Pittsburgh Steelers-Cincinnati Bengals Week 7 Preview: Who Has the Advantage?
Pittsburgh Steelers-Cincinnati Bengals Preview
For the first time under head coach Mike Tomlin, the Steelers are 2-3, having all three losses come on the road. The Bengals started the season winning three of their first four games, but loss their last two contests, one being against the rival Cleveland Browns.
This Sunday night, Cincinnati will look to end their two-game losing streak and even their divisional record, while Pittsburgh hopes to put an end to a three-game losing streak on the road and start perfect in divisional play.
Looking at everything from quarterbacks to coaching, the Bengals and the Steelers seem to be overall evenly matched. However, it’s hard to decipher which part of the game will be most critical in deciding who will win this AFC North battle.
Both teams have quarterbacks that made the Pro Bowl last season, and are considered the cream of the crop at their position. Both running games are anemic, and both offensive lines have been porous to say the least. In analyzing the weapons used in the aerial attack, the groups of receivers are potent on both sides.
Defensively, both teams have talented pass rushers who can get to the quarterback in a hurry, but between the two, they have defensive backfields that have only snagged a total of three interceptions this season.
Let’s take a look at the breakdown of each position and see who will potentially have a chance of coming out on top in this contest.
Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger and Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton both have carried the offense of their teams and have done everything that they could possibly do up to this point of the season. Dalton is fifth in the NFL in passing yards (1,726), while Roethlisberger has the fourth best quarterback rating in the league (99.9). Dalton has more touchdown passes (12) than Big Ben, however, Dalton’s nine interceptions is tied for second most in the league, and could be a liability for the Bengals this week. Roethlisberger’s carefulness with the football has been evident with just two interceptions in five games, to go along with his 10 touchdown passes. Despite the lack of turnovers caused by both teams’ defensive backfields, Dalton should have a tougher time trying to dissect Pittsburgh’s fourth-ranked pass defense.
The running games of both teams haven’t been close to good this season. Cincinnati’s leading rusher, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, only has 362 rushing yards in six games. As for Pittsburgh, running backs Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman are listed as questionable with an injured Achilles and an ankle injury respectively. The Steelers’ running game is ranked 31st in the league, and will more than likely have to depend upon the under-experienced Baron Batch. Considering how dependent Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley has been on the passing game, the uncertainty of an offensive line that is decimated with injuries, and the banged up backfield, I don’t predict that Pittsburgh will do that much running this week.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green is putting up All-Pro numbers so far this season. Green’s 628 receiving yards are tops in the league, and his six touchdowns are tied for second. In addition to Green, Cincinnati has two other dangerous pass catchers. Wide receiver Andrew Hawkins and tight end Jermaine Gresham each have over 300 yards receiving and two touchdowns. As for the Steelers, wide receiver Mike Wallace poses a threat on long balls, while fellow receiver Antonio Brown and tight end Heath Miller can wreck havoc over the middle and in the red zone. Green, Hawkins, and Gresham all have proved to be deep threats, recording receptions of 73 yards, 59 yards and 55 yards respectively. However, Pittsburgh’s fourth-ranked pass defense just might slow that down a bit, along with linebacker LaMarr Woodley returning to the lineup to help the Steelers’ pass rush.
Having right tackle Marcus Gilbert and Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey sidelined with injuries, Pittsburgh’s offensive line will be suspect going into this game. All eyes will be on rookie offensive tackle Mike Adams. The second-round draft pick, who had trouble in the preseason, will get another chance to prove that he is able to start in the NFL. Cincinnati’s o-line has had their share of struggles as well. Though they aren’t riddled with injury like Pittsburgh, they have given up 17 sacks this season. The Bengals’ inconsistency in pass protection and the Steelers’ new-look offensive line makes this decision a toss-up.
The Bengals is second in the league with 20 sacks. Fifteen of Cincinnati’s sacks have come from the defensive line. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins leads the team with six sacks, followed by defensive end Michael Johnson’s five sacks. The Steelers’ defensive line has only been able to tally three of their team’s 11 sacks this season. The number of tackles by both teams’ defensive lines stands out just like the sack differential. Even though Cincinnati is giving up an average of 116.8 rushing yards per game, it won’t matter since Pittsburgh will more than likely pass majority of the time.
The expected return of Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley should help generate a more consistent pass rush for Pittsburgh. Woodley and fellow linebacker James Harrison have only been on the field together for one quarter of football this season. Having both in the starting lineup will make matters more difficult for a Bengals’ offensive front that has surrendered 17 sacks this season. In last week’s defeat to the Tennessee Titans, Harrison, Larry Foote, and Jason Worilds each recorded a sack, along with an interception by Lawrence Timmons. Pittsburgh’s linebacking corps looks to be on their way back to being the dominate force that everyone is use to seeing.
There aren’t any stellar statistics to be shared in this category. The secondary of both teams have a total of three interceptions. The only good thing to show is Pittsburgh’s average of 200.8 passing yards allowed per game (fourth in the league). Other than that, the numbers won’t tell much of the potential impact that each team’s defensive backfield will have on this game. However, there are a couple of things that tip the scale. The absence of Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu gives the Steelers a great disadvantage in this game. In addition, the inconsistent play of Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor has raised questions of concern as well.
On special teams, both teams are almost a carbon copy of each other. Pittsburgh’s kicker Shaun Suisham has connected on 11 of 12 field goal attempts, while Cincinnati’s Mike Nugent was good on 10 of his 11 attempts. The Steelers’ Drew Butler has averaged 42.4 yards per punt, while landing eight of them inside the 20-yard line. Cincy’s Kevin Huber has a slightly better average of 45.0 yards per punt, and has placed opponents inside their 20-yard line 13 times. In the return game, Adam Jones has taken one to the house on one occasion for 81 yards, and is averaging 17.6 yards per punt return. Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown and rookie Chris Rainey haven’t found the end zone in the return game as of yet, but either one has the potential to do so at any given point in time. Brown made the Pro Bowl last season due to his special teams play, and Rainey proved to be a threat during the preseason.
Throughout the first five years of his tenure, head coach Mike Tomlin has had great success against the Bengals. As a head coach, Tomlin has a lifetime record of 8-2 versus Cincinnati. In addition to the success of Tomlin against this division foe, Pittsburgh also has the defensive genius of defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. Some may question the play calling of offensive coordinator Todd Haley, but the fact that he brings a new offense to the table, an offense that the Bengals aren’t accustomed to seeing, this just may work in the favor of the Steelers when it comes to strategizing against Cincinnati’s defense.
Follow me on Twitter @ClydeASpeller
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