The Pittsburgh Steelers look to get their first win in the division and their first road win when they take on the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday night night in the Queen City. Below are 7 things to watch for specifically in this game along with my prediction at the end of it. In case you missed it, here is the Wednesday podcast preview of the game that features a great interview with Bengals beat writer Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer.
Green Means Stop – Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green is the real deal if you haven\’t already figured that out by now. Six games in now and the second-year receiver has 43 receptions for 628 yards and 6 touchdowns. That equates to a 14.6 average. You can do the math on your own time to see what kind of pace he is on. Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor is off to a bad start this season and he will likely be matched up against Green for most, if not all, of the game. The Steelers must provide him safety help over the top this week and risk the Bengals running on them as a result. The defense is not going to be able to shut down Green completely, but they can limit the big plays to him with hopes that quarterback Andy Dalton tries to force one or two his way into double coverage. Forcing Green to come back to the ball will limit his ability to make yards after the catch.
Screening In The Night – The Bengals defense has been horrible this season at defending opponents running backs out of the backfield. When the Steelers are in 11 personnel this will be a perfect time to get the ball to Jonathan Dwyer, Baron Batch or Chris Rainey out of the backfield to side that Heath Miller lines up on. The goal in this game should be to make middle linebacker Rey Maualuga and strong-side linebacker Manny Lawson earn their keep, something they haven\’t been able to do all year. Keeping them honest to the screen game should loosen things up not only in the passing game, but in the running game as well. Getting the ball top fullback Will Johnson on a wheel route at least twice in this game could produce an explosive play, so be on the lookout for that as well.
Stick Your Hands Up – Dalton has had 6 passes batted down so far this season and has struggled with hands up at the line of scrimmage. The Steelers defensive front has to make a concerted effort to get their hands up and position themselves in the passing lanes when they can as it will make a big difference. Dalton likes to force balls as evidenced by his 9 interceptions so far this year and making him throw through as many obstacles as possible could force him into giving the Steelers defense a gift or two in this game. The Bengals offensive line has allowed a good deal of push so far this season, so look for a tipped ball or two in this game.
Shut Down The Law Firm – Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis has been less than spectacular this season, but he should see several 7 man fronts Sunday night against the Steelers because of the attention that A.J. will likely get in this game. The Steelers front three must control their gaps in this game and linebackers Larry Foote and Lawrence Timmons must keep themselves uncovered and plug the holes being as they will not likely be able to rely much on free safety Ryan Clark for run support Sunday night. Green-Ellis is a one-step cut guy that likes to get downhill. He does not do well when forced to move laterally and nearly a third of his carries this season have gone for 1 yard or less. Stopping the Bengals running game with just a 7 man front will go a long way to the Steelers winning.
Adams Needs Family Help – Rookie Mike Adams will be making his first career start Sunday night against the Bengals at right tackle with Marcus Gilbert ruled out with an ankle injury. Adams will be going up against defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who is just now hitting his stride after missing the first two games of the season with a knee injury, and he will need some help throughout the game. While Adams has been good in the run blocking department in his limited action this season, he has been inconsistent with his pass blocking. The Steelers need to make sure he gets chip help from the tight ends and running backs in this game if they want quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to stay off of the ground. The Steelers used both Miller and rookie tight end David Paulson on the wings against the Philadelphia Eagles a few weeks ago, so it would be surprising to see more of that Sunday night when they are in their 12 personnel grouping. When they are in their 11 personnel grouping is when Dunlap and his backup Robert Geathers present the biggest challenge. Dunlap is good at getting his hands into the chest of tackles, so Adams needs to be wary of that. Running at Dunlap early on will only help a little, so any help that can be given Adams in pass protection will be golden.
No Rey Of Hope – The aforementioned Maualuga has not played well in the first six games and his attempt to shed weight over the last several weeks has not helped him play any better. The Bengals linebacker has been thinking instead of reacting and he is an extreme liability in coverage. The Steelers offense should make every effort in this game to make Maualuga make plays. This means running right up the middle at him on run downs and attempting to get Miller singled up on him on early downs over the middle. I mentioned using the backs out of the backfield earlier in this post, so the offense has numerous options at their disposal to make life hell Sunday night for the Bengals middle linebacker.
War Of Futility On Get Off Downs – As brutal as the Bengals offense has been at converting third downs this season, the Steelers defense has been just as brutal at allowing third down conversions. Something has to give in this game and it better not be the Steelers defense if they expect to win. Dalton has a 45.8% completion ratio so far this season on third downs and 66.6 passer rating to go along with that. The last thing the dense wants to do is to help him out with pass interference or holding calls. Make Dalton earn every third down conversion the hard way.
Prediction – You just do not know what Steelers defense will show up in this game and that is worrisome. Green can win this game all by himself if the Steelers offense doesn\’t put points on the board. Despite all of the injuries the Steelers have heading into this game, they still have enough talent to finally notch their first road victory of the season. There certainly is a sense of urgency with three losses already registered and I expect that has been discussed all of this week in the locker room. Even though a loss will not end the Steelers season, it certainly will dim the light on it even more. I think this game comes down to who has the ball last. I say Roethlisberger gets it last and sets up Shaun Suisham for a chip shot to steal one on the road.
Final Score – Steelers 27 Bengals 24