Week 12 is essentially do-or-die for the Cincinnati Bengals as they host their bitter rivals. The Steelers are atop the AFC playoff seeding and come into Paul Brown Stadium trying to lock down the division.
This week’s keys to a Bengals victory are really mostly about getting back to basics and executing the little things—which Cincinnati hasn’t been able to do against the Steelers or in primetime. Let’s have a look at the top five aspects in which the Bengals need to be successful to get to 6-6.
Tune out the pregame noise and chatter:
The Steelers are kings of running their mouths and usually back it up with their play. We’ve seen them goad the Bengals into retaliation of all kinds, as they keep getting into their heads.
Whether it’s with Le’Veon Bell’s recent baby-ish comments about Joe Mixon, Vince Williams’ threatening of Vontaze Burfict a couple of years ago, or whatever the case, the Bengals just need to play sound, hard-fought football. It’s one thing to let these types of things fuel proper play, but don’t let the “bulletin board material” breed recklessness.
Don’t commit dumb penalties:
Speaking of recklessness, oh boy. This kind of piggybacks on the previous point, but these type of dumb penalties have killed the Bengals in these contests—no more obvious than the 2015 Wild Card debacle.
These usually occur because of on-field play and jabbering, so again, the Bengals will need to retaliate with good execution of a game plan and not with cheap shots, etc. The NFL’s officiating has held a tight leash on Burfict lately (and yet, surprisingly not on headhunter Mike Mitchell), so he, Adam Jones and a myriad of others will need to properly discern physical play from dumb actions. You just can’t give Ben Roethlisberger and that offense free yards.
Don’t just pressure and hit Ben Roethlisberger—sack him:
Cincinnati’s defense has vastly improved on getting to the passer in 2017 from last year, as evidenced by their No. 3 ranking in sacks (33). Yet, the first time these two teams met this year, Cincinnati’s front had one of their worst games of the season as they failed to notch a sack.
Simply put, this can’t happen on Monday if the Bengals expect to win. On the rare occasions the Marvin Lewis-led Bengals have beaten Roethlisberger’s Steelers, they have pounded Big Ben. Cincinnati needs to hit him, yes, but we’ve all seen No. 7 pull a Houdini act and lob up prayer passes for big plays. They have to bring him to the ground.
Protect Andy Dalton:
Again, we’re talking basics. If you’re impressed with the Bengals’ sack totals this season, well, they are currently being one-upped by the Steelers who rank second in the league with 38 sacks. Last time these two teams met, Pittsburgh sacked Andy Dalton four times and pressured him multiple others to force two interceptions (side note: those were the last interceptions Dalton has thrown to this point).
Dalton, like most other quarterbacks, is clearly better when he isn’t feeling heat. The embattled Bengals offensive line played better last week, but they will need to essentially play their best collective game of the year against Pittsburgh.
Run the football/mix up the looks on offense:
How can you help pass protection? By being able to run the ball effectively and use play-action, etc. Keeping the vaunted Pittsburgh defense on its heels won’t be easy, and most believe that a lot of passing against their corners could be the way to go, but I’m still preaching balance.
Mixon had his breakout game last week and it’s no coincidence that it came with a career-high in carries (23). Like many other backs, he gets stronger and more productive with more touches, but let’s not shove Giovani Bernard completely out of the picture, either. He’s made some exciting plays against Pittsburgh over the years as well.