The (8-5) Pittsburgh Steelers will battle the (5-7-1) Cincinnati Bengals on the road Sunday afternoon as the new leaders of the AFC North. Below are seven things that I believe the Steelers will need to do in order to come away with their ninth win of the season against a Bengals team that will be looking to play spoiler at home.
Run At Geno – The Bengals have had problems stopping the run this season and especially when it comes to plays aimed right at defensive tackle Geno Atkins. In fact, the Bengals have allowed well over a 5.0 yards per carry average this season on runs to right guard and right tackle. This isn’t going to be a huge surprise to many of you, but Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell should be able to run all over the Bengals defense in any direction and early and often. Nothing fancy, just straight inside zone and split zone plays. Forcing a safety to come up to help will really open things down the field for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Score First – The Bengals are 4-1 this year when scoring first compared to 1-6-1 when their opponent does. In fact, they have scored on their first two possessions each in their last two games. In the Week 2 game between these two teams the Steelers forced the Bengals to punt on their first two possessions and that ultimately led to Cincinnati scoring just 6-points in the first half. We’re looking for a repeat of that today.
No Burfict Games – Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict might be a dirty player, but he’s really done a good job of controlling himself the last few weeks and especially since the game against the New England Patriots. Believe it or not, the Bengals enter Week 15 tied with the Houston Texans as the least penalized team in the NFL. The Steelers offensive linemen cant led Burfict goad them into taking any silly penalties that could ultimately kill drives.
Control Third & Boyd – While the Bengals won’t have wide receiver A.J. Green on Sunday, they will have rookie Tyler Boyd, who is really having a nice first season all things considered. During the Bengals last four games, Boyd has caught 12 of 14 passes thrown his way on third downs and 11 of those achieved the desired result. If the Steelers defense can limit Boyd’s third down productivity in this game it will be huge. More than anything, the defense needs to get him down on the ground quickly when he does make a catch.
No Explosive Hill – Nearly 300 of the 788 rushing yards that Bengals running back Jeremy Hill has registered this season have come on 12 runs of 10 yards or more. Hill is going to get some carries in this game and while he’s likely to average more than 4 yards per tote, the Steelers defense needs to keep his long runs to 7 yards or less.
Win The Tight End Differential – This game will feature two explosive tight ends in Tyler Eifert and Ladarius Green. Both can exploit the middle of the field and vertically for big gains. While Eifert is sure to catch a few passes Sunday, none of them can go for scores. He had two just last week. As for Green, the Bengals have had their share of problems when it comes to covering tight ends this season so expect Roethlisberger to attempt to exploit that. Remember, former tight end Heath Miller had a total of 20 receptions during the two regular season games between these two teams last year. Can Green outperform Eifert in Cincinnati on Sunday? He likely needs to.
Good Road Ben – Roethlisberger has struggled on the road this season and while all of them weren’t his fault, he did throw three interceptions last Sunday that allowed the Buffalo Bills to stay in the game for a very long time. Roethlisberger needs to spread the football around as much as he can against the Bengals and not try to force something out of nothing like he did last week on his interception to wide receiver Antonio Brown after other personnel was late getting on the field. The Bengals offense might be short a few key players, but they are still good enough to capitalize on short fields provided by turnovers.