Sunday, December 23, 2012

Week Sixteen: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cincinnati Bengals

The season all comes down to this. After losing four our of five games, it is stunning that this game even means anything. Drama queen wide receivers, apparent tension between quarterback and offensive coordinator, and a rash of injuries to quality players have been the story of the year. The four game win streak of late October and early November seems like a century away. Quite frankly, this team doesn't deserve to compete for a championship. However, the opportunity is still there and they have to wrestle it away from an up and coming team that has struggled to take the next step.

Steelers Offense vs. Bengals Defense: Earlier this season, the Steelers were putting up offensive numbers that hadn't been seen by this team before. Since Ben Roethlisbergers injury, a lot of that shine has turned to rust. Possibly, seeing the Bengals could rekindle the fire seeing as they were a victim of a lot of offensive output the last time they saw the Steelers this year. That game saw the emergence of Jonathan Dwyer who started a string of three straight 100 yard rushing games by the black and gold.

All the Steelers really have to do on offense is play smart. That's a lot easier said than done of late. Over this recent string of losses we've seen every running back fumble in one game, Mike Wallace drop an infinite amount of passes, Antonio Brown do....whatever it was that he was doing last week, even Roethlisberger throwing an interception on his side of the field in over time. Almost every mistake is a mental thing right now. That makes it sound like it is easy to fix but it isn't because there is no drill you can do in practice that can correct mental errors.

Assuming the players on the offensive side of the ball actually do realize the enormity of this game, it's going to come down to the offensive line's ability to protect Roethlisberger. The line held up decently last week in rookie David DeCastro's first game. But they are going to have to be better than that today. This Bengal defense will certainly give up it's fair share of point if you can beat their pass rush but that is easier said than done. The Bengals come into this game with the most sacks of any defense in the league and DeCastro will get his first big test by being matched up most of the day with a defensive tackle in Geno Atkins who has 10.5 sacks.

Steelers Defense vs. Bengals Offense: It is extremely difficult at this point to even remember who plays for the Steelers on defense. They are so banged up on that side of the ball that it literally is an "all hands on deck" type of effort that they have to give. That is especially true in the secondary where Ike Taylor is going to miss yet another game and an injured Keenan Lewis is going to be left to guard A.J. Green. Sure, you can double team Green or give Lewis some safety help. But all that does is leave Cortez Allen alone on the other side and we all saw how well that worked out a couple of weeks ago against the Chargers.

Dropping everyone back into coverage to help the banged up secondary isn't an option either. The Bengals run a balanced style of offense by today's NFL standards. BenJarvus Green-Ellis has turned out to be a fantastic pick up for them. The Steelers defense isn't nearly as stout against the run as it has been in the past and if they have to take extra defenders out of the box to help the secondary, Green-Ellis could have a big day.

Quite frankly, the scenario where the ball is given to the Law Firm a significant amount of times is the one that Marvin Lewis probably prefers. Despite the banged up secondary of the Steelers, Andy Dalton has had some of his worst games as a professional against the Steelers. Earlier this year, he threw an interception and barely broke over the 100 yard mark. He threw two interceptions in a game last year and was so bad in the other one that he ended up being replaced by Bruce Gradkowski in the fourth quarter.

Prediction: Honestly, the only reason to feel confident about the Steelers in this game is because the Steelers are the Steelers and the Bengals are the Bengals. All other signs point to the Steelers having a disappointing Christmas. That being said, that one reason is a pretty good one considering recent history. But that being said, I am not going to pick the Steelers to win this game mainly because I feel like a jinx. Two of the last three games between these teams has ended 24-17 so why not? Bengals 24, Steelers 17.


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