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Bengals special teams unit needs to be on watch vs Steelers

The Bengals have a big division game coming up on Sunday against the Steelers in a star-studded affair. However, it might be one of the oft-overlooked units that could become key to a win.

Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

For the Cincinnati Bengals, "Steelers Week" could also be coined "Keep Your Head On A Swivel Week". Reason being, a few players have experienced literal jaw-cracking plays against Pittsburgh, ending promising players' seasons. It's something former linebacker Keith Rivers and current punter Kevin Huber know all too well.

Some view the instances as cheap shots, while others simply phrase them as envelope-pushers, but either way, Injured Reserve was the end result. While most eyes will be on quarterbacks Andy Dalton and Ben Roethlisberger, as well as the many exciting offensive weapons and their defensive matchups, special teams might very well play a major role in this Sunday's outcome.

The Bengals have steadily risen in NFL special teams rankings in 2015. The first four weeks saw some shaky performances for special teams, but during the past couple of weeks, special teams has given the club a big spark in two more wins before the bye. Darrin Simmons' unit might very well have to be perfect on Sunday to solidify the team's chances at a historical 7-0 start to the 2015 season.

Fending Off the Terrible Turf and Weather at Heinz Field:

Pittsburgh's home field has a reputation for causing nightmares for even the most seasoned of NFL kickers. The wind swirls in ways that are often hard for kickers to properly gauge, while the chewed up turf disallows field goal attempts of long distances. It isn't a recipe for success for Bengals' kicker Mike Nugent.

Because of sustained injuries, Nugent has only played in two of the last four Bengals games at Heinz Field. While he has been a perfect 5-of-5 on extra points, the changes to the PAT this season will be a new challenge for Nugent this weekend. Not only will the pushing back of that play become huge, but Nugent's 1-for-3 number on field goals in Pittsburgh will undoubtedly be under the limelight. Did we mention there is a growing percent chance of rain this Sunday?

Contain Antonio Brown on Returns:

The Steelers aren't shy about using one of their biggest offensive weapons on kick returns. In his illustrious five-plus year career, Brown has three punt return touchdowns and another kickoff return for a touchdown. One big return in his career included a karate kick to the face with a Cleveland Browns punter as the recipient of the move.

Another came against the Bengals in 2013, when Huber learned that tough lesson on Sunday Night Football in front of a national crowd. Even though the Bengals would go to the playoffs and the Steelers wouldn't that season, the 67-yard gut-punch from Brown still haunts Simmons' crew.

The Bengals currently rank eighth in the league in punt return yards and ninth in kickoff return yard average. Additionally, Huber has been one of the best punters in the league again this year. It's those stats that will need to be internalized once again this week with Brown looking to provide Pittsburgh a spark.

Continue Winning the Field Position Battle:

A big reason for the Bengals' success has been their ability to flip the field on opponents. Any time a team can win the field position battle, they present themselves with the opportunity to overcome turnovers (which the Bengals have had very few of in 2015) and give themselves a great opportunity to win.

They've been able to achieve this in a variety of ways. The first is with the exciting returns, thanks to Adam Jones. While he's made a bigger mark on punt returns, particularly in the past two games, he's also had some nice kickoff returns. Another is with the big left leg of Huber. The Pro Bowl punter has placed more than half of his punts in 2015 (12-of-23) inside the opposition's 20-yard line, with more than a few inside their five-yard line. The final way to win this battle is the creation of turnovers on defense. This formula, if continued, would undoubtedly play a big role in a potential Bengals' win this Sunday.