The Pittsburgh Steelers are in the home stretch of their regular season now, and a playoff appearance is on the horizon. The only thing standing between them and a third consecutive ticket to the postseason is a trio of familiar opponents: their AFC North rivals.
On deck today is the Cincinnati Bengals, who have amassed a pair of wins back-to-back, which if I’m not mistaken, in the first time they have managed that task this year. But those two victories were not exactly the most impressive in the books—certainly not a fair comparison to the Steelers’ past two victories.
But Pittsburgh is looking for a fifth consecutive victory, which doesn’t happen all that often. I believe their most recent five-game winning streak came in 2009, which was followed by a five-game losing streak.
In order to get that fifth win in a row, they are going to have to survive their final road trip of the regular season in Cincinnati. The good news is that they have won their previous three road games after losing their three road games prior to that recent string of success. The less than good news is that Ben Roethlisberger has had mixed success in Cincinnati in terms of his individual performance.
A big part of this game is, no doubt, going to be about which Roethlisberger shows up on the road today. He has put together some very good games in Washington and in Indianapolis, but he has only eight touchdown passes to eight interceptions in his seven previous games away from Heinz Field this year.
If the past four games are to be any indication—and we have every reason to believe that it is—however, then we should not expect this game to fall squarely on his shoulders. Last week, in fact, Le’Veon Bell ran the ball more often than Roethlisberger threw it.
On the plus side is that the offensive line has been playing very well of late, both in terms of running the ball and protecting Roethlisberger. He has only been sacked twice in the past four games, though the Bengals’ front four always poses a challenge.
Likewise, the Steelers are hoping to challenge Cincinnati’s offensive line with their front seven, using a variety of blitz packages and one-on-one matchups to create successful situations for the likes of Stephon Tuitt, Javon Hargrave, and Ryan Shazier.
Their bookend outside linebackers, James Harrison and Bud Dupree, have also managed to produce lately. Harrison has five sacks in his past six games, while Dupree is coming off a game in which he recorded two and a half sacks.
Shazier and Sean Davis will probably be asked to cover Tyler Eifert a lot, but don’t underestimate the importance of the battles between the Steelers’ cornerbacks and the Bengals’ wide receivers. They may not have A.J. Green, but they do have depth, even if you may not be familiar with some of their names.