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How the Bengals beat the Steelers: Looking back to Week 8

Can the Bengals repeat and improve upon the formula that led them to a Week 8 victory over the Steelers?

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals host the Pittsburgh Steelers on Saturday night in the second of four NFL Wild Card playoff games taking place this weekend.

The Bengals and Steelers played each other twice during the regular season, splitting the season series with one victory apiece. Considering the Bengals defeated the Steelers once already, we look at the Bengals blueprint for defeating the Steelers in Week 8, and see what they should keep the same and what should be improved upon to secure another win, this time, in the postseason.

An initial glance at the Bengals vs Steelers game from Week 8 doesn’t seem to provide a logical explanation for why the Bengals came away from Pittsburgh with a victory. Consider that the Bengals won the game despite:

  • Fewer rushing yards
  • Fewer passing yards
  • Fewer first downs
  • More penalty yards
  • Less time of possession
  • Lower completion percentage
  • More missed field goals
  • Worse third down conversion percentage

Typically, all of those factors combined together result in a loss, and a bad loss at that. It’s rare that such a combination would result in a victory. But the one factor which played into the Bengals’ favor was a slight 3-to-2 turnover margin, aided by picking off Ben Roethlisberger three times, while Andy Dalton tossed a pair of interceptions.

Primary key was Bengals’ defense

After an initial 12 play, 80 yard touchdown scoring drive for the Steelers on the opening series of the game, the Bengals’ defense tightened up, and only allowed a pair of field goals for the remainder of the game.

Outside of that initial touchdown drive, and their final drive, against a soft Bengals’ prevent defense, the Steelers’ passing game was completely held in check. Roethlisberger completed only 17 of 31 passes (55%) for 144 yards, and zero touchdowns with three interceptions.

The Bengals’ defense also limited big plays in the Steelers’ passing game, as only one of those 17 completions was for more than 17 yards, and only six of them reached double digits. During that stretch, Roethlisberger was also sacked three times.

On 14 of the Steelers' 15 rushes, they were limited to a mere 48 yards (3.2 yards per carry) and zero touchdowns. The inability to establish the running game led the Steelers to attempt about three times as many pass attempts as rushes.

Ultimately the Bengals’ defensive unit dominated a Steelers’ offense that went on to average over 31 points per game, following their loss to the Bengals.

Looking ahead to Wild Card game

The dominant Bengals’ defense that helped the Bengals come away with a 16-10 road victory in Pittsburgh needs to be the Bengals’ defense that shows up in the Wild Card game on Saturday night. The Bengals need the constant pressure up front that generated three sacks and kept the Steelers to short pass completions. The Bengals need the sure tackling which surfaced for 15 of the 16 Steelers’ rushing attempts, limiting them to 3.2 yards per carry on those runs. And, the Bengals need the sure hands and heads up awareness, which helped them secure three takeaways on defense.