The Bengals travel to Pittsburgh on Sunday in the hopes of picking up where they left off before the bye. The Bengals have been perfect (by record) this season and have the opportunity to go 7-0 this weekend. Here are 5 keys to the Bengals getting a win against their AFC North foe.
Win the turnover battle
The Steelers swept the Bengals last season. Part of that was due to late game turnovers on the part of the Bengals. In fact, the Bengals gave the ball away 5 times to the Steelers last season. In the first matchup, the Bengals lost it twice and were crushed by a final score of 42-21. In the second they gave the ball away 3 times and lost by 10 points.
It is true that turnovers can kill a team in any scenario, but in a game dominated by emotions and fueled by hatred, a turnover can provide just enough swing to change the tide. In other words, the Bengals can't fuel the fire of the players and fans in Pittsburgh. Take care of the football and play the way you have been and this is just a stop on the Bengals' 2015 domination tour.
Stop the run
We can talk about run defense and look at where the Bengals rank against opponents' running backs. The stat that jumps out at me is 4.9 yards per carry. That is what opposing running backs are averaging against this Cincinnati defense. Add to this the fact that Le'veon Bell had a field day against Cincinnati last season and there is a recipe in there for the Steelers to succeed.
One thing in the Bengals' favor is the way the defense has handled this. Sure, the yards gained by opposing running backs have often been earned in big plays. The defense has reacted and molded into a bend but don't break unit. Meaning, yards may be up, but scoring is down. Also, late in the game the defense seems to improve and stop the run. If the Bengals limit Bell and the cutbacks he creates space with, this could be a long day for the Steelers' offense.
The Bengals play against the run has also been limited because they have held a lead for the majority of the season and teams often abandon the run when behind.
Run the football
The Steelers rank 5th as a defense in sacks. There is nothing the Steelers' defense wants to do more than to get to and rattle Andy Dalton. They will be facing the best offensive line to date and it will be a daunting task to generate the pressure they have so far this season. Yet, the Bengals can do more to ensure Dalton stays upright. If Cincinnati finds success running the football, the Steelers will be less likely for full pressure on Dalton. This will set up the passing offense as well and there are too many weapons for the Bengals when Dalton has options.
The Steelers struggle against tight ends. Really, the league struggles against good tight ends. The position lends itself well to athletic pass catchers because by design there will be a mismatch with the coverage. Pittsburgh has shown they don't have the correct scheme or personnel to matchup with a tight end like Eifert. Getting him involved again makes Pittsburgh change coverage and isolates A.J. Green or Marvin Jones. We like their odds when facing single coverage.
Hit Ben Roethlisberger
You think Big Ben is going to be a little timid about getting hit? Is he excited about facing one of the top defensive lines in the NFL? Roethlisberger is the type of quarterback who excels at extending the play. He rolls out and shakes off defenders to allow his receivers time to get open. In the past, the Bengals have struggled to contain and bring him down. On Sunday this is a must. Get to Ben, hit Ben and let him know there is going to be pressure all day.
Don't take this as wanting him to re-injure his knee. We don't root for injuries at CJ. We do however want him to be very uncomfortable.
What are your keys to the Bengals staying perfect this weekend in Pittsburgh? Let us know in the comments and we will revisit next week what went right and wrong.