Saturday, December 06, 2014

Bengals-Steelers scouting report, prediction

By Paul Dehner Jr. and Richard Skinner4:11 p.m. EST December 5, 2014
Sep 16, 2013; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown (84) runs with the ball after making a catch during the third quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
Well, the last time the Bengals played a home game on Nov. 6 against Cleveland, quarterback Andy Dalton completed just 10 of 33 passes for 86 yards and threw three interceptions for a rating of 2.0, which was one of the five worst performances in the NFL since 1960 for a quarterback with 30 or more attempts.
In the three games since that performance, Dalton completed 59 of 84 passes (70.2 percent) for 629 yards, five touchdowns and four interceptions, three of which came in the first half of last week's win at Tampa Bay. His rating in those three games combined was 91.8.
Dalton has struggled in six career games against the Steelers, compiling a 2-4 record and a 71.6 rating.
Wide receiver A.J. Green has more career catches against the Steelers than any other team he has faced (33 in six games), but he's been held to just 11.5 yards per catch.
The Steelers have struggled against the pass this season as opposing quarterbacks have combined for a 98.6 rating, 24 touchdown passes and only eight interceptions.
Corners Will Allen, Ike Taylor and Cortez Allen have all graded below average in coverage, according to, as has free safety Mike Mitchell, who is a Highlands High School grad.

The Steelers also have sacked the quarterback just 21 times.
Running backs Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard struggled a bit last week at Tampa Bay when they combined to rush for 89 yards on 23 carries after combining to rush for 132 yards on 35 carries the week before in Bernard's first game back after a three-game absence due to injury.
The duo has combined to rush for 1,223 yards and 11 touchdowns this season with Hill leading the way with 683 yards and a 4.7 per carry average, and Bernard rushing for 540 yards and a 4.0 per carry average.
Left tackle Andrew Whitworth and guards Clint Boling and Kevin Zeitler all have positive run-blocking grades according to
The Bengals are 7-0-1 when rushing for more than 100 yards this season and 1-3 when they don't.
Pittsburgh has been inconsistent at stopping the run, but is 5-1 when holding opponents under 100 yards rushing and 1-4 when allowing opponents to rush for 143 yards or more.
Linebacker Lawrence Timmons, who leads the team with 107 tackles, has graded out the best as a run defender and nose tackle Steve McLendon is also a run stuffer.
Defensive end Cam Thomas, who moves back into the starting lineup in place of injured Brett Keisel, has a horrible grade against the run (minus 14.7).
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is on pace for the best statistical season of his career, as he is averaging a career-high 308.8 yards per game passing and has thrown for 26 touchdowns, which is just six shy of his career high.
Over the last five games, he threw for 1,847 yards and 16 touchdowns, although over the last three games, he threw five interceptions, which is one of the reasons the Steelers went 1-2 in those three games.
In games this season in which he attempted 40 or more passes, the Steelers are 1-4.
His top target is wide receiver Antonio Brown, who already has 96 receptions for 1,258 yards and 11 touchdowns.
The next leading receiver is running back Le'Veon Bell (65 catches for 643 yards) followed by tight end Heath Miller (58 catches for 583 yards).
Wide receiver Markus Wheaton has 41 receptions for 503 yards, while rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant has six touchdown receptions.
The Bengals rank second in the NFL in opponent passer rating (75.0), and while they have recorded only 15 sacks, ends Carlos Dunlap and Wallace Gilberry and tackle Geno Atkins do have 27 quarterback hurries each.
Second-year back Le'Veon Bell already has almost 200 more yards this season than last and on 28 less carries. He has 1,046 yards rushing and is averaging 4.8 per carry. In the last two games combined he rushed for 299 yards on 54 carries after averaging 16.3 carries per game in the first 10 games. The Steelers have no other back on the roster with more than nine carries.
Right tackle Marcus Gilbert is the highest-graded run blocker according to at plus 4.9 (0.0 is considered average) and center Maurkice Pouncey is next at plus 4.3. Left tackle Kelvin Beachum is also above average (plus 1.3), while right guard David DeCastro (minus 1.8) and left guard Ramon Foster (minus 1.0) are just slightly below average.
The Bengals have been superb at stopping the run of late. In winning their last three games, the Bengals held their three opponents to 71.0 yards per game rushing and to 3.0 yards per carry.
The Bengals are 5-0 this season when holding opponents under 100 yards rushing and 1-3-1 when opponents rushed for 147 yards or more.
The Steelers are 3-0 when Bell has rushed for more than 100 yards.
Steelers kicker Shaun Suisham has made 20 of 21 field goals under 50 yards, including 9 for 9 from 40-49 yards, but is just 1 for 3 beyond 50.
The team's punter, Brad Wing, is averaging 43.5 gross and 39.0 net with only 19 of his 47 punts being returned.
Antonio Brown is a dangerous punt returner, but is averaging just 7.7 per return this season with a long of 36, while the Steelers are only averaging 21.0 per kickoff return.
Bengals kicker Mike Nugent didn't attempt a field goal last week, but he has made eight straight attempts since his miss from 36 yards on the final play of overtime against Carolina forced the Bengals to settle for a 37-37 tie.
Punter Kevin Huber has been superb all season, and while one of his punts last Sunday bounced into the end zone for just his fourth touchback of the season, he had his 24th punt of the season downed inside the 20. He has a 47.5 gross average and a 44.1 net average with only 22 of his 56 punts having been returned.
Adam Jones ranks second in the NFL in kickoff return average (31.4) and is fifth in punt return average (11.7). He took his first fair catch of the season last week, which ended a streak of 96 straight punt returns since his last fair catch in 2006.
Dalton's Day
Most Bengals games hinge on which version of Andy Dalton shows up. The case amplifies against Pittsburgh. The Steelers have struggled mightily against the pass this year with an aging secondary. Mismatches will be available with A.J. Green on Ike Taylor as well as Mohamed Sanu on William Gay. Can Dalton get them the ball consistently? Can he avoid Pittsburgh coordinator Dick LeBeau rattling his cage? The last time Dalton played at PBS he posted the 2.0 passer rating. The Bengals need the quarterback of the last three weeks to show up in order to put away the Steelers.
Avoid the improv chunk play
Nobody improvises in the pocket and uses those to create big plays as well as Ben Roethlisberger. Marvin Lewis this week called him the best he's gone against in that regard in 23 years of coaching. The Bengals excelled at keeping passes in front of them allowing only four receptions of 30 yards or more. If they can take that hammer away from the Pittsburgh quarterback and force the Steelers to work the ball down the field the advantage flips in the Bengals favor. Big Ben has thrown the second most passes in the NFL 20-plus yards in the air. Expect plenty of shots at the Bengals strength.
Answer the Bell
Not allowing Le'Veon Bell to run begins the game plan any time preparing for the Steelers. He's already racked up 1,046 yards on the ground and another 643 yards through the air. Pittsburgh will offer up chance after chance for the extremely patient runner to pop a long run. He's averaged a full yard more per carry in wins compared to losses. His running game can set off everything else the Steelers like to do with Antonio Brown and Roethlisberger in the passing game. You could see a good amount of linebacker Rey Maualuga matched up on Brown in pass coverage. Maualuga has played extremely well in his return this year, but chasing Bell as a receiver will create a challenging matchup.
The Steelers face the possibility of missing the playoffs for the third consecutive season if they can't beat the Bengals at least one of these two December showdowns. The last time Pittsburgh missed the playoffs three years in a row was 1998-2000.
Both the Bengals and Steelers have been involved in exactly 80 red zone possessions this year. Cincinnati has driven into the red zone 36 times and had to defend it 44 times. Pittsburgh has driven into the red zone 42 times and had to defend it 38. While the Steelers are enjoying more trips, the Bengals hold a significant advantage in efficiency once arriving there.
The Bengals are tied for 10th in the NFL in offensive red zone touchdown percentage. They rank seventh in allowing the fewest touchdowns per trip. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, ranks 20th in offensive TD percentage and 21st in defensive TD percentage.
Looking at the totals of offensive and defensive red zone trips going the correct way, here are the Bengals and Steelers on their 80 possessions.
Bengals: 80 trips — desired result 44 times
Steelers: 80 trips — desired result 38 times
The Steelers defense typically stands among the best in the NFL, particularly since Dick LeBeau joined as defensive coordinator. They currently rank 21st in the NFL in points allowed. Ranking at that level is unprecedented in recent Pittsburgh history.
The last time they ranked outside the top half of the NFL in points allowed was 1991 under the late Chuck Noll.
Here are the Steelers points against rankings the last five years:
2010: 1st
2011: 1st
2012: 6th
2013: 14th
2014: 21st
The coaches
Bengals: Marvin Lewis (98-93-2 overall) is in his 12th season. Lewis is 7-16 in his career against his hometown team.
Steelers: Mike Tomlin (83-49) is in his 8th season as an NFL head coach, all with the Steelers. He leads the series against Marvin Lewis 10-4.
Series history: The Steelers lead, 53-34.
Last meeting: Pittsburgh beat Cincinnati 30-20 at Heinz Field last December. Cincinnati won the last meeting at PBS, 20-10, on Sept. 16 last year.
What to watch: WR Antonio Brown vs. Bengals CBs
The Steelers top receiver evolved into one of the premier pass catchers in football over the last few years. This season stands out as his best yet. Brown already piled up 96 receptions for 1,258 yards and 11 touchdowns. He's eight catches and three yards clear of Denver's Demaryius Thomas for the NFL lead league in both categories. Those numbers stem from more than big plays, but rather consistency. No team held Brown to less than 74 yards receiving this year and only two under 90. He's gone 28 consecutive games with at least five receptions.
While Brown excelled, the Bengals secondary continually shuts down the other team's wideouts. Over the last six games, only Allen Hurns from Jacksonville has managed to gain more than 56 yards in a game. The last two weeks they held Tampa's top receiver Mike Evans to four receptions and 49 yards and Houston's Andre Johnson to just three receptions for 36 yards. Terence Newman, Adam Jones and Leon Hall have enjoyed a year on par with any of the top secondaries in football.
In two games last year against Cincinnati, Brown combined to catch 11 passes for 123 yards and one touchdown. His biggest impact came on special teams where he returned a punt 67 yards to give the Steelers a 21-0 lead in the first quarter which the Bengals couldn't recover. In fact, he's returned two punts for touchdowns in his career and both came in blowout victories against the Bengals (35-7 at Heinz Field in 2011).
Leon Hall on the versatility of Antonio Brown:
"They put him everywhere. They put him in the slot, put him outside. They run screens. They've put him in the backfield and done a few things with that. You have to be ready for anything and everything."
Paul's Prediction
Pittsburgh enters desperately needing a win or else playoff aspirations slip out of their hands and into others. Word out of the Steelers locker room this week used phrases like "must-win" and "backed in a corner." The Bengals felt that way three weeks ago when Marvin Lewis said the three-game road trip will define their season. They won three straight and a roll similar to the previous two years gains momentum. On paper, the Bengals look like the better team. The Steelers defense is down as low as they've been in decades and face a Bengals team which beat them two out of the last three meetings, including an elimination game at Heinz Field in 2012. Pittsburgh's struggles in the secondary along with the erratic play of the Bengals quarterback eventually tie this game back to Andy Dalton. They'll go as he goes. I think he finds a way to squeak out a close one, as he has done in the majority of tight games this season.
FINAL: Bengals 23, Steelers 20

No comments: