We're doing something slightly different here. While we're gearing up for our five keys to victory for the Cincinnati Bengals later this afternoon, we wanted to put together a discussion talking about five players that will need to step up against Pittsburgh on Sunday. The idea is this: Either the player is underperforming or has some history against this week's opponents that they should be used more. Easy enough.
5. Bernard Scott
We all know that the Bengals tend to go as Cedric Benson goes. In 15 career 100-yard rushing games as the team's feature back, the Bengals are 13-2. Saying that Benson is a key against the Steelers is like saying that breathing is the key to living. Yet Benson's history against the Steelers hasn't been one bit productive, averaging 3.35 yards/carry and only 45 yards rushing per game.
For some reason when the team actually elects to put him in the game, running back Bernard Scott performs either on offense or special teams. He returned a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown that was the difference during Cincinnati's 18-12 win in 2009. And during their last meeting earlier this year, Scott posted a 5.43 yard/rush average on seven carries including two of the team's top three runs.
We don't care how he's on the field. Put him at cornerback for all we care, just get him in the game because the more he plays against the Steelers, the more productive he'll become.
4. Kevin Huber
Yes. The Cincinnati Bengals punter. We figure Cincinnati's weekend romp against the Pittsburgh Steelers will at some point turn into a battle of field position. It's usually true in most NFL games but with two of the league's top-five defenses clashing on Sunday, it will be critical for Kevin Huber to unleash smashing punts to shift field position.
Granted he has a leg (actually two if you want to get technical). The thing is, he has to do it consistently. In all but two games this season Huber has registered at least one 50-yard punt and he's dropped opposing offenses inside the 20-yard line in every game, save for the most recent against the Cleveland Browns.
During Cincinnati's last encounter against the Steelers, after the Bengals went three and out on their opening possession, Huber angled a 38-yard punt that was returned six yards to the Steelers 46-yard line. Eight plays later the Steelers scored a touchdown.
But then Huber smashes a 59-yard punt from the Bengals 41-yard line that was pushed back to the 10-yard line after the Steelers were called for an offensive hold. They went three and out during their ensuing possession. A second quarter 15-yard punt against the Baltimore Ravens allowed them to score a game-tying touchdown with only half the field even though Huber punted from the Bengals own 40-yard line. Later in the second quarter, Huber punted the football 32 yards from Cincinnati's 45-yard line and thanks to Geno Atkins, the Ravens didn't pick up a first down. His second and third quarter punts against the Ravens went 15, 32, 36 and 35 yards.
Field position could be everything on Sunday and Huber will have to become far more consistant then he has been this year for Cincinnati to win that battle.
3. Jerome Simpson
With the undying respect that the Steelers are showing Cincinnati's two high-profile rookies this week, it can only mean that Dick LeBeau is secretly formulating a game-plan that not only will shut both of them down, it will literally help the human resistance defeat Skynet. Therefore the Bengals will have an opportunity for players to Sam Fisher the Steelers.
They didn't have that last time. Once A.J. Green suffered a hyperextended knee hauling in a 36-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter, the focus was distributed to guys like Jermaine Gresham and Jerome Simpson. Thing is that Jermaine Gresham actually stepped up, hauling in four receptions, one of which was a touchdown.
Simpson on the other hand failed to post a single reception on four targeted passes. If I really have to say that "Jerome Simpson needs to improve on that"...
2. Brandon Tate
Nearly every Bengals fans just said, effing yes.
Since returning a punt 56 yards for a touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks, Tate has recorded just one return of 20 yards or more. And against the Cleveland Browns, he literally averaged -2.5 yards. Seriously. True. Coverage team needs to improve but Tate, who replaced a likeable Quan Cosby, has been a disappointment all season prompting the question, "what exactly has he brought to this team."
How many games has Tate averaged at least 30 yards on kickoff returns? Zero.
If there's no significant improvement in Tate's return game, at some point you have to believe that some combination of Andrew Hawkins, Adam Jones and Bernard Scott (and what the hell, Cedric Peerman) would be better options than Tate.
1. Bengals Secondary
Adam Jones has played 17 games since 2006, missing two full seasons and spending the first six games on the Physically Unable to Perform list. Not only is he starting for the Cincinnati Bengals in wake of Leon Hall's season-ending injury, Adam Jones could be the team's feature shutdown cornerback with the news that Nate Clements might miss this weekend against the Pittsburgh Steelers. In one year the Bengals have gone from one of the league's top cornerback duos in Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall to Adam Jones and possibly Kelly Jennings.
Cincinnati will face the league's eighth-ranked passing offense this weekend, though the defense only allowed 223 yards passing to the Steelers in week ten -- and that was during Hall's season-ending injury with Adam Jones already on the shelf. At the same time Clements had a decent game, only allowing three receptions for 27 yards receiving.