The AFC North battle between the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers could very well be an instant classic. The Bengals will be in a position to lock up the division with a win Sunday afternoon at Paul Brown Stadium. The Steelers need a victory to stay alive in the playoffs. The game will be physical and gritty. No prisoners will be taken, until the final seconds click off the clock. The five major keys to a Cincinnati win over the Steelers aren’t that complicated. But executing them will be crucial.
Let’s address this quickly. The Bengals will have to come out of the gates with fire and passion on defense. That hasn’t been a problem lately. The Bengals’ players have been chasing the Holy Grail of defensive domination since Vontaze Burfict returned. They have stated that they want to lead the NFL with fewest points allowed. As of week 14, the Bengals are at the top of the heap with a stingy 16.3 points per game. What’s the answer to a good offense? Stop it with a stout defense. With the Steelers scoring close to 35 points a game over the last four matchups, the Bengals will have to shut down the majority of Pittsburgh’s playmakers.
Get to Big Ben Often
Who’s the first playmaker the defense has to contain? The offensive lineman the Steelers use as a quarterback. Paul Guenther must come up with an ingenious plan to pressure Roethlisberger into mistakes. Ben is a force to deal with in the pocket. But if he’s given too much time to throw, he’ll turn something bad into a big play. Carlos Dunlap will need to have a big day coming off the end. The Tasmanian Devil, Geno Atkins, should be able to wreak havoc as usual and get to Roethlisberger. Disrupting the timing will be critical, for the success of the defensive secondary.
The running game
Jeremy Hill seems to have found the rookie mojo of last season. If he can channel that energy into a superb performance against the Steelers, that will be part one. The second part of the running game will be getting Giovani Bernard into the mix. The Bengals actually have a one-two punch ground game that can’t be matched. The speed and shifty moves of Gio and the power of Hill are devastating. But the ground attack isn’t about getting either player 100 yards. The Bengals need to keep the Steelers off-balance. The Colts had nothing that resembled a running game and the Steelers just teed off on the QB. Getting Gio the ball in space will also keep Keith Butler from dialing up the blitz so often.
Protect Andy Dalton
So far this year, the Bengals have done a decent job protecting Dalton. But in order for him to find the weapons of mass destruction, he needs to be protected. Critics and analysts haven’t been able to give Dalton the business this year. The negative comments of past years are being replaced by praise. Dalton has one of the quickest release times in the league. Yet he’ll need the offensive line to step up and play even better. According to Sporting Charts, the Bengals’ offensive line is ranked No. 8 for their protection of Mr. Dalton. They’ll have to play like they’re the best in the league.
Make the most of scoring chances
The Steelers have been getting a lot of praise for their offensive firepower. Actually, the Bengals are scoring just as many. In fact, Cincinnati has scored more and leads the Steelers in points per game. The Bengals’ defense will need to limit the Steelers’ scoring opportunities, while the offense gets into the end zone and keeps the pressure on. There can be no settling for field goals. Seven points must be the thought process on each drive.
Next week, we’ll take a look back at the five major keys to see what the Bengals were able to accomplish.
[Feature Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images]