The 2015 season was one to remember for the Cincinnati Bengals. Coming out of the gates, the Men in Stripes proceeded to answer questions about the current state of the team. A high-powered offense made the Bengals a dangerous opponent that teams could no longer underestimate. But, northeast of Cincinnati, the Pittsburgh Steelers have put together an offense that is equally as potent. To keep up, Bengals brass has been creating a defense that can go toe-to-toe with the division rivals.
When speaking of rivalries, it’s easy to envision certain matchups. When thinking baseball, the Mets and Yankees are a couple of teams that always get New York fired up. The Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals are on the edge of a brawl each time they meet on the diamond. Every New York-based team seems to hate each other. The Islanders and Rangers, of the NHL, aren’t buddies.
But, the NFL has produced a rivalry that has reached insane proportions. The Bengals and Steelers met three times last year, and each battle was like a war zone. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, the games have resulted in over $200,000 in fines.
Pittsburgh weathered the storm and fought back from the loss of several key players. The Bengals were without WILL linebacker Vontaze Burfict for the first six weeks of the season. Ben Roethlisberger was injured in Week 3, and didn’t return until Week 8 against the Bengals. That game turned out to be a classic defensive showdown.
Having Burfict back sparked the defense. Reggie Nelson intercepted Roethlisberger twice, and the Bengals held Big Ben to one TD—which came on the opening drive—and a 57.8 passer rating. Nelson’s second interception was the game clincher. It came with 2:57 left and the Steelers driving for a chance to tie or go ahead. Defense helped win the 16-10 struggle.
After that game, the Steelers put together an impressive string of performances. For six weeks, Pittsburgh was able to score 30 points or more. Per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the offense was getting comparisons to the St. Louis Rams.
To stop that offensive explosion, the Bengals are stocking up on defense. Some fans are still seething over the loss of Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones. But, the plan had already been established before they walked. Getting receivers to complement A.J. Green wouldn’t be hard. The 2016 NFL Draft will be loaded with tons of speedy, deep threats that could be inserted at slot. Stopping the Steelers meant getting beefed up on the defensive side of the ball.
Bringing back the playmakers on defense was priority for the Bengals. With the exception of Week 14, the games between the Bengals and Steelers have not been offensive gems. The two teams often play a brutal, trudging brand of football that usually comes down to one play making the difference. The January 9 wild card game wasn’t decided until the end. Once more, the defense played a spectacular game that complemented the offense.
Bengals fans are gearing up for the selection of a receiver during the draft. It may not be one of the names mock draft experts are touting, but a wide out will get chosen. The Bengals have signed Brandon LaFell to provide a 6-foot-3 target for Dalton’s passes. The plan is to negate the Steelers’ offense. Defensive picks could be the order of the day come April 28.
Hopefully, the Bengals-Steelers rivalry will return to exciting plays and entertaining battles. The past season covered the fun that these two teams provide on the field. When two-of-three games are decided by three points or less, the chippy play should be put aside. Moving forward, the AFC North rivalry may see its share of low scoring affairs.
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