Earlier on Saturday, Josh Kirkendall wrote that one of his keys to a Bengals victory against the Steelers on Sunday is for Cincinnati's defense to step up and play well. I don't disagree with that notion--the defense will have to contain the run in a way that they couldn't in their first matchup and make sure that Ben Roethlisberger doesn't make some of his patented "backyard football plays". After all, anytime your defense plays well, it keeps you in the game.
The other big key that many are mentioning is the play of quarterback Andy Dalton. He's put up some gaudy numbers in his second year and has the team in the playoff hunt, but he's proven to be a streaky quarterback. There's no doubt that he will need to limit his mistakes against the Steelers--but, what will be his best friend this Sunday? A solid running game.
As it is with most marquee matchups, there is more than one key to a victory. I'm looking at the offense--particularly the offensive line, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Co. The Bengals have won five of their last six contests and all victories have featured the running game. BenJarvus Green-Ellis looks like a different back in the second half of the season, ripping off 30-plus yard gains in every game, along with three rushing touchdowns. Cedric Peerman has also contributed during the stretch with 161 rushing yards, but he's missed the past two games with an ankle injury that he suffered against the Chargers. He's questionable this Sunday after practicing all week in a limited fashion.
Aside from the obvious recent Bengals pattern of "run the ball, win the game", there's some old football adages that go along with this key to victory. When you run the ball effectively, you wear down an opposing defense, chew the game clock and keep the other team's offense off of the field. All of these, would obviously help the Bengals against their bullying foe this Sunday.
If Cincinnati runs the ball well and builds a lead, it could also lead to Roethlisberger attempting to do more than he should and cause him to make turnovers. Hogging the ball and owning the clock usually forces the opposition to become one-dimensional as an offense. "Big Ben" is an amazing comeback artist and makes plays that aren't often seen in the NFL, but we've also seen him get overconfident in his abilities and make poor decisions in trying to rally his team back from a deficit. If he's forced to pass often, the Bengals front line and their league-leading
Last, and perhaps more importantly, establishing the run gives the Bengals an attitude and would prove that they are not intimidated by the big, bad Steelers. Though Pittsburgh has relied on Roethlisberger's arm and legs for victories, the Steelers have long been known as a smashmouth team who pounds the ball with big running backs. Be it Jerome Bettis, Rashard Mendenhall, or now Jonathan Dwyer, the Steelers have always prided themselves on running the football effectively.
With the Bengals being able to do so, it takes away the pride of the Steelers and gives a hot Bengals team confidence on the road. It will quiet the raucous Heinz Field crowd and stop the yellow towels from waving. Simply put, the Bengals would be imposing their will on the Steelers, instead of vice-versa, which we've seen so often in the past.
To make this possible, all of the big boys on the Bengals offensive line better be ready and the stable of running backs must take advantage.