With both the Pittsburgh Steelers (2-3) and the Cincinnati Bengals (3-3) stumbling into their week seven AFC North grudge match the loser of this game could easily find themselves looking on the outside in come postseason time. It may just be October but the loser of this one will find themselves with four losses already and with the Baltimore Ravens sitting at 5-1 and running away with the division a since of urgency must arise amongst these two teams who were expected to challenge Baltimore for the division title.
The Steelers don’t resemble the Black and Yellow of years past and that is largely due to their lack of running attack; currently Pittsburgh is ranked 31st in the league in terms of rushing yards gained per game with 74.8 yards and that will have to change this week against the Bengals who are 21st in the league against the run allowing 116.8 yards per game. Rashard Mendenhall will miss yet another game for Pittsburgh which mean Isaac Redman is going to have to fill his shoes which he hasn’t been doing such a great job of doing this season (50 carries for 127 yards, a TD and just 2.5 yards per carry). Ben Roethlisberger (1,487 yards, 10 TD, 2 INT and completed 64.2% of his attempts) has pretty much been the Steelers offense this season and any time a defense minded team relies too heavy on the passing game then that means their defense is on the field entirely too long. Speaking of the Steelers defense they are as good as ever in the yardage categories ranking fourth in both total offensive yards allowed per game (295.8 yards) and passing yards allowed per game (200.8 yards) and fifth in rushing yards allowed per game (95 yards) but they are tied for 17th in points allowed per game (23 points) which is not where they usually are and that has to be a direct effect of spending too much time on the field.
The Bengals are surprisingly one of the better offensive teams in the league this season ranking ninth in total offensive yards gained per game (382.2 yards), eighth in passing yards gained per game (282.8 yards) and 12th in points scored per game (24.8 points). The major reason behind this offensive renaissance is the second-year combo of quarterback Andy Dalton and wideout A.J. Green. Dalton has passed for 1,726 yards (5th in NFL), 12 touchdowns and completed 66% of his attempts while Green has hauled in 43 of Dalton’s passes for 628 yards (1st in NFL) and six touchdowns (tied for 2nd). If these two can torch the Pittsburgh defense then that will open up things in the running game for BenJarvus Green-Ellis (107 carries for 362 yards and 2 TD) which will then give the Bengals a greater chance to earn this victory and stay above .500 on the year.
The x-factor in this game is going to be the Steelers banged up offensive line attempting to halt the Bengals ferocious pass rush. Cincinnati has 20 sacks as a team and at the fore-front of that pass rush is defensive tackle Geno Atkins who has six sacks this year and defensive end Michael Johnson who has five of his own on the season. If Pittsburgh can’t contain the rush then it won’t be good for Roethlisberger and it could mean the Steelers falling to 2-4 and possibly missing out on the postseason for the first time since 2009. Troy Polamalu will be sidelined again this week with that calf injury which means Dalton and Green can expose the middle of the Pittsburgh secondary.
I think the Bengals are the better team at this stage of the season and I like them to get the win in a defensive struggle, 16-10.