Despite suffering a disappointing loss last week, the Pittsburgh Steelers did get a bit of a break as three of the other teams they are competing against for playoff positioning also slipped up, and now there are six different teams in the AFC with a 7-5 record, looking to capture one of the two Wildcard spots.
But the Steelers still have their sights set on the division title, which they have failed to win over the past three seasons. The control their own fate in their own hands in that regard, but the most pivotal game in that quest, perhaps, is this afternoon against the Cincinnati Bengals on the road, who pace the division with a 8-3-1 record.
The defense will most likely have to put forth a more convincing effort than they did last week, after surrendering five touchdown passes to Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints. Brees put up 257 yards on only 27 pass attempts, completing 19.
But the Saints, who entered the game eighth in rushing, also found success on the ground as Mark Ingram rushed for 122 yards on 23 attempts. The Bengals also commandeer a successful rushing attack with Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill, as the two have both rushed for over 500 yards while maintaining at least four yards per carry and splitting 11 touchdowns on the ground between them.
While Andy Dalton is not having the Pro Bowl season that he put together last season with his 33 touchdown passes, he does have the weapons in the passing game to have a big day at any time.
Most significant is, obviously, A.J. Green, who missed time earlier in the season, but has close to 700 receiving yards on 45 receptions with five touchdowns—not quite the numbers he’s put up over the last two years, but, again, his talent is such that any game could be a breakout performance.
With the state of the Steelers’ secondary, not to mention the health, that day could be today if they’re not careful. Pittsburgh ranks 16th in the league, giving up 242 yards per game through the air, but they are tied for giving up the fourth-most touchdowns through the air on the season with 24. Of course, that’s what happens after a five-touchdown game.
The Steelers figure to get some pieces back up and running, perhaps most notably nose tackle Steve McLendon, who has missed a handful of game this year with a shoulder injury. He seems set to return, however.
Also returning are Ryan Shazier and Jarvis Jones, though both will likely see limited roles in their first game back. With James Harrison likely out, it will be up to Arthur Moats, who has started seven games this year, to assume the bulk of the snaps at right outside linebacker.
The Steelers have been turnover-deprived of late, but Dalton has thrown nine interceptions over the course of the past five games.