Sunday, September 15, 2013

Gameday: Cincinnati Bengals

Hamilton County Jail
TV: ESPN, ABC locally if you don't have cable
Radio: WDVE and other affiliates

The Steelers laid a dud in their season opener, but all hope is not lost.

What to Watch For

1. Offensive Line

It all starts and ends up front. If the Steelers are going to have any success at all this season, the line will need to protect Ben. After losing Maurkice Pouncey against Tennessee, the Steelers line was like a block of Swiss cheese. Ben was sacked 5 times by the Titans defense, and this Bengals front is better than Tennessee's group. The Bengals rotate all of their players on the line and have position versatility with guys like Geno Atkins who can line up on the inside at defensive tackle or on the outside at defensive end. Ben was sacked 7 times in two games against the Bengals last year with Atkins accounting for 3 of them and DE Michael Johnson tallying 2. If the Steelers can't contain the Bengals front four, it's going to be a long night in the jungle.

2. Turnovers

Andy Dalton is a decent quarterback, but he will try to force balls into coverage, particularly to AJ Green. Dalton threw 16 picks last season and threw 2 in the opener to Chicago this year. Green is one of the best receivers in the league and capable of catching any ball that is thrown to him. The Steelers, particularly William Gay, have a good history against Dalton of coming up with big turnovers at key moments in the game. The Steelers only won the turnover battle 3 times last season and turned the ball over twice against Tennessee in the opener. The defense had opportunities to get the ball back but Troy could not come down with an interception and the Titans were able to recover a fumble. The other side of the coin is the Steelers offense. Isaac Redman fumbled twice against the Titans before he was benched and recently re-acquired Jonathan Dwyer has struggled with fumbling issues in the past. Ben threw 3 interceptions in 2 games against the Bengals last season, and if the Steelers are going to win they can not afford to turn the ball over.

3. Injuries and Replacements

In addition to losing Maurkice Pouncey, Larry Foote and LaRod Stephens-Howling to injury in the season opener, starting CB Cortez Allen suffered an ankle injury that will keep him out this week. William Gay will step into the starting role. The secondary can't catch a break as #4 corner Curtis Brown came down with an illness that kept him out of practice all week and put his status for Monday's game in doubt. This means that rookie safety Shamarko Thomas will likely play the nickel corner role when the Bengals bring in 3 wide receivers. If there is a game to have a shortage of corners, it is against Cincinnati. With the drafting of Tyler Eifert, the Bengals will run a lot of 2-tight end sets and not as many 3-wide sets. Eifert and Jermaine Gresham are both first round TEs and could give the Steelers defense fits.

4. Javis Jones Era

Jones only saw the field for 31 snaps against Tennessee while Jason Worlids got 44. Worlids was largely ineffective and there were reports this week that Jarvis Jones may make his first start on Monday night. Jones has shown the abilities that made him a first round pick, coming up with a big tackle for a loss against Tennessee. As a rookie, he still will struggle a little in run defense, especially in setting the edge. However, his play-making ability is vastly superior to Worlids and he needs to be on the field. Starting Jones is the right move and it's one that everyone knew was going to happen at some point this year. Hopefully that time is now, because the defense needs its playmakers on the field.

5. Third Down

The Steelers were flat-out awful on third downs against Tennessee. They had only one third down conversion after their opening drive and none in the second half. If the Steelers are going to be successful at all this season, they will have to convert on third down and keep drives alive. They can't leave the defense on the field for 40 minutes and hope that the game will be close in the end. The offense has to play better than they did against Tennessee, and it starts with converting on third downs. Cincinnati is not a great offensive team, but giving them short fields and not coming up with third down stops is a recipe for disaster for a Steelers team that has yet to prove in 2013 that they are capable of finding the end zone.

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