Saturday, December 22, 2012

Gameday: Cincinnati Bengals

Home, Sweet Home
Radio: WDVE and other affiliates

What To Watch For

1. The Time Is Now

Time has run out on the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers. There is no longer any room for error. The Steelers must beat Cincinnati if they want to have any hope of making the playoffs. The Bengals can clinch a playoff spot with a win and eliminate the Steelers in the process. The Steelers have had plenty of opportunities against mediocre teams this season and have left plays on the field. As a result, we're entering week 16 staring at a 7-7 team on the verge of missing the playoffs. That said, the Steelers still do control their own destiny but every scenario in which they can make the playoffs requires a victory over Cincinnati today. Any way you slice it, the Steelers must beat the Bengals.

2. Keenan Lewis vs AJ Green

This is the single biggest matchup of the game. Lewis reaggravated his hip injury last week but is listed as probable this week. With Ike Taylor still out, Lewis figures to draw all-world receiver AJ Green. In the first meeting between these teams, Ike completely shut out Green aside from one catch for a 7-yard touchdown on a slant route where Ike was in single coverage with no help over the middle. Lewis has played solid this season but Green is the best receiver he will face all year. The return of Cortez Allen on the other side means the Steelers won't be lining up guys that just came in off the street as their starting corners, but look for the Bengals to go to a 3 WR set to try to get mis-matches against the Steelers nickel defense.

3. Run The Ball

The Bengals have the 9th-ranked run defense in the league, but in the first meeting between these two teams the Steelers dominated Cincinnati on the ground. Their 167 yards were the second most against the Bengals this season. Most of those yards came up the middle with Jonathan Dwyer going for 122 on 17 carries. With Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, and David DeCastro anchoring the middle of the line, the Steelers should ground and pound against the relatively soft middle of the Bengals defense.

4. Steelers O-line vs Bengals Front Four

Cincinnati's front four has been dominant this season. Much like the New York Giants, they will rotate six guys in and out of their defensive front depending on the situation. DT Geno Atkins is the leader of the group with 10.5 sacks on the season. Ends Robert Geathers, Michael Johnson, Carlos Dunlap and Wallace Gilberry have combined for 21 more sacks this season. The Bengals get after the quarterback and they do it in a variety of ways with pressure and stunts and twists from their front four. The ability of the Steelers line to handle the Bengals front and win at the point of attack will be a key factor in this game. In the last two weeks, the Steelers have gotten beat in the trenches which has resulted in the stagnation of their running game. The Steelers need to get back on track and that starts by winning battles in the trenches.

5. Keep Them Honest

The Bengals have a great pass-rushing defensive line, but as a team they tend to over-pursue and can be exploited with misdirection plays and end-arounds. In the first meeting between these two teams, the Steelers ran 4 end-arounds (2 to Brown and 2 to Wallace) that gained a total of 30 yards. They also called a reverse pass with Brown throwing for a wide open Baron Batch who flat out dropped the ball. The end-arounds kept the Bengals defense honest and enabled the Steelers to pound them up the middle both with the run and the pass. In their first meeting, in addition to a dominant performance on the ground, the Steelers worked the middle of the field in the passing game. Heath Miller had 6 catches for 53 yards and a touchdown.

AFC Playoff Picture

With two weeks left in the season, the AFC North is the only division that has not been decided. Houston has clinched the AFC South and will clinch the top seed in the AFC with a win over Minnesota. Denver has locked up the AFC West and has the inside track for the #2 seed. New England needs a Denver loss to get the bye but has the AFC East wrapped up. In the North, Baltimore holds a one-game lead on Cincinnati and a two-game lead on Pittsburgh. In a strange scenario, if the three teams all finish the season with a 9-7 record (which would require the Steelers to beat the Bengals and Browns, the Bengals to lose to the Steelers and beat the Ravens and the Ravens to lose to the Giants and Bengals) the Steelers would actually win the AFC North.

For the Wild Card, the 9-5 Colts have the advantage on the #5 seed and need only a win over Kansas City to clinch the 5th seed. Cincinnati currently holds the 6th position with an 8-6 record over Pittsburgh (7-7) and Miami (6-8). The Bengals only need a win over Pittsburgh this week to wrap up the 6th and final playoff spot.

The Steelers still control their own destiny in the Wild Card race and can reclaim control of the 6th spot with a win over the Bengals. The Steelers can not clinch a playoff spot this week, but they can put themselves in position to do so next week. The margin for error is zero, as a loss to Cincinnati will eliminate them from playoff contention. If the Steelers beat the Bengals and the Ravens lose to the Giants, the Steelers would be in position to win the division in Week 17.

Strangely enough, Miami is still barely clinging to life in the playoff race. At 6-8 they need Cincinnati to lose out (Pittsburgh and Baltimore) and Pittsburgh to split their final two (beat Cincinnati and lose to Cleveland) while they win their last two. In a three-way tie at 8-8, The Steelers would beat the Bengals on head-to-head but lose out to the Fins on Conference Record.

There are only two games left, but anything can happen. 

It's going to be cold and sunny for the game tomorrow.

Be loud. 




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