The Pittsburgh Steelers will take on the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday night at Heinz Field and below are seven things to watch for in the game.
Get To The Red Rifle - Over the course of the last three games, opponents haven't sacked Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton. In fact, Pro Football Focus shows that he has only been hit twice and hurried 11 times during that span and last week against the Indianapolis Colts, his pass protection was perfect. The Steelers defense has been better the last few weeks at getting pressure and that obviously needs to continue Sunday night. If Dalton is afforded time in the pocket throughout the game, he will easily pick the Steelers secondary apart. If you need to be reminded, Dalton wasn't sacked the Steelers defense back in Week 2.
Double Explosive Plays Must Stop - We have talked about it a ton this season and last week the Miami Dolphins offense registered there explosive plays of 40 yards or more in their win over the Steelers. Back in Week 2, Dalton hit tight end Tyler Eifert for a what would be the first of 17 double explosive plays allowed this season. To make matters worse, that came after the Steelers turned the ball over while driving to take a 10-0 lead.
Bell Up The Gut - The Bengals run defense has only allowed an average of 98.2 yards per game this season and an average yards per carry of 4.01. However, their defense is vulnerable against the run right up the middle. On the season, they have allowed an average carry of 5.58 yards on 57 plays scored as going right up the middle. The Bengals no longer have defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who is out for the season, so new center Cody Wallace and right guard David DeCastro need to focus on opening up the middle for rookie running back Le'Veon Bell as this is where the Steelers offense can have success if they stick with it.
Go After Dre - Bengals starting cornerback Terence Newman will miss the game Sunday night with a knee injury so that means second-year cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick will more than likely start opposite Adam Jones. In his 131 snaps played this season, Kirkpatrick has been targeted 18 times and allowed 13 receptions. Last week against the Colts, he allowed seven catches on eight targets for 60 yards, so expect Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to go after him a lot in this game and especially when he doesn't have cover-2 help over the top.
Gio Tracker - Bengals rookie running back Giovani Bernard is having one hell of a season as he is a threat to both run and catch the football. He is averaging 5.75 yards every time that he touches the ball and can score from anywhere on the field as evidenced by his seven touchdowns this season. It won't be easy to track Bernard, especially on early downs if the Steelers have their base defense on the field against the Bengals two tight end personal package as that becomes a pick your poison type of situation.
Jump Up Quick - In their last meeting against the Bengals, the Steelers jumped out to a 3-0 lead and they were on their way to adding to it before tight end David Paulson turned the ball over following a reception. That was a huge turning point early on in that game. If they can get Dalton to press from 10 or points down, the more likely he is to make a mistake.
Gator On Gator - Steelers right tackle Marcus Gilbert will be going up against former University of Florida teammate Carlos Dunlap Sunday night and this will be a key matchup to watch in pass protection. Dunlap has seven sacks on the season while Gilbert has given up nine.