Pittsburgh Steelers 2012 Schedule Preview: Week 7 & 16 Analysis Versus Cincinnati Bengals

By Christopher DiMarino

This is another entry in a set of early looks at the teams the Pittsburgh Steelers will play in the 2012-13 season. The goal is to acclimate the average Steelers fan to the offseason changes each opponent has made. This will make the in-depth analysis in the week before the game more familiar and understandable.

Who: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals

What: Week 7 Regular Season Matchup

Where: Paul Brown Stadium

When: 8:20 EST Sunday October 21st, 2012

How: NBC

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Who: Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers

What: Week 16 Regular Season Matchup

Where: Heinz Field

When: 1:00 EST Sunday December 23rd, 2012

How: CBS

Key Free Agent Additions and Losses:

Key Free Agent Additions and Losses
PositionName2011 Team2012 TeamRole
RBBenJarvus Green-EllisNew England PatriotsCincinnati BengalsStarter
GJacob BellSt Louis RamsCincinnati BengalsStarter
GTravelle WhartonCarolina PanthersCincinnati BengalsStarter
CReggie StephensChicago BearsCincinnati BengalsDepth
DEDerrick HarveyDenver BroncosCincinnati Bengals1st String Backup
CBJason AllenHouston TexansCincinnati Bengals1st String Backup
CBTerence NewmanDallas CowboysCincinnati BengalsStarter
WRAndre CaldwellCincinnati BengalsDenver Broncos1st String Backup
WRJerome SimpsonCincinnati BengalsMinnesota VikingsStarter
GMike McGlynnCincinnati BengalsIndianapolis Colts1st String Backup
GNate LivingsCincinnati BengalsDallas CowboysStarter
DEFrostee RuckerCincinnati BengalsCleveland BrownsStarter
DTJonathan FaneneCincinnati BengalsNew England Patriots1st String Backup
OLBBrandon JohnsonCincinnati BengalsPittsburgh SteelersDepth
OLBKeith RiversCincinnati BengalsNew York GiantsInjury/Starter
RBCedric BensonCincinnati BengalsUFAStarter
WRTerrell OwensCincinnati BengalsUFADepth
TEBo ScaifeCincinnati BengalsUFAInjury/Backup
GChris RileyCincinnati BengalsReleasedDepth
GBobbie WilliamsCincinnati BengalsUFA1st String Backup
CBRico MurrayCincinnati BengalsCUTDepth
CBKelly JenningsCincinnati BengalsUFA1st String Backup
SGibril WilsonCincinnati BengalsUFA1st String Backup
SSChris CrockerCincinnati BengalsCUTStarter

The Cincinnati Bengals had a fairly stable free agency. As with most teams, they lost quite a few players, but signed replacements or upgrades for almost all of their key losses. They lost five starters but signed four players who should have a shot at starting. They did a good job of addressing their needs and focused on the positions that needed upgrades.

The Bengals got younger at running back by signing BenJarvus Green-Ellis as Cedric Benson was not resigned. Green-Ellis has shown flashes in New England, but I don\’t consider him an elite back. Cincinnati lost a pair of receivers to other teams and will need to replace the starter opposite A.J. Green now. There was also a big switch over on the interior of their offensive line. They replaced three players at guard (2 starters and a backup) with two possible starters.

On defense, the Bengals will be quite different. They lost Frostee Rucker and Jonathan Fanene (10.5 combined sacks last year) but only signed Derrick Harvey (backup, no sacks in 2011) along the defensive line. At linebacker, both Keith Rivers and backup Brandon Johnson are gone and no replacements were signed. This not a huge deal for the Bengals who have all three returning starters from 2011. The Bengals got much better at cornerback by signing Terence Newman and backup Jason Allen. This comes at the expense of two low level backups. The Newman move was clearly a year delayed reaction to losing Jonathan Joseph. Cincinnati will be without starting strong safety Chris Crocker and backup free safety Gibril Wilson.

2012 Draft Analysis:

2012 Draft Recap
PositionNameRoundCollegeHeightWeight
CBDre Kirkpatrick1.17 (17th)Alabama6\’1186
GKevin Zeitler1.27 (27th)Wisconsin6\’4314
DTDevon Still2.21 (53rd)Penn State6\’5303
WRMohamed Sanu3.20 (83rd)Rutgers6\’2211
DTBrandon Thompson3.30 (93rd)Clemson6\’2314
TEOrson Charles4.21 (116th)Georgia6\’2251
CBShaun Prater5.21 (156th)Iowa5\’10190
WRMarvin Jones5.31 (166th)California6\’1199
FSGeorge Iloka5.32 (167th)Boist St6\’4225
RBDan Herron6.21 (191nd)Ohio St5\’10213

The Bengals have had a couple of good drafts the last few years and are beginning to garner a reputation for their first round picks (Jermaine Gresham, Andy Dalton and Green in the last two years). With two first round selections in 2012, the Bengals were primed to continue this streak of success and by all means appeared to do so. They selected cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick with the pick they acquired from the Oakland Raiders for Carson Palmer. He has all the tools to develop into a great compliment to Leon Hall. They traded down from 21st pick to 27th and still got a great player in guard Kevin Zeitler (and an extra 3rd round pick). This trade was essentially like them trading David DeCastro for Zeitler and an extra pick. I was high on Zeitler for a while, and he could develop into a great guard, but he will need a little more work than DeCastro in my opinion.

Cincinnati\’s next two picks filled gaps of players lost to free agency. They made a great pick when they grabbed Devon Still midway through the 2nd round. He was a late first round prospect and should be able to contribute in their defensive line rotation. In the 3rd, they drafted wide receiver Mohamed Sanu to fill, what is now, one of the Bengals weaker positions depth wise. They needed a 2nd receiver to compliment Green by being a competent underneath route runner. I also don\’t think they\’ve given up on slot receiver Jordan Shipley either. Sanu is physical and can use his size to haul in contested passes. His contributions should make the Bengals more dynamic in the red zone.

The Bengals gambled on tight end Orson Charles and it may payoff. He is only 21 and was a much higher rated prospect then a midway 4th rounder. However, earlier this year he was arrested for a DUI. Another quality pick is Dan Herron in the 6th round. I\’ve watched Herron at Ohio State for a few years now, and while he doesn\’t have any particularly special trait, he\’s very well rounded. Some development could turn him into a monster. Adding a little speed or a little more size could really help him turn the corner. Overall, the Bengals did well again. This was a fantastic draft class which combined steals with quality picks. They drafted several players that will play and impact their 2012 season.

Coaching Staff:

Marvin Lewis is back, and can thank a turnaround 2011 season for that. He\’s entering his 9th season as the head coach in Cincinnati and has an overall record of  69-74. The more distressing stat is that he has led the Bengals to the playoffs three times, but they have never won a game. The organization will have to a make a choice soon on whether Lewis is the head coach that they want to lead this young and up and coming team. I think that choice will be addressed soon, especially if the Bengals miss the playoffs this season.

Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, brother of Jon Gruden, returns for his second season with the Bengals. Considering it is his first major coaching job in NFL, he did a great job last season. He was able to groom a rookie quarterback and receiver in a lockout year and both played in the Pro Bowl. It will be interesting to see how well he can integrate the new weapons he now has. He has a new and younger running back, a rookie wide receiver, who should start, and a rookie tight end, who he should be able to get involved. The key might be the offensive line, specifically how the new guards are able to gel at the start of the season.

Mike Zimmer will resume his role as the defensive coordinator for his 5th season with the Bengals. Zimmer has been a defensive coordinator in the NFL since 2000, and has mastered the 4-3 and 3-4 schemes. His accolades would lead me to believe that he could be a head coach in the future. It was rumored that he was considered this offseason, but he remains in his defensive coordinating role for now. If the defense is strong once again, but the team struggles to win games, he may be a candidate to replace Lewis. He is a game changing coordinator, and Pittsburgh Steelers new offensive coordinator Todd Haley will have a couple epic battles against him this season.

The only new additions to the coaching staff are former Oakland Raiders head coach Hue Jackson (assistant) and defensive backs coach Mark Carrier. The Bengals also still have four coaches that were hired with Lewis in 2003, specifically special teams coach Darrin Simmons. This team has a coaching staff that has not changed much over the years, unlike many of the other teams in the NFL. Offensive line coach Paul Alexander has been in Cincinnati since 1994 and running backs coach Jim Anderson has been with the Bengals since 1984.

Last Year\’s Stats:

2011 Team Stats
OFFENSE
StatBengalsRankSteelersRankNFL Average
Yards/Game319.920372.312346.8
Points/Game21.51820.32122.2
Pass Yards/Game208.820253.410229.7
Rush Yards/Game111.119118.914117.1
First Downs/Game17.82221.3919.5
Interceptions (2011)1412151716
Interception Rate2.62%132.78%182.91%
Fumbles Lost (2011)810132610
Sacks Allowed (2011)254422337
Sack Rate4.67%57.79%236.82%
Avg Time of Possession30:19:001332:33:00230:00:00
DEFENSE
StatBengalsRankSteelersRankNFL Average
Yards/Game316.37271.81346.8
Points/Game20.2914.2122.2
Pass Yards/Game211.69171.91229.7
Rush Yards/Game104.71099.88117.1
First Downs/Game17.8716.5119.5
Interceptions (2011)1026112416
Interception Rate1.86%272.08%242.91%
Fumbles Recovered (2011)12443010
Sacks (2011)455351737
Sack Rate8.35%46.60%186.82%
SPECIAL TEAMS
StatBengalsRankSteelersRankNFL Average
Punt Return Avg For11.5710.5139.9
Punt Return Avg Against7.278.4129.9
Kick Return Avg For22.82425.1823.8
Kick Return Avg Against20.8323.71623.8
Field Goals Made86.84%874.19%3182.89%
EFFICIENCY
StatBengalsRankSteelersRankNFL Average
Turnover Differential017-13280
3rd Down % Offense36.53%1845.92%438.00%
3rd Down % Defense35.45%1238.91%1938.00%
4th Down % Offense40.00%1637.50%1943.26%
4th Down % Defense36.36%861.54%2843.26%
Red Zone % Offense45.10%2650.94%1852.18%
Red Zone % Defense58.54%2854.84%1752.18%

The stats don\’t lie, and the Bengals looked like a good team statistically in 2011. The offense was right about average, and their defense was easily top 10. Their special teams play was impressive, but they will need to work on their red zone play to improve their efficiency. The young age of this team, as well as their free agent and draft additions, would lead me to believe that they are primed to beat all of their 2011 stats.

The Bengals offense was fairly consistent as an average performer across all of the offensive categories. They were slightly below average in yards, scoring and first downs, but they were above average in time of possession, interceptions and fumbles. This offense did a great job at not allowing sacks, ranking in the top 5 of the NFL. This offense clearly had a goal; march the field, control the clock and don\’t turn the ball over. Green provided a few big plays, but generating more will likely be a focus in 2012.

Defense was a key win for the Bengals. They were statistically a top 10 defense in yards, points and first downs. They also had a high amount of sacks and recovered fumbles. The only weakness of this defense was their inability to generate interceptions. This could be either because the pressure they generated was inconsistent, or their defensive backs played on the safer side (9th in passing yards). The addition of a few new defensive backs this season should help, but they must ensure that they can still apply pressure. Newman is averaging about 4 interceptions a year, but Kirkpatrick was not known as a ball hawk at Alabama.

The Bengals were also great at special teams. They ranked near the top of all categories except kick returns. Kick returns may continue to be an issue as both Sanu and Kirkpatrick are bigger guys and not known for returning. Sanu also only held a punt return average of 4.2 yards at Rutgers. Mike Nugent had a pretty solid year kicking in 2011. He went 33 for 38, but missed three field goals between 30 and 39 yards. The Bengals were an interesting team in terms of their efficiency as they were average offensively on 3rd and 4th downs, but bad in the red zone. They were right around top 10 defensively on 3rd and 4th downs, but also bad in the red zone. For a team that focuses on ball possession and playing field position football, this will likely be a key area that they will seek to improve in.

Final Remarks:

Cincinnati has always been a fringe team. By that, I mean they always look like they can make some noise, then fail to deliver. Yet when they are forgotten about, they come out and overachieve. The key to both trends for this team is that it never leads anywhere. The Bengals need to become a playoff team if they want to avoid overhauls and question marks. While I didn\’t respect Palmer as much as I likely should\’ve, I have nothing but respect for Dalton. Frankly, he almost scares me at times. Cincinnati looks poised to become big time force in the AFC North.

This offense gets a lot of praise, but what if you look deeper than just a quick glance? The core tools are there, but this offense still has needs and questions marks. Outside of Green, the Bengals have virtually no depth at wide receiver. Tight end Jermaine Gresham continues to play well, but is he getting involved enough? Letting Benson walk is understandable, but is Green-Ellis really the long term answer, or is he just a space holder until the position can be addressed next year? How will the interior of this offensive line change, and can this unit keep Dalton as clean as he was in 2011? I have so many questions, and many have simple answers, but executing on game day and providing the evidence that they are elite is what\’s next for this offense.

The Bengals defense is set up again to be a top 10 unit. Zimmer has always been able to make do with traditionally undervalued players. How will he control this new secondary? Newman got torched multiple times last year, but I think he can revive his career playing second fiddle to Hall. I wonder where Kirkpatrick will fit in considering Jason Allen as signed. Even with a skilled secondary, this defense needs to generate pressure. Considering many don\’t even know who gets the sacks on this team, it will be a tough task replacing Rucker and Fanene. This team has a core of similarly aged linebackers entering their prime, but are they enough? Losing a pair of safeties with no replacements might be the biggest loss on this defense overall. Underperforming safeties and a suspect defensive line might be key weaknesses.

Key Stat:

Second beginning of a new era. I hate how analysts do this, but the quarterback is the face of a franchise. Dalton will likely be the leader of the Bengals for the next 10 or so years. The Steelers are entering year two against this era, and are 2-0 so far. In 2011, the Steelers held a turnover differential of +2 against Cincinnati. In the two games, Pittsburgh had only 3 sacks while the Bengals generated 8. Dalton had a completion percentage of 48% (58.1% on the year) against the Steelers. If you take away an explosive 2nd quarter in the second meeting for the Steelers, the combined score differential would have only been 7 points, versus 35 points. These stats are meant to show that the while the Steelers got the better of the Bengals last season, there wasn\’t too much separating the two teams. To maintain this superiority, the Steelers will have to elevate their level of play, because Cincinnati clearly seems destined to do the same.

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