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Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers: Three storylines

The Cincinnati Bengals host the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday in a critical division game. We're looking at Cincinnati's defense, Jeremy Hill's rebound and Andy Dalton's clutch as pregame storylines.

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

1) BENGALS DEFENSE. If you're looking for reasons why the Cincinnati Bengals have won five of their past six games, it's simple. Defense. Cincinnati has only allowed 311 yards per game, to the opposing offense, over the last six games... During Cincinnati's first six games, they averaged 416.7 yards allowed per game. A breakdown of Cincinnati's defense from the first six weeks to the last six weeks.

FIRST SIX GAMES LAST SIX GAMES
TOTAL YARDS 416.6 311.3
PASSING YARDS 270.3 207.5
RUSHING YARDS 146.3 103.8
POINTS ALLOWED 23.3 17.8
THIRD DOWNS 36.8% (32/87) 38.0% (30/79)

2) JEREMY HILL. After drawing the irritation of offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, running back Jeremy Hill will enter Sunday's game after a disappointing showing against Tampa Bay... and a need to be more effective when he carries the football -- specifically, breaking tackles. A resumption from his four-game production, from Weeks 9-12, that generated 448 yards rushing, three touchdowns and a 5.5 yard/rush average, could be within reach, though we figure Pittsburgh will key off Cincinnati's run.

3) DALTON CAREER AGAINST THE STEELERS. If you're looking for excellent quarterback play, don't expect it from Andy Dalton when the Bengals play Pittsburgh. In six career games (2-4 starting record), Dalton has only completed 53.8 percent of his passes with a 199.7 yard/game average, seven total touchdowns, five interceptions and a career rating of 71.6.

That doesn't mean that Dalton can't make the occasional pressure-packed throw. There's the 15-yarder to A.J. Green in Pittsburgh, putting Cincinnati in a position to kick the game-winning field goal, which sent the Steelers home and clinched a postseason berth for the Bengals.

If the Bengals win, we're not expecting Dalton to dominate the game... but he will be a big reason for the win (such as by making a critical third down conversion).