Three weeks ago the Bengals and Steelers played a close and entertaining game for 45 minutes. Unfortunately the Bengals were under the impression that the game was only 45 minutes long and surrendered 25 points in the fourth quarter in route to a 42-21 beat down. Now the Bengals get a chance at revenge and a chance to become the first Bengals team to win back-to-back division titles.
Here is what to look for on Sunday night when the Bengals travel to the Steel City with the AFC North division on the line...
When the Steelers Run the Ball:
Steelers Run Offense: 114.9 YPG (13th); 4.3 YPA (13th); 10 TDs (t-19th)
Bengals Run Defense: 122.1 YPG (23rd); 4.4 YPA (23rd); 16 TDs (t-28th)
In their first matchup, the Bengals had no answer to Le'Veon Bell. If the Bengals want to have any chance at winning the division, they will need to find an answer to Bell. Bell is the second leading rusher in the NFL and torched the Bengals for 235 all-purpose yards and 185 yards rushing (7.1 YPA).
The good news for the Bengals, in the two games since their first matchup, Bell has averaged just 55 YPG and 2.8 YPA while the Bengals defense has allowed an average of just 69 YPG on the ground since (3.8 YPA).
When the Steelers Throw the Ball:
Steelers Pass Offense: 300.5 YPG (2nd); 8.2 YPA (t-2nd); 31 TDs (t-7th); 8 INTs (4th); 33 Sacks (17th); 104.6 Passer Rating (3rd); 67.5% CMP (3rd)
Bengals Pass Defense238.1 YPG (16th); 6.5 YPA (t-5th); 16 TDs (t-1st); 18 INTs (t-6th); 20 Sacks (32nd); 75.3 Passer Rating (3rd); 59.9% CMP (8th)
The Bengals secondary has been their strength all year long, but the Steelers feature the second ranked passing attack and racked up 350 yards through the air on the Bengals just three weeks ago, including a 94 yard back breaker. The Bengals did a good job of containing Peyton Manning and crew on Monday night, but a stationary Manning in the rain is going to be a lot different than Ben Roethlisberger.
Regardless of who starts at corner for the Bengals, the key in this matchup will be pressure. The Bengals managed zero sacks and zero interceptions in their first matchup, something that will have to change if they want to have any chance of winning. If the Bengals can't put any pressure on Roethlisberger, he will pick them apart like he did three weeks ago.
When the Bengals Run the Ball:
Bengals Run Offense: 135.4 YPG (5th); 4.4 YPA (t-9th); 19 TDs (t-1st)
Steelers Run Defense: 99.3 YPG (6th); 4.4 YPA (t-23rd); 9 TDs (t-9th)
For whatever reason, the last time these two matched up, the Bengals ran the ball to their running backs just 14 times. You read that right. The Bengals standout rookie, Jeremy Hill, had just eight carries despite averaging 5.8 YPA. In the two games since, Hill has been named the top back and averaged 23.5 carries and 147.5 YPG. Despite the Steelers number six ranking in run defense, it is safe to say that the Bengals will run the ball to Hill and Giovani Bernard more than 14 times Sunday night. And the Bengals would be wise to do so - in games where Jeremy Hill gets 10+ carries, the Bengals are 8-1. In games when Hill carries it less than 10 times, the Bengals are 2-3-1.
When the Bengals Throw the Ball:
Bengals Pass Offense: 213.3 YPG (22nd); 7.1 YPA (t-18th); 18 TDs (25th); 15 INTs (t-19th); 20 Sacks (3rd); 84.1 Passer Rating (t-23rd): 63.5% CMP (14th)
Steelers Pass Defense: 255.2 YPG (27th); 7.9 YPA (28th); 28 TDs (t-26th); 9 INTs (t-26th); 30 Sacks (t-26th); 99.4 Passer Rating (28th); 64.0 % CMP (20th)
Maybe the reason the Bengals only had 14 runs to Hill and Bernard three weeks ago was because Dalton was busy having his second best game of 2014. In Week 14, Dalton threw for 302 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs, a 93.8 QBR, 128.8 passer rating and an astonishing 10.4 YPA. Just for good measure, he threw in a rushing touchdown as well. Paralleling Dalton's success was AJ Green and his 11 receptions for 224 yards and a touchdown. However, despite their success in the air, the Bengals lost by 21. With the emergence of the run game and AJ Green's arm injury, look for the Bengals to establish the run and take calculated attacks through the air. After seeing the way Green looked last Monday night, I wouldn't expect much out of Green and would expect him to be more of a decoy than anything.
Kickoff Returns: Steelers: 21.4 Avg (28th); 0 TD; Bengals: 28.2 Avg (2nd); 0 TD
Punt Returns: Steelers: 7.9 Avg (18th); 0 TD; Bengals: 11.0 Avg (5th); 0 TD
Kickers: Steelers: Shaun Suisham: 27/30 (90.0% - 5th); Long 53 yds
Bengals: Mike Nugent: 25/31 (80.6% - t-23rd); Long 49 (1 blocked)
Punters: Steelers: Brad Wing: NET 39.6 (25th); Inside 20: 18 (31.0%); TB: 4 (6.9%)
Bengals: Kevin Huber: NET 44.7 (2nd); Inside 20: 27 (38.6%); TB: 6 (8.6%)
Kick Coverage: Steelers: 23.2 Avg (t-13th); 1 TD; Bengals: 25.5 Avg (22nd); 0 TD
Punt Coverage: Steelers: 8.2 Avg (t-12th); 1 TD; Bengals: 5.1 Avg (2nd); 0 TD
Statistically, the Bengals have a sizeable advantage in the return game and punting game, but it didn't show in the first matchup. Like Monday night, the Bengals could use a big special teams play from Adam Jones to get things going.
Mike Tomlin has 127 career games as an NFL Head Coach, a .638 career winning percentage (81-46), 3 division titles in 7 years, a 5-3 career playoff record (.610), 2 AFC Championships, 2 Super Bowl appearances and 1 Super Bowl championship. While Tomlin is making his way back to the playoffs for the first time in three years, he has a track record of winning once he gets there.
Marvin Lewis got his 100th career win as a coach in exciting fashion last Monday night. He has 191 career games as an NFL Head Coach, a .529 career winning percentage (100-89-2), 3 division titles in 11 years, and an impressive 0-5 playoff record. For those of you counting at home, that is still a playoff winning percentage of .000.
Key(s) to the Game:
The run game. Stopping the run and establishing the run. If the Bengals allow Bell to carve them up again, they will lose. 100%. The key for the Bengals will be to get their own run game going. If they can get Hill and Bernard going, they can soften up an already weak secondary and take some big shots down field. They can also keep Roethlisberger and Bell off the field. However, if they let Bell start ripping off carries at 7+ YPA again, they will play in Indianapolis next weekend.
Well, the Bengals got the proverbial "Primetime Monkey" off their back last week and now they get their second shot in as many weeks. I thought these two would split at the beginning of the year and I am sticking with that prediction.
Bengals 24, Steelers 20