The Pittsburgh Steelers will play the 6-0 Cincinnati Bengals Sunday at Heinz Field and below are seven key things that I believe they will need to do in the game in order to come away with a big AFC North home win.
Tackling the problem – In several of the Steelers first seven games, their defensive tackling has led to a lot of unnecessary yards. As evidenced in their Week 6 win over the Arizona Cardinals, the unit has the ability to tackle like they should and they’ll need a repeat performance of that game on Sunday if they’re going to beat the Bengals, who enter the game averaging 2.64 yards per drive, which is currently third-best in the league.
Born to run wild – Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell is showing once again this season that he’s perhaps the best in the game right now at his position as he’s already gained 511 yards on the ground on his 103 carries. Sunday, Bell will face a Bengals defense that hasn’t defended the run well at times so far this season and the Steelers should try to exploit that weakness early on in the game as that will set up play action for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. So far during Bell’s career, the Steelers are 8-1 when he carries the football 22 or more times in a game. Their one loss came back in Week 4 to the Baltimore Ravens and they should’ve won that game as well.
7 Protection – Roethlisberger will be playing Sunday for the first time since spraining his left MCL back in Week 3 so the Steelers offensive line has to protect him from the Bengals pass rush at all costs. The Cincinnati defense enters Sunday’s game averaging nearly 3 sacks and 12 quarterback hurries a game and if they come close to those averages against the Steelers, Roethlisberger figures to be in for a long afternoon.
Blitz Red – Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton is having a fantastic season and that includes him only being sacked six times in six games. The Steelers have to find a way to get to Dalton on Sunday and it won’t be easy as the Bengals offensive linemen have only been charged with one of those six total sacks. Being as Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt won’t be playing against the Bengals, defensive coordinator Keith Butler is likely going to have to blitz Dalton quite a bit in hopes that bringing numbers will result in either a sack or an ill-advised throw. Five of the six sacks allowed by the Bengals this season have come when opposing defenses have blitzed.
Win on 1st – Part of the Bengals success on offense so far this season can be attributed to how good they’ve been on first downs as they are averaging 6.32 yards in those situations. The Steelers defense, on the other hand, has allowed an average of 6.41 yards per play on first downs so far this season and that’s not encouraging to say the least. If the Steelers defense is unable to keep the Bengals offense off schedule on first downs on Sunday, there’s no reason to think the game will go the way they want it to on the scoreboard.
Brown needs a “special” play – If the Steelers are going to knock the Bengals from the ranks of the undefeated on Sunday, they’re probably going to need a few plays out of their special team units. Being as wide receiver Antonio Brown has registered all three of his career punt return touchdowns against the Bengals, he’s a perfect candidate to make a special teams play or two on Sunday. The longest punt return the Bengals have allowed all season is 21 yards, so Brown will certainly have his work cut out for him in this game when it comes to that skill set. It only takes one big one, however, to change a game.
One possession game – As long as the Steelers can keep it a one possession game on Sunday, they’ll have a chance to win with Roethlisberger back under center.