In Week 7 the Bengals gave up on Joe Mixon and the running game, if not themselves, in a 29-14 defeat in Pittsburgh. But that was October, and now we are charging into November. After three wins against teams with a combined 6-27 record, will the Bengals be prepared and committed for a primetime Week 12 game against a formidable, playoff-bound opponent?
This week we spoke with Jeff Hartman of Behind the Steel Curtain to see how the Steelers view this game, and what to expect when the Steelers come to town.
Scott Schulze: The highly rated Steelers defense gave up 245 passing yards and three touchdowns to the much maligned Brett Hundley who had five bad starts as an NFL quarterback before facing Pittsburgh. Are there any takeaways from what he and the Packers did, which the Bengals should look to mimic?
Jeff Hartman: There are certainly aspects of the Packers' plan which can be emulated for success, but the most important is the Packers ability to win the early downs with the running game. Setting up third-and-manageable vs. the Steelers is key. When the Steelers' defense started having success, it was when they started bottling up the running game and forcing Hundley into 3rd-and-long situations. The Steelers defense is good, but have also given up the big play a lot this year. Win on first and second downs, and connect on the big play and the Pittsburgh defense is vulnerable.
SS: Given the bad blood between these two teams, and the history of injuries to both sides when these two teams face off, are Steelers fans more concerned about the Bengals pulling off an upset victory, or more concerned about coming away from the game without any major injuries?
JH: The fan base is more concerned about the injuries, but the coaches and players don't think this way. The Steelers have plenty to play for, and that would be remaining the top team in the AFC and playing for a first round bye. Also, beating the Bengals could essentially be the final nail in the proverbial coffin for their playoff hopes, and don't think that doesn't weigh in on the Steelers' minds...especially at their place in prime time.
SS: The first time around, the Bengals mysteriously abandoned Joe Mixon (who was averaging just under 7.0 yards per carry) in favor of a grossly ineffective passing game, and consequently let the game get away from them in a 29-14 defeat at Pittsburgh. After the game, Mixon grumbled about his lack of usage, and how he did more than Bell on a per-touch basis, which led Bell to troll Mixon via twitter. Do you think that’s water under the bridge, or do you foresee anything coming from that, which shows up on the field Monday night?
JH: The fact they are two offensive players who won't be squaring off in the hole, like Burfict and Bell will be doing multiple times, this is a non-story for the players. Bell will want to out-do Mixon, and vice versa, but this would be the same thing as two QBs talking trash about who is better. It just comes down to who performs better, but more importantly, which team wins.
(Editor’s note: this is TOTALLY NOT a non-story for the players and it’s funny a Steelers fan feels that way. Bell continued to talk about it this week and clearly is not over it.)
SS: Getting a bit ahead of myself, the Steelers (and Patriots) are sitting at 9-2 and seemingly set for a first-round bye, with a two game lead on third place. If the Steelers defeat the Patriots in Week 15 and are able to secure the No. 1 seed, and if the if the Bengals manage to somehow resurrect their 3-6 start and make it into the playoffs as the sixth seed, would Steelers fans savor the opportunity to face the Bengals yet once more in a playoff game, or would they prefer another opponent?
JH: I think any team would say they would rather play another team than any divisional game. The familiarity is difficult to overcome, and although it has happened, beating a team for a potential third time is very difficult. As stated earlier, another loss to the Bengals would be a crushing blow to their playoff chances, but anything is possible...especially when the Steelers and Bengals meet up.
With the Bengals’ last hopes for a playoff berth essentially hanging on this game, who wins this
SS: With the Bengals’ last hopes for a playoff berth essentially hanging on this game, who wins this Monday night showdown, and why?
JH: I think this is going to be a very good game, and much closer than most are expecting. However, I feel the Steelers are only getting better (especially offensively) and are preparing themselves for another AFC North title, and hopefully a 1st round bye in the playoffs. I think this game is very close in the first half, but in the second half the Steelers make just a few more plays than Cincinnati. I'll take Pittsburgh 27, Cincinnati 17.