This AFC North rivalry has been very one-sided lately.
Two divisional foes coming off disappointing road losses will meet on Sunday Night Football, when the Cincinnati Bengals host the Pittsburgh Steelers at 8:20 pm EST on NBC. The Bengals dropped to 3-3 on the season last week with a surprising 34-24 defeat in Cleveland to the previously-winless Browns. The Steelers have had 10 days to recover from their 26-23 loss to the Titans that dropped Pittsburgh to an uncomfortable 2-3 on the year.
When the Cincinnati Bengals have the ball:
Quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green have become the focal point of the Bengals attack. The second-year signal caller has hooked up with his fellow sophomore pass catcher for six touchdowns this season, but the dynamic duo needs a little help from the running game. Cincinnati needs more from lead runner BenJarvus Green-Ellis (averaging only 3.4 yards per carry) to keep the Pittsburgh pressure off Dalton, who has thrown nine interceptions and been sacked 17 times in six games.
The Steelers defense has been inconsistent this season, especially in the three road losses. Injuries (highlighted by the absence of Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu) have played a big part in that, but Dick LeBeau’s unit must find a way to get late stops when Pittsburgh has the lead. The Steelers rank fourth in the NFL in yardage allowed, but 17th in points per game. Pittsburgh must apply pressure on Dalton and improve on a total of just six takeaways in five games.
When the Pittsburgh Steelers have the ball:
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been solid this season, throwing for 1,487 yards and 10 touchdowns against only two interceptions. However, the Steelers attack has been hampered greatly by injuries on the offensive line and at running back. Pittsburgh ranks 31st in the league in rushing, only compiling 74.8 yards per game on the ground. It won’t get any easier this week with top runners Rashard Mendenhall (Achilles) and Isaac Redman (ankle) listed as questionable. The good news for the Steelers is that the receiving trio of Antonio Brown, Mike Wallace and tight end Heath Miller has been very productive this season.
The Bengals defense will need a solid performance coming off two straight losses. Cincinnati should catch a break with a banged-up Steelers rushing attack, and Mike Zimmer’s crew leads the AFC in sacks with 20. The Bengals will look to continue that type of pressure on Roethlisberger, who can be very crafty in avoiding the pass rush. Cincinnati must improve in creating turnovers, only totaling seven takeaways in six games this year.
The Steelers had started at least 6-2 in each of coach Mike Tomlin’s five seasons at the helm, so the 2012 campaign is unusual territory for Pittsburgh. Even with the injuries, it is difficult to see Roethlisberger and company falling to 2-4 on the year. The Bengals will benefit from the home crowd, but look for the desperate Steelers to continue their recent dominance over Cincinnati and get back to .500 on the season.
Steelers 27 Bengals 23
---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)