When it comes to college football, victory often lies in the matchups. The disparity in talent often times will be so obtuse that good coaching can exploit them over and over, with the opposing coaches unable to account for it. We see it most often in the defensive secondary or between offensive tackles and defensive ends. In the NFL, the talent level is much more balanced, even between the best team and the worst team in the league, the level of talent in most positions is fairly even. So, when a team has a matchup they can expose through a scheme, it can be a real tipping point to victory. This week as the Pittsburgh Steelers take on the Cincinnati Bengals the matchup I want to talk about is between the middle of the Steelers defense and the Bengals wide receivers and tight ends.
The Bengals best receiver, AJ Green loves to work on the perimeter and he is one of the top wide outs in the AFC. The Bengals are most likely going to move Green around to keep him away from the Steelers top corner Ike Taylor. But the real key for the Bengals is going to be to get their running game going. And the matchup they need to take advantage is going to be in the middle of the field.
The Steelers are going to stack the box, give safety help deep for Green, and try and force Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton to make plays down-field with his arm. What the Bengals should try and do is work that middle of the field, running shallow crosses, seam routes and drags, to pull linebackers Lawrence Timmons and Larry Foote out of the box, and give the running game some lanes. This is also a good play for the Bengals because with a safety staying deep to account for Green, there should voided areas behind the linebackers and in front of the safetys that tight end Jermaine Gresham could do damage in, along with wide receiver Andrew Hawkins running those short outs and option routes where he can make a short catch and run.
If the Bengals can do this, the counter to it for the Steelers is for the linebackers and safetys to tackle well, don’t let them make long runs after short catches, and Taylor is going to have to cover Green, because if he gets burned early, the Steelers will have to drop into a Cover 2 shell, and it’ll really open up the first level for the running game.
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