The (10-6) Pittsburgh Steelers will play the (12-4) Cincinnati Bengals Saturday night on the road at Paul Brown Stadium in one of the two AFC Wild Card games and here are the six biggest storylines currently surrounding the playoff game between two teams that don’t really like each other.
TNT Debut – With veteran running back DeAngelo Williams ruled out for Saturday night with a foot injury, the Steelers will turn to the duo of Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman to replace him against the Bengals. This will mark the first time the two players have dressed during the same game and combined this season they have touched the football 22 times for 64 total yards from scrimmage. The two reportedly split carries in practice this past week so while Toussaint is likely to start Saturday night, Todman figures to get some work in the game as well. This duo will hopefully produce more than the trio of Dri Archer, Josh Harris and Ben Tate did last year in the Steelers Wild Card game loss at home to the Baltimore Ravens.
Challenge Accepted – Earlier in the week, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger challenged wide receiver Martavis Bryant to pick up his game in the playoffs after only catching two passes for 6 yards in the team’s final two regular season games. Bryant accepted the challenge and now it’s time for him to back it up on the field Saturday night. The Steelers aren’t likely to take a lot of deep shots against the Bengals defense because of the two-deep coverages they like to run, so Bryant will likely have to do a lot of his damage underneath while making sure to catch anything deep thrown his way.
Pop Gun In, Red Ryder Out – The Bengals will again be without their Red Ryder, quarterback Andy Dalton, Saturday night as he’s yet to fully recover from a fractured thumb that he suffered in the Week 14 against the Steelers. With Dalton out, backup A.J. McCarron will make his fourth-straight start and will thus be looking to do something Dalton hasn’t so far during his career and that’s win a playoff game.
Under Pressure – Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler finally released the dogs last week against the Cleveland Browns after failing to do so in the team’s Week 16 loss to the Ravens. Being as the Steelers four-man rush hasn’t been all that this season, Butler again needs to blitz heavily and send numbers after McCarron Saturday night. While McCarron is young and inexperienced, he does have a good arm and appears to have a solid grasp of the Bengals offense in the games that he’s appeared in. In other words, if the Steelers lay back, he will likely pick them apart just like Ravens quarterback Ryan Mallett did a few weeks ago.
Have You Ever Seen The Rain? – Rain and windy conditions are expected Saturday night in Cincinnati and it will be interesting to see if that plays a part in the game in the form of turnovers, poor footing, balls blown off course and so on. There’s currently a 90% chance of rain and the temperature at kickoff might actually be below 40 degrees. Roethlisberger is an experienced mudder while McCarron isn’t.
Hue Changing Colors Soon – While it isn’t likely a big factor, you can’t help but notice all of the attention that Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is receiving right now being as he is set to interview for a few of the head coaching vacancies around the league starting on Sunday. Is his mind elsewhere right now? I doubt it, but he does have bigger things ahead of him as soon as the Bengals season ends.