As a Steelers fan living in Cincinnati, I get to watch a lot of the Steelers’ biggest obstacle to winning the AFC North title.
I watched every minute of the Bengals upset win over the Denver Broncos on Monday Night Football because I wanted to see what the Steelers may be in for on Sunday night at Heinz field.
I’ll admit, the Bengals did some things Monday that I haven’t seen them do throughout most of the season, that has me a little nervous for Mike Tomlin and company.
The lightning rod of Bengals criticism over the years has been their Quarterback Andy Dalton, and he’s earned it. At a glance Dalton’s numbers don’t look terrible last night finishing 17 of 26 for 146 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception.
The most telling stat there is that is took Andy 17 passes to only rack up 146 yards (with about 50 of those coming on screens to Gio Bernard). Dalton was virtually useless in any sort of down-field passing game once AJ Green was injured in the first quarter.
In the rare instances that the Bengals did let Dalton throw it down the field, he made a bad decision nearly every time. Denver dropped about 3 balls that should have been interceptions.
So how did they manage to hang 37 points on Denver? Their running game, turnovers, and an offensive game-plan that gave the Broncos defenders fits.
Jeremy Hill ran wild on the Broncos defense with his biggest run being an 80 yard touchdown. The Bengals read-option with Bernard also worked well, with Andy Dalton displaying just enough athleticism to keep the Denver front 7 off balance.
I’m talking about the Bengals a lot, but this is where the Steelers come in.
The Steelers defense has shown they can be run on, and you can guarantee that the Bengals will do everything they can to take the Dalton-stink factor out of this game. Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard HAVE to be contained in order to win the division.
Making the Bengals one dimensional would be a huge advantage. With AJ Green possibly hobbled, Dalton will look to take short underneath passes to Jermaine Gresham and his running backs.
The Steelers run defense looks better than they did early on, but with so much misdirection in the Cincinnati run game, playing disciplined football and staying in their gaps will be huge for the Steelers front 7. If they don’t we could see big plays similar to Monday Night.
For really the first time all season the Bengals defensive line stepped up and put a lot of pressure on Peyton Manning. Despite only sacking him twice, he looked uncomfortable in the pocket all night.
In their last meeting, the Bengals pass rush let Ben drop back and find plenty of open receivers, and not sacking him once.
The Steelers basically ran on the Bengals all game out of the same play with David DeCastro pulling around the left side. You can be sure the Bengals will be watching that play on tape all week long, so I wouldn’t necessarily expect the same result Sunday.
Bell will still have to be effective, but Todd Haley needs to get creative to keep pressure off of Ben. I’d love to see some play-action with a loaded left side for screens to the right side of the line, or counter plays with Bell cutting right.
The Bengals corners are capable of being burnt, but they’re also opportunistic, so Ben needs to be careful throwing it down the field.
As of now it looks to be a typical Pittsburgh playoff atmosphere with 1-3″ of snow expected on Sunday night. Big Ben is built for cold weather, but I still expect this to be a physical game where the better lines win the game.
This is the type of game that some of the older Steelers have come out of on top in the past, hopefully the newer generation of Steelers can follow suit.