Everything comes down to Sunday in Pittsburgh. It's as simple as this: if the Bengals win, they're in the playoffs, but if they lose they're likely out. We have known that this is the way it would be for a few weeks now, but before we get into Steelers week, let's take a look back at the team's Thursday Night Football win in Philadelphia.
|Point One: They did what they could to blow it|
One difference between a good team and a bad team is that good teams beat other teams even if they don't necessarily play their best. Well, the Bengals definitely didn't play their best. In fact, through much of the game, it appeared that they were doing what they could to lose. Thankfully, the Philadelphia Eagles are a dumpster fire this season.
If it hadn't been for the fact that the Eagles gift wrapped a few turnovers and handed them to the Bengals, there would have been a very real chance that the Bengals would have lost on Thursday. Had they lost, things wouldn't be so cut and dry when it comes to the team's playoff picture.
It's clear that that they can't have a repeat performance on Sunday in Pittsburgh. The Steelers won't be nearly as easy as the Eagles.
|Point Two: Green-Ellis on a role|
Let's give credit where credit is due. BenJarvus Green-Ellis has rushed for four 100-yard games out of the last five and in the one game where he didn't get to 100 (he easily could have), he was only 11 yards short. Green-Ellis has picked the right time of the season to get hot and his hotness has carried him to his second career 1,000-yard season and his personal record for rushing yards in a single season.
Whatever the Bengals do on Sunday, they cannot forget to give him the ball early and often.
|Point Three: Dalton doesn't seem himself|
I am, and have been, an Andy Dalton supporter. While some criticize his arm strength or his deep-ball accuracy, I like his decision making, his leadership ability and I see him as the kind of quarterback that can take the Bengals deep into the post season. However, over the last two weeks, Dalton has seemed to struggle to not only connect on deep passes, but short and intermediate passes that he usually completes with ease. While it is the perfect time for Green-Ellis to get hot, it's the worst possible time for Dalton to struggle.
Hopefully he has it out of his system and plays well in Pittsburgh on Sunday.
|Point Four: Where is the pass protection?|
Dalton was sacked 10 times in the team's first two games, but through Week 13, the offensive line only gave up 17 sacks. That's only 1.7 sacks per game through a 10 game stretch, which isn't too terrible at all. However, over the last two weeks, the Bengals offensive line has given up 11 sacks, five to the Cowboys and six to the Eagles. The Eagles defensive line made the Bengals offensive line look so bad that Dalton couldn't get comfortable in the pocket long enough for his receivers to even get open on short routes. Dalton had to resort to scrambling for a touchdown instead of throwing for one.
There is no question in my mind that Dick LeBeau will see this on game film, if he hasn't already, and I'm sure he's going to try to recreate the problems that the Eagles defense gave Dalton. Hopefully the offensive line is ready for it.
|Point Five: Green breaks TD drought|
After wide receiver A.J. Green went nine straight games with at least one touchdown, we were a little spoiled. That's why so many were baffled at why he didn't have a single touchdown reception over the next three weeks. Well Green broke his drought on Thursday night when he caught a pass from Dalton in the right side of the end zone. He is by far the team's most valuable offensive weapon and Dalton wouldn't be near the quarterback he is without him.
We know this and the Steelers know this. Any team that plays the Bengals has it in their game plan to shut down A.J. Green. Obviously, most teams in the NFL aren't capable of doing so. In their last meeting, Green had only one catch for an eight yard touchdown. The Bengals will need more out of him and Dalton on Sunday.
|Point Six: The defense showed up when the team needed them|
The Bengals struggled not only on offense, but on defense as well through the majority of the first half on Thursday night. Offensively, the Bengals never really showed up like we expected them to, but in the second half it didn't matter because the defense showed up and bailed the offense out.
At one point in the second half, the Bengals defense intercepted a pass, fumbed the ball allowing the Bengals' Wallace Gilberry to return the fumble for a touchdown, forced another fumble, special teams recovered a muffed kick, and then forced two three-and-outs. That's four turnovers in a row followed by two three-and-outs.
It was beautiful and hopefully the defense can play that way all four quarters on Sunday.
|Extra Point: Okay, let's talk about Pittsburgh|
First of all, we all need to send Thank You cards to Jerry Jones and the Cowboys for making things a little easier for our favorite team. What an incredible game that was and it was the one and only time I'll root for the Cowboys.
This is the biggest game of the season, by far. With a win, the Bengals not only lock themselves into the playoffs, but they lock the Steelers out. With one win, the Bengals could do what they haven't done since the '81 and '82 seasons, which was go to the playoffs in back-to-back years. They would also have two winning records in consecutive seasons for the first time since the same years.
Not only would it send the Bengals to the post season, but a victory would mark a beginning of a new era in Cincinnati. One built on a solid foundation of Dalton, Green and a solidified locker room instead of the quicksand that it has been built on since the early '90s. I don't remember a time that I was more excited about a regular season game.
Let's do this.