Sunday, October 21, 2012

Week Seven: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cincinnati Bengals Preview

It is the first divisional game this season for the Pittsburgh Steelers and the stakes are already high. Both the Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals have gotten off to less than ideal starts. They are both already multiple games behind the first place Baltimore Ravens and a loss today all but eliminates that team from contention for the division crown. The only thing that doesn't make this game a must win less than half way through the season is the fact that the entire AFC is struggling. The Ravens and Houston Texans are the only two teams in the division over .500 and one of them is guaranteed to take a loss today as they face each other.

Steelers Offense vs. Bengals Defense: The success of the Steelers' offense today is going to be dependent on their execution. The Bengals' defense is nothing to fear but they aren't going to roll over and die either. They are in the middle of the pack in almost every defensive category. They have even struggled to force turnovers which was the cause for most of their success last campaign. One thing that they do extremely well is get to the quarterback. They have 20 sacks as a team this season which is second in the league to only the Green Bay Packers.

That one thing that the Bengals do extremely well could cause problems. The Steelers have had more success this year protecting Ben Roethlisberger than they have in past seasons. A large reason for that is Todd Haley's offense which is more prone to timing patterns and getting the ball out quickly. However, that might not even be enough to save Roethlisberger on this day. The offensive line is banged up badly. Of course, we all know that David DeCastro still isn't ready to play, though he's progressing better than anyone could have expected. Marcus Gilbert will be out of the lineup and replaced by Mike Adams who will be making his first career start. Also, Maurkice Pouncey is banged up but he plans on playing. That being said, John Malecki was promoted to the active roster and the Mike Tomlin has said that he'll consider dressing eight linemen instead of the standard seven.

Though the Steelers are not a running team anymore, this is a game where running the ball a bit could be a good strategy. It would give the new linemen the ability to just bang bodies and gain some confidence. But there's one problem with that. Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman will both be inactive with injuries which will mean that Jonathan Dwyer will be making his first career start. Baron Batch will probably see his fair share of carries as well since he was the most effective runner against Tennessee. That being said, the big plays on offense are going to have to come through the air as per usual.

Steelers Defense vs. Bengals Offense: It has become difficult to explain why the Steeler defense should be able to stop anyone. That almost seems ridiculous when you take into account that the team is still fourth in the league in defense. The issue is that the numbers actually do lie when it comes to this defense. If football games were only 45 minutes long, this defense would be fantastic but the fourth quarter has been a danger zone for the Steelers this year. Even teams as bad as the Tennessee Titans have taken advantage of that.

Troy Polamalu is once again inactive which is something that the Steelers just need to accept is going to be a problem for the rest of the season. LaMarr Woodley's hamstring is apparently well enough for him to play which means that the Steelers will have a rare scenario where he and James Harrison are both on the field at the same time. However, the key is going to be whether they both finish the game. Having them both on the field all day is probably the only thing this defense can hang their hats on.

One thing that has to happen for the Steelers to be successful in this game is for them to realize that Ike Taylor is not going to be able to watch A.J. Green by himself. Taylor is having arguably his worst season since being a starter. He's getting beat down the field way too often and when he does, he commits a penalty. Green is arguably the best wide receiver in the entire division. Being arrogant enough to believe that Taylor won't need help in that match-up is a losing strategy.

Prediction: This game is almost impossible to predict. The Steelers have played three consecutive games that have come down to a last second field goal. They play to the level of their competition. They have an inability to put teams away. And they are ineffective defensively in clutch situations. So that means the Bengals win, right? Not so fast. The Bengals have lost consecutive games to the Miami Dolphins and Cleveland Browns. And they haven't come down to last second field goals. Andy Dalton isn't taking care of the ball the way he did last season. Even Benjarvus Green-Ellis had his first fumble of his career in the Miami loss. That's where the Steelers have an advantage. Roethlisberger has only thrown two interceptions all year and the team as a whole has only lost two fumbles. That is the one and only thing that has me picking the Steelers in this game. But it's going to be another close one. Steelers 24, Bengals 20.

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