Sports Magazine

Game 8: Bengals at Steelers

By Kipper @pghsportsforum
Game day from Heinz Field, as the undefeated AFC North rival Cincinnati Bengals invade Pittsburgh.
Countdown to Kickoff:
Countdown to kickoff: Bengals at Steelers
Posted Oct 31, 2015
By Mike Prisuta
Week 8 matches up the 6-0 Cincinnati Bengals and the 4-3 Pittsburgh Steelers in an AFC North showdown.
Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3) vs. Cincinnati Bengals (6-0)
Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015
Heinz Field
1 p.m.
SERIES HISTORY: Steelers lead, 55-34 (Steelers lead, 1-0, postseason).
LAST MEETING: Steelers 27, Bengals 17, Dec. 28, 2014, Heinz Field: The Steelers got a 71-yard punt return for a touchdown from WR Antonio Brownthat opened the scoring and a 63-yard touchdown pass from QB Ben Roethlisberger to Brown that closed it in what became an AFC North Division-clinching victory. A forced fumble and recovery by CB Antwon Blake after a completion to WR A.J. Green with the Steelers leading 20-17 in the fourth quarter set the stage for the Roethlisberger-to-Brown exclamation point.
LAST TIME OUT: QB Landry Jones and OT Alejandro Villanueva made their first NFL starts but the Steelers lost to the Chiefs, 23-13, in Kansas City. The Bengals were off last Sunday after staying undefeated via a 34-21 win on Oct. 18 at Buffalo.
WHEN THE BENGALS HAVE THE BALL: They’ll have options aplenty, more than enough for QB Andy Dalton to take what’s there rather than have to resort to forcing the ball to certain individuals or into high-risk areas. No wonder Dalton has thrown for 14 touchdowns and just two interceptions and has the NFL’s best passer rating (116.1).
RB Jeremy Hill and RB Giovani Bernard personify the Bengals’ versatility. Hill is the hammer but he caught a touchdown pass at Buffalo. Bernard is the passing-down back but he rushed for a score against the Bills. They work behind a talented, athletic offensive line anchored by OT Andrew Whitworth, a veteran capable of protecting Dalton’s blind side (he’s been sacked six times) and pulling to help lead the rush.
Green is the most explosive and most accomplished of the receivers but he’s far from alone as a play-maker. WR Mohamed Sanu includes throwing and running as well as catching in his repertoire. And WR Marvin Jones was good enough to catch nine balls for 95 yards and a touchdown at Buffalo in response to the Bills deciding to load up to stop Green and TE Tyler Eifert. The Bengals like to line Eifert up split wide, in the slot, in the backfield, wherever they think they can dictate a favorable matchup. But if it’s not there they’ll go elsewhere. And on the rare occasion when Dalton gets in a jam and has to leave the pocket he can count on Green coming back to the ball and making himself available. It’s a pick-your-poison offense that’s tied for No. 1 with New England in red zone efficiency (TDs 71.4 percent of the time).
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PHOTOS: Steelers/Bengals Statistical Leaders
WHEN THE STEELERS HAVE THE BALL: Roethlisberger’s presumed return will be wrought with challenges. It starts up front with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of linemen and pass-rushing linebackers (DE Carlos Dunlap is tied for the NFL lead with 6.5 sacks). The Bengals like to rush with four and they’re good enough to get away with it. The 425 rushing yards the Bengals have allowed in their last three games and the 4.9 yards per carry Cincinnati opponents have averaged this season suggest the Bengals sometimes become a little too enamored with getting up the field.
LB Rey Maualuga anchors the middle of the defense. Strong-side OLB was shared by A.J. Hawk (running downs) and Emmanuel Lamur (passing downs) at Buffalo. Weak-side OLB Vincent Rey has taken over for Vontaze Burfict (P.U.P. list, knee), who might be Cincinnati’s most dynamic defensive player yet somehow hasn’t been missed. The secondary is a veteran group augmented of late by fourth-year pro and first-year starter Dre Kirkpatrick (LCB) and second-year CB Darqueze Dennard (nickel), two former No. 1 picks. They’ve helped the Bengals compensate for the in-and-out status of veteran CB Leon Hall (back).
The Bengals are No. 22 in total defense but they’re No. 11 in scoring defense (20.3 points per game). They usually keep the ball from going over their heads and rally hard to the ball from all directions, and they’re a good tackling team. They’re not impenetrable, but they’re not a comfortable defense to play against.
SPECIAL-TEAMS HEADLINERS: CB Adam Jones is averaging 12.1 yards per punt return and 27.6 yards per kickoff return and is hold-your-breath explosive doing both. Cincinnati’s overall kicking-game prowess (and one interception) added up to an average drive start of the Bengals’ 41-yard line at Buffalo, as opposed to the Buffalo 15 for the Bills. Steelers K Chris Boswell made two more field goals at Kansas City and hasn’t missed a FG (7-for-7) or a PAT (5-for-5) in three games with the Steelers.
THE X-FACTOR: Rookie OL Jake Fisher (“No. 74 is eligible”) has a 31-yard reception this season (Cincy threw to him again at Buffalo but the pass fell incomplete). The Bengals have also lined up Whitworth and fellow OT Andre Smith split wide on opposite sides in three-“receiver”-bunches (with three interior linemen in front of Dalton) and they’ve run the read-option. And Sanu is 5-for-5 passing in his career, for 177 yards, with two TDs, no interceptions and a passer rating of 158.3 (he ran for 8 yards when an anticipated pass wasn’t open at Buffalo). Cincinnati has even flirted with a Wishbone look. What will OC Hue Jackson think of next? And will it work?
THEY SAID IT: “It’s going to be a challenge. We’re up for it. Not much needs to be said. Even (on Wednesday), Mike Tomlin at the end of practice didn’t even say anything. It’s that type of week.” _ Steelers CB William Gayon getting ready to play the 6-0 Bengals at Heinz Field."
Game preview (from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette):
"Week 8 matchup: Steelers vs. Bengals
November 1, 2015 12:00 AM
By Gerry Dulac / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
When Bengals have the ball ...
Key performers: QB Andy Dalton, RB Giovani Bernard, RB Jeremy Hill, WR A.J. Green, WR Marvin Jones, TE Tyler Eifert, T Andrew Whitworth.
Who's hot or not: Dalton leads the NFL in passer rating (116.1), has thrown 14 touchdowns against just two interceptions, and has been sacked only twice. He has cut down on his interceptions because, with the return to health of Jones and Eifert, he doesn't have to jam the ball into Green. It is also his second year in Hue Jackson's system and he looks very comfortable.
What's been working: The Bengals offensive line has not allowed a sack in four of their six games and just six overall. Whitworth is one of the best left tackles in the league and RT Andre Smith has returned after missing the final six games with a season-ending triceps injury in 2014. The Bengals drafted G Kevin Zeitler three picks after David DeCastro in 2012, but LG Clint Boling does most of the pulling in their offense. The Bengals average 122.2 yards rushing and lead the AFC with nine rushing TDs.
Game plan: The diversity of the Bengals offense is impressive. Since Green had 227 receiving yards vs. Baltimore, teams have tried to take him away. The Bengals have merely turned to Eifert, whose six TD catches are tied for second most in the league. If teams try to take away their passing game, they run with Bernard, who leads the team with 427 yards rushing; or even Hill, who led the NFL in rushing (929 yards) over the final nine games last season.
Keep an eye on: Jones, who after missing the 2014 season with knee and ankle injuries has returned to his 2013 form when he caught 10 TDs, nine in the red zone. He has benefitted from the attention other teams employ on Green and has 24 catches for 321 yards and three TDs. In the most recent game against Buffalo, he had nine catches for 95 yards and one TD because the Bills were using double coverage on Green.
When Steelers have the ball ...
Key performers: DT Geno Atkins, DE Carlos Dunlap, DE Michael Johnson, LB Rey Maualuga, CB Adam Jones, CB Dre Kirkpatrick, S Reggie Nelson.
Who's hot or not: The return to health of Atkins has made a big difference up front for the Bengals. Atkins, a three-time Pro Bowler, had a major knee injury that ended his 2013 season and limited his effectiveness a year ago. But he looks like his old dominating self through six games with four sacks, second among the league's interior linemen. That has helped the Bengals record 17 sacks, just three fewer than they had in all of 2014.
What's been working: Unlike the Steelers, who don't have a cornerback who was drafted higher than the fourth round, the Bengals have four cornerbacks who were former No. 1 draft picks. Kirkpatrick has become a starter for the first time since he was drafted four years ago, replacing Leon Hall, who is the nickelback. Jones leads the team with two interceptions and six passes defended. His backup is Darqueze Dennard, a 2014 first-round pick.
Game plan: The Bengals' top priority will be making sure to slow Le'Veon Bell, the AFC's leading rusher who gouged them for 185 yards a year ago in Cincinnati, many on counter plays following G David DeCastro. The Bengals have been without their best linebacker, Vontaze Burfict (knee), since October 2014, and have allowed seven runs of 20 yards or longer this season. Bell leads the NFL with nine runs of 20-plus yards, including a 42-yarder last week in Kansas City.
Keep an eye on: After nine seasons in Green Bay, OLB A.J. Hawk was signed to improve the Bengals rush defense. He is part of a rotation in which he and Maualuga are used on run downs and Emmanuel Lamur is used in nickel packages. That could change if Vincent Rey, Burfict's replacement, doesn't play because of an ankle injury. Rey has been the Bengals' most active and productive linebacker with 57 tackles, 18 more than any other teammate, and an interception.
Special teams
Since he became the Bengals punter in 2009, Kevin Huber has had only three punts returned for touchdown -- all by Antonio Brown. The most recent came in the final game in 2014 when Brown had a 71-yard scoring return. Huber is seventh in the NFL with an average of 47.9 yards, but his net of 43.1 is fourth. K Mike Nugent got off to a bad start, missing two of his first five field goals, but he has converted his past four. Adam Jones led the league in kick returns (31.3 yards) and was second in punt returns (12.0) in 2014. He had three punt returns for 66 yards that were key vs. Seattle Oct. 11 and two kick returns for 69 yards in Buffalo.
To win, the Bengals must ...
1. Maual(uga) Bell. He rushed for 185 yards on 26 carries in the first meeting of 2014, many on counters behind DeCastro.
2. Go hard with Bernard. He was the first running back selected in the 2013 draft, ahead of Bell, and gets the bulk of the work in the Bengals backfield, especially on third down.
3. Keep A.B. from TDs. All three of Brown's career punt returns for touchdown have come vs. the Bengals, including a 71-yarder in the 2014 regular-season finale.
To win, the Steelers must ...
1. Gang up on Dalton. He has been sacked only six times in six games this season and has had plenty of time to look for receivers.
2. Don't give A.J. too much green. The Bengals run a lot of vertical routes and will challenge Steelers cornerbacks with their talented receiver.
3. Lean(o) on Geno. At 6 feet 1, 300 pounds, Atkins is very disruptive in the interior of the line and creates room for the edge rushers.
Gerry Dulac: [email protected]."

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