Paul Dehner Jr., email@example.com
December 11, 2015
The Bengals (10-2) host the Steelers (7-5) with a chance to clinch an AFC North title. Here's a look at three keys to the game and predictions from Bengals beat writers Paul Dehner Jr. and Jim Owczarski.
Tackle the catch: Often the Steelers' receivers make their way by breaking tackles after the play, particularly star wideout Antonio Brown. The Bengals have done an admirable job the majority of the year not letting yards after catch beat them. They've shored up tackling in the secondary for the most part, but cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick still ranks toward the bottom of the NFL in tackling efficiency. He'll be tested against these receivers, as will every member of the banged-up secondary.
Hold the pocket: The offensive line struggled at times with the Pittsburgh pass rush in the first game, and the Steelers boast the same group this week. Advantages lie in the passing game against a suspect Pittsburgh secondary, so dropping back to throw it should be a significant part of the gameplan. All year when Dalton's enjoyed a clean pocket, he's deconstructed defenses. When forced to run for his safety, the results have been outputs like those against Houston and Pittsburgh.
Pick the winner: The way to beat the Steelers involves picking off Ben Roethlisberger. Often easier said than done, but the Bengals' defense confused him to the point of three turnovers in the last tilt, but that's a rarity for him against this club. Roethlisberger has thrown one interception or less in all but two games this year. The Steelers lost both of those, at home against the Bengals and at Seattle. When opportunities arise, the play must be made much like the diving interception on the sideline by Shawn Williams in Pittsburgh to set up the game-winning score.
Paul's Prediction: Bengals 24, Steelers 23
Few games bring out the unpredictable like the Steelers. For that reason, attempting to glean much from the first meeting at Pittsburgh might be difficult. No two games tend to be alike, and this Steelers offense arrives humming like at no point this season. Hard to imagine this Bengals defense containing the Steelers to the same respect as the 10-point bottling at Heinz, particularly banged-up in the secondary without Adam Jones. Would be surprised to see the Cincinnati offense struggle along the same lines. I suspect Andy Dalton and his group will do enough to clinch the AFC North title with another game-winning drive in the final minutes. Feels like a day where we leave talking about Tyler Eifert's rise to the best tight ends in the league again. A victory would serve as a defining home game of the season and offer even more reason to believe in a postseason breakthrough. In a year where the Bengals felt different, played different and looked different, the trend will continue with Dalton sweeping the Steelers for the first time in his career.
Jim's Prediction Bengals 38, Steelers 31
If this looks familiar, it's because it should – this was my score prediction from Nov. 1 when I thought the Bengals' offense (averaging 30.3 points per game) and a Steelers' offense with Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant and Le'Veon Bell all together for the first time would light up Heinz Field. Well, 26 total points later, I could only hang my hat on guessing the right team to win. But this time will be different! I know the Bengals are the top scoring defense in the league and the Steelers are seventh in that category, but I have a feeling this game might turn out like the contest in Arizona, where big plays lead to big points. DeAngelo Williams and Heath Miller created all sorts of issues for the Bengals' linebackers the first time around, and a banged-up Bengals secondary will have its hands full with Brown and Bryant. But, on the other side of things, Andy Dalton and company are back to moving the ball and putting up 30 points per game. Tyler Eifert should be back healthy, and the run game seems to have found its footing. This will be another close one, but the Bengals' offense will give them just enough to win the AFC North on Sunday.