from opposing defenses, but also the emergence of Antonio Brown as a go-to receiver.
Roethlisberger does not have to force deep balls to Wallace and instead should try to connect with Wallace on catch and runs.
A couple of short passes may be enough to keep the Cincinnati defense honest before they can unleash a deep pass.
Giving that up was one of the worst performances by the Steelers offensive line since Marcus Gilbert and Max Starks joined the lineup. Well, of course, there was last week’s poor performance to follow up the Bengals game.
They cannot have a third straight game hanging Roethlisberger out to dry, and he cannot hold onto the ball too long leaving his linemen out to dry.
Whether it is a return to the quick passing game or establishing the run, Pittsburgh needs to find a way to prevent the Bengals from getting to Roethlisberger so much.
Earlier this season they had plenty of success throwing quick, short passes. Every receiver on the Steelers roster is capable of playing this type of game with their speed, quickness and toughness.
Rashard Mendenhall was running hard last week, and a constant pounding from the Steelers starting back or a few draw plays could slow down the rush.
Injuries to Carlos Dunlap and Domata Peko will hurt the Bengals' defensive front line. However, Maurkice Pouncey is recovering from an illness that has limited him in practice this week.
Mike Wallace is coming off a game in which he dropped a couple of balls, including an easy touchdown reception.
It seems as though the mental side of his game is in a brief slump right now as teams have focused the coverage his way.
Wallace will be looking to bounce back this week after an uncharacteristically poor performance last week. A motivated Wallace should be a scary situation for the Bengals’ defense.
LaMarr Woodley is finally returning from a hamstring injury.
While an improved pass rush will be nice to see, more importantly we need to watch how Woodley’s hamstring holds up.
Jason Worilds could be used to help ease Woodley back into action. However, if he is back to 100 percent, expect a big day from Woodley, who was the AFC’s hottest pass rusher before suffering the injury.
- Pittsburgh leads the all-time series, 50-32.
- Pittsburgh defeated Cincinnati, 24-17, on November 13.
- Hines Ward is 15 receptions away from 1,000 for his career.
- Ward has 11,991 career receiving yards.
- Pittsburgh has 19 of 24 sacks at home this season.
- Heinz Field will have a new grass surface this weekend.
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