The Week 7 Sunday night game for the Pittsburgh Steelers will determine the direction in which the team will be headed for the rest of the 2012 NFL season. Pittsburgh’s match up against the Cincinnati Bengals will be their first divisional game, and will be their most important game of the season.
Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, this game will have to be played without key contributors of the offensive line. Right tackle Marcus Gilbert and Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey were injured in last week’s loss to the Tennessee Titans, and will not participate when the Steelers travel to Cincinnati.
Gilbert (ankle) has been ruled out for Week 7, while Pouncey (knee) is listed as questionable for the divisional matchup. Rookie offensive tackle Mike Adams will start on the right side of the o-line in place of Gilbert, and Doug Legursky is expected to fill in for Pouncey.
Head coach Mike Tomlin mentioned that there is a possibility that the Steelers will dress eight offensive linemen for Sunday night’s game. I think this precaution is a good one, considering the fact that Pittsburgh was one injury away from using a tight end on the offensive line last week versus Tennessee.
The Bengals have recorded 20 sacks so far this season, which is ranked second in the league. Fifteen of Cincinnati’s sacks have come from their defensive line.
The Steelers’ offensive line will have their hands full when it comes to protecting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Given the circumstances, I believe that Pittsburgh should do their best at trying to control clock with the running game. Cincinnati’s defense is allowing an average of 116.8 rushing yards per game. However, even this will be a difficult task.
Running backs Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman suffered an Achilles injury and an ankle injury respectively against the Titans, and both are listed a questionable for Sunday’s game. This puts the pressure of the running game solely on the shoulders of Baron Batch.
Even though I feel that running the ball will reduce the chances of the Bengals’ defensive line shooting through the holes of Pittsburgh’s offensive front and destroying Roethlisberger, Tomlin and offensive coordinator Todd Haley will more than likely rely on the passing game, just as they have all season long.
As much as I want the Steelers to run the ball more, this is probably the only chance that they have of being productive on the offensive side of the ball. The uncertainty of Mendenhall and Redman leaves Tomlin and Haley no other choice but to lean on the big arm of Big Ben.
It seems like ever since Pittsburgh has come back from their bye week, every game that they have had has been a critical one. Currently sitting in third place in the AFC North, and facing a divisional opponent for the first time this season, the Steelers are without a doubt staring at a game that could set the tone for the rest of the year for them.
The way that I see it, the tone will be determined by how the offensive line performs in Sunday night’s divisional battle.
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