In the NFL, the cliche of winning on third down rings true every week. The upcoming matchup between the Bengals and Steelers showcases this cliche, as both teams have had different results on this critical down.
How many times have you witnessed it? A seemingly impossible third down situation for the Steelers, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger drops back and is seemingly wrapped up for a sack ending the drive. But, before you can celebrate, he frees himself of two or three defenders while throwing up a hope and a prayer to one of his receivers for a big gain. What's more, it's usually throwing back across his body and throwing back across the field--a cardinal sin for NFL quarterbacks. Yet Big Ben gets away with it so often.
Such is the case again this year. Though they haven't relied on the big Mike Wallace bomb plays as much in 2012, the Steelers have been exceptional at converting third downs on offense. How exceptional? Try No.1 in the NFL at a whopping 51.9% rate. At that percentage, they are nearly 5.5% percent higher than the New England Patriots at No.2. Even though they are 2-3, it hasn't been the Steelers offense that hasn't done their part. To be blunt, the Steelers offense has been incredibly frustrating for opposing defenses.
To combat that, the Bengals defense will really just need to keep the status quo, as surprising as it is. They currently rank ninth in the NFL on allowing third down conversions by opposing offenses. It seems as if opposing offenses have had much more success than this against the maligned back seven of the Bengals defense, but they haven't. If the Bengals can continue this against the Steelers offense, it should go a long way to help Cincinnati's chances.
What about the Bengals' offense? It's been noted that they have struggled throughout the year on third down, but just how much? They are ranked dead last in the NFL on converting third downs with their offense. At a 26.7% clip, they are converting 25% less third downs than the Steelers offense. Just as the Steelers' offense has been frustrating to opposing defenses, so has the Bengals' offense to their fans.
Now, comes the biggest surprise of them all in this whole numbers games with the Steelers and Bengals on third down. The vaunted Pittsburgh Steelers defense is currently ranked 31st in allowing third down conversions this year. At 49.2% (one-tenth of a percent away from tying for last place with the Oakland Raiders), the Steelers have not been their usual clutch selves on third down. Injuries to Troy Polamalu, James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley and others have not allowed the Steelers defense to be the same unit that it has been over the past two decades.
So, as you can see, there will be four different battles taking place--all with polar opposite results up to this point. It is on this critical down in the game of this enormous AFC North battle that will decide the victor, and likely two different outcomes of the 2012 season.