Playoff implications abound when Bengals meet SteelersBy Carlos "Big C" Holmes
Dayton Daily News/Cox News Service
The rivalry between the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers will be cranked up a notch Sunday at Heinz Field. The playoff picture is clear-cut for the AFC North rivals: Win and you’re most likely in; lose and there’s no practice in January.
Cincinnati wants to avoid getting pushed around by big brother when it plays in the Pittsburgh playpen. Pittsburgh leads the overall series 53-32 and is 27-14 as the home team. The Steelers have won five straight, but this Bengals squad believes.
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has pressed some this season. Just when Dalton appears to be reaching the next plateau as a passer, he’s stymied with a mental lapse in judgment. There are times when he tries to do too much and force the issue making ill-advised passes resulting in turnovers.
The second-year QB must show more consistency throwing the ball in pressure situations. Cincy is not a very good second-half team and third-down conversion percentage is 35.4 and even lower on the road at 33.6. He also has to be careful locking onto his primary target, A.J. Green, and make quicker reads delivering strikes to his second and third options. Tight end Jermaine Gresham is a matchup problem for any defense and should play a big part on offense.
Dalton is coming off a dreadful performance against Philadelphia where he was sacked six times in the game. Unlike previous Bengals teams, the collective unit found a way to win. Pittsburgh’s defense will bring the heat, rushing the passer after watching that porous offensive line play in Philly. However, they may want to note Dalton’s pocket awareness and mobility avoiding the rush. He can hurt you with his feet.
Dallas Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr, who had a key interception against Dalton, offered some insight on the Bengals offense when facing them.
"They thrive off the deep ball," Carr said during a one-on-one interview. "We took that away and made them push the ball in front of us. They tried to hit us with some razzle-dazzle type plays but we stayed discipline. Our game plan on defense was simple, execute, play fast and make plays."
It is important for Dalton to play a near flawless game and with the swag head coach Marvin Lewis has been calling for. In three games against Pittsburgh, Dalton has completed 40 of out 82 passes for 410 yards and four touchdowns with three interceptions.
There is no better time for Dalton to stake a claim as the franchise quarterback than to perform confidently against the rival Steelers.
Don’t be scared
Things may hinge on the play of the quarterback but an effective running game could be the key to success on offense.
Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis had churned out some yardage in his last five games rushing for 543 yards and three touchdowns. The Steelers defense is stout against the run allowing 92.7 yards per game, but the facts must not deter Cincinnati from establishing its run game. The offense may need to get Green-Ellis more involved in the passing game this week. He’s an excellent receiver out of the backfield and could neutralize the rush of Blitzburgh with screen passes.
The mystique of Pittsburgh’s intimating defense may be fading despite its No. 1 overall ranking now that there are two bullies on the playground in the matchup. The Bengals defense is ranked No. 6 and takes a back seat to no one after roughing up many of their opponents this season. No reason to believe that will change on Sunday.
Cincinnati’s aggressive defensive front is expected to wreak havoc on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who will depend on a makeshift offensive line for protection. The Bengals lead the league in sacks with 43 and are on pace to break the franchise record for sacks which is 48.
When Roethlisberger finds time to throw he will look to strike deep with speedy receiver Mike Wallace. This plays to the strength of the Bengals secondary due to their ability to defend the deep pass. In Week 7, the Bengals held Wallace to 52 yards receiving and his longest catch was 12 yards. The secondary is made up of crafty veterans who are playing extremely well.
There is no love lost between these teams so we can expect a slugfest. The overall edge in this matchup goes to Cincinnati for playing better football at this point in the season.