When the Pittsburgh Steelers travel to take on the Cincinnati Bengals on Saturday, the Bengals are expected to be without starter quarterback Andy Dalton. Even though he is expected to sit out of the Wild Card game, the Bengals will still have a more than capable quarterback with A.J. McCarron and Pro-Bowl receiver A.J. Green on the field.
During his weekly press conference, head coach Mike Tomlin was asked what he had seen from McCarron since the Week 14 match-up against the Bengals.
“I think that the number one thing that he has proven, is that they’re capable of calling and executing their offense,” Tomlin said. “I see very little schematic deference in terms of how they are attacking people whether he’s in there or whether Andy’s in there. It’s probably a compliment to not only to him and his preparation, his ability to learn and prepare on a limited number of snaps, but also to their coaching staff. Hugh Jackson and those guys, they’re teachers.
“It’s obvious their program hasn’t skipped a beat. They’re showing a similar personality. They have some package things that they do week-in and week-out that you have to be prepared for. There might be a little bit more of that on their video in recent weeks than there was when Andy Dalton was playing wildcat and such, but largely the things they are asking A.J. to do are no different than the things they ask Andy to do.”
McCarron fared rather well against the Steelers defense when coming off the bench for an injured Dalton in the first quarter of Week 14. On 32 attempts, McCarron completed 22 passes for 280 yards. He also had 2 touchdowns along with 2 interceptions, one of which was a William Gay pick-six. One of McCarron’s touchdown passes ended up being his longest pass of the day, a 66 yard pass to Green.
On Tuesday Tomlin told the media, “A.J. Green is A.J. Green, you spend a lot of time trying to minimize him.”
Minimizing Green is something the Steelers defense has struggled with since his rookie year in 2011. Since coming into the league, Green has averaged 12.3 targets with 6.9 receptions while averaging 93.7 receiving yards per game against the Steelers. This season he has 17 receptions for 250 yards against the Steelers. Green ranked 8th in receiving yards this season with 1,297 yards on 132 receptions.
From a defensive standpoint the Steelers will need to apply pressure to McCarron, hopefully generating turnovers and gaining the best possible field position for the offense. They will also need to keep a lid on Green, preventing quick scores from almost anywhere on the field. The Steelers will need a defensive performance similar to Week 14, when they tallied 3 sacks and caused 3 turnovers, if they are to win on Saturday and advance to play the Denver Broncos in the Divisional Round.