Often times, when we post the weekly five keys to victory, the factors in the game usually revolve around the X’s and O’s. While there will be some of those in this week’s version, the mental and emotional aspects of the Bengals versus Steelers matchup has higher importance than most other weeks.
Here are this week’s five keys to a Bengals victory as the team heads to Pittsburgh this Sunday.
After seeing the emotional implosion that led to an improbable playoff loss, the Bengals gained a reputation for being a bunch of undisciplined hotheads. While it may or may not be a totally fair designation, this Sunday provides a huge test to see if Cincinnati has truly changed its stripes.
It isn’t just Adam Jones that needs to play it cool at Heinz Field, though. Steelers players, fans and even coaches have proven to be the type to try and goad the Bengals into stupid penalties. Cincinnati needs to play their own physical game and not fall into Pittsburgh’s one of entrapment.
Sound Quarterback Play in the Elements:
Heinz Field is notorious for being tough on kickers, but points may be coming at a premium because of a 50 percent chance of rain on Sunday. While it likely isn’t to look anything like the torrential downpour of the Wild Card matchup, rain-soaked footballs aren’t easy to throw for any quarterback.
After a terrible start against the Jets, Andy Dalton hit a groove and made a lot of nice passes to lead the team to the win. His performances in poor weather have been hit-and-miss, but he’ll need to be sharp on Sunday if the Bengals want to head back home 2-0.
Premier Safety Play:
George Iloka and Josh Shaw played pretty well in various roles last week in New York, but there was some semblance of disappointment with Shawn Williams. For more than one reason, having sound play from the back end of the Bengals’ defense will definitely help lead the team to success.
First and foremost, the Steelers employ one of, if not the best wide receiver in the game. Cincinnati will undoubtedly bracket coverage to No. 84, so containing him will be a goal. Some other unproven supplemental receivers stepped up for Pittsburgh on Monday night, so the Bengals’ safeties will also need to keep a watchful eye on them.
Williams’ play is especially critical because of who he is replacing. Though the new starter had a clinching interception against the Steelers last year, Reggie Nelson was a constant thorn in the Steelers’ side for six seasons, so Williams will be under the microscope.
Improved Pass Protection:
The worst part of the Bengals’ win against the Jets was their inability to protect Dalton. There seems to be a building trend that Cincinnati’s offense has trouble with diverse 3-4 defenses. With the weather potentially being poor and the environment proving hostile, keeping Dalton clean is of utmost importance this week.
While most will immediately point at center Russell Bodine, there were issues all over the line last week which could trickle over to this Sunday. Cedric Ogbuehi is making just his second career start after a lukewarm debut, while the guards will try to rebound after some ups and downs in New York.
Contributions from Rotational Defensive Linemen:
The thinness of the defensive line has been coming into focus since the regular season started, as DeShawn Williams was inactive in Week 1 and Pat Sims is looking like he might have the same designation this week. Margus Hunt stepped up nicely on both defense and special teams last Sunday, so another quality outing as a rotator would be extremely helpful.
If Williams takes Sims’ place, it will be a big week for him. The team has high hopes for him, but with Marcus Hardison, Brandon Thompson and Andrew Billings all out of the lineup, he will need to be active against the potent Steelers offense.