By Jeremy Hritz
The Pittsburgh Steelers notched their sixth victory of the season this past weekend against the Cincinnati Bengals, and probably their most impressive, as they played well in nearly all facets of the game on their way to a 30-20 win.
Ben Roethlisberger, outside of an interception influenced by a strong wind, continued his excellent play, efficiently completing 20 of 25 passes for 191 yards and one touchdown, and he was complemented nicely by running back Le’Veon Bell, though he didn’t break off any run longer than eight yards, but did account for 107 combined rushing and receiving yards.
Defensively, the Steelers put together a solid first half, though in the third and fourth quarters, they gave up garbage yardage as they played to prevent the big play. Jason Worilds, who has been on a tear, was a bit quiet, recording three tackles and no sacks, and Jarvis Jones, while he didn’t make the stat sheet with a sack, as Alex Kozora pointed out, had his best pass rushing performance of the season. The only sack in the game came from Ziggy Hood early in the contest.
As a result of the win, the Steelers upped their record to 6-8, still only good enough for third in the division, and too little too late to put their playoff destiny back in their own hands. Reflecting on the Steelers losses, had they pulled out at least one of those contests against the Titans, Vikings, Raiders, or Dolphins, they would be in decent shape to extend the shelf life of 2013. The reality is, unfortunately, that the Steelers have two seemingly playoff-irrelevant games to play before the 2013 season is stored away for posterity.
In their 15th contest of the season, the Steelers prepare to take on the Green Bay Packers, a team that they have had a recent exciting and interesting history, most notably in the Roethlisberger’s sole Super Bowl defeat and the 2009 match-up in Pittsburgh highlighted by a last second victory on a touchdown pass from Big Ben to Mike Wallace, a game that Roethlisberger threw for a career-high 503 yards.
In this contest, the Packers will be without Aaron Rodgers, who single-handedly dismantled the Steelers secondary on his way to a Super Bowl MVP, and he will be replaced by Matt Flynn, which is good news for Pittsburgh. While a Wild Card berth is out of question for this Packer’s team, a division championship is not. However, in order for that to come to fruition, the Packers must win their final two contests against the Steelers and the Bears, so you can count on the Packers playing this game at home with intensity and focus.
One of the more intriguing story lines in this game is the debate between who is the better running back, the Packer’s Eddie Lacy or the Steelers’ Le’Veon Bell. There was discussion leading up to the draft that the Steelers could possibly select Lacy, and he was available when they picked in the second round; however, the Steelers went with Bell, while Green Bay pulled the trigger on Lacy. The selections have worked out well for both teams, with Lacy rushing for 1,028 yards and eight touchdowns, while Bell has gained a combined 1034 rushing and receiving yards. No doubt both backs will be motivated to outdo each other which will make for an interesting game within the game. Bell still has yet to achieve a 100-yard effort, and tomorrow at Lambeau would be the perfect opportunity for it to happen as the Packers give up an average of 123.4 yards rushing per game. Conversely, the Steelers rushing defense has been porous at times this season, so Lacy has the potential to rack up yardage as well.
With a snowstorm expected to hit Green Bay, the team that can run the football most effectively will have the advantage, yet the experience factor of Roethlisberger outweighs Flynn at quarterback. Sure, the Packers are still fighting for the postseason and will have a festive home crowd to support its effort, the Steelers defense should be able to do enough to slow Lacy and to force Flynn into a mistake or two while Roethlisberger does just enough to extend drives and to put the Steelers in a position to kick a game-winning field goal at the end.
Steelers knock out two in a row.
Steelers 31 Packers 28