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Inside the Steelers: Steelers-Bengals Preview

If there is a team that is more unpredictable than the 2014 Pittsburgh Steelers, then I’d like to see them. With more ups and downs than the Thunderbolt at Kennywood Amusement Park, the Steelers travel to the Queen City to face the Cincinnati Bengals with the AFC North Division title on the line. If the Steelers lose, they’ll likely have no chance at winning the division, not to mention, they’ll lose the ability to control their own fate when it comes to returning to the playoffs, something they’ve failed to do in back-to-back seasons. To put it mildly, it’s go hard or go home.

Despite their immense talents offensively, Ben Roethlisberger and the offense struggled mightily against a soft Saints defense last week. If Big Ben wasn’t throwing passes high or low, his on-target passes were being dropped for touchdowns. With a trio of Roethlisberger, RB Le’Veon Bell, and WR Antonio Brown, the team has no excuses for under-performing, unless they are poorly prepared by the coaches. Game planning goes a long way in today’s NFL, and for the Steelers to have two weeks to prep for the Saints and look like that is unforgivable. It’s also up to Big Ben to carry this team when called upon. This is his team. He’s the man who runs it. Since lighting up the Colts and Ravens for 12 touchdown passes, he’s managed just four scores and five interceptions since. That’s not good enough.

WR Martavis Bryant has cooled off as well, perhaps hitting a rookie wall in his first season. It was he who dropped a touchdown last week vs New Orleans. Lance Moore and Markus Wheaton need to step their games up as well. Tight End Heath Miller has been as reliable as always. This team is going to live and die by the offense. The majority of it flows through Bell who is neck and neck with the Cowboy’s DeMarco Murray as the game’s top back. Still, it would benefit the Steelers to give Bell a blow now and then, perhaps finding ways too get the ball into the hands of speedster Dri Archer. It’s amazing how the coaches can’t figure out a way to get this guy into space and flourish.

On defense, SS Troy Polamalu and CB Ike Taylor returned last week and only made a difference by being burned time after time. Taylor was scorched on a long touchdown pass from Drew Brees to Kenny Stills. The team can only hope they were just showing signs of rust from being out. If those two cannot get up to par in this game, the season is in serious danger of spiraling out of control. The defensive line has been a mess all season, and with grizzled veteran DE Brett Keisel lost for the season, and possibly his career as a Steeler, the team will look to rookie Stephon Tuitt to be the next man up. Whether at DE or NT, Cam Thomas has been a bust so far and resembles a parking cone half the time as opposing runners blow by him over and over again. The team is hoping Steve McClendon will return to aide the ailing unit. Rookie Daniel McCullers has a lot to learn. Cam Heyward has been solid, but not spectacular all season. The team signed Clifton Geathers from the Redskins practice squad on Monday.

The front seven has always been the catalyst for the Steelers defense being at the top of it’s game. When the defensive line struggles, and the outside linebackers fail to pressure the opposing quarterback, all hell breaks loose. James Harrison has been very good since returning to the Steelers, but this is still not the Harrison of old, not to mention, he’s been listed as doubtful for Sunday’s game. Jason Worilds is usually invisible. Enter 2013 1st round pick Jarvis Jones, who will return to action this week and will look to give a boost too the pass rush. This year’s 1st round pick in Ryan Shazier also returns from a sprained ankle. The defense may be ranked 12th overall, but they have a feel of being much worse. They need to tighten up their play, get to the quarterback, and create some turnovers. Easier said than done.

The Bengals offense isn’t exactly terrifying with Andy Dalton at the helm. He has been as inconsistent as the Steelers have been. He has one of the game’s top wide-outs in A.J. Green. Mohamed Sanu has been very good on the opposite side of Green. Cinci has featured more of a two pronged rushing attack lately behind Geovani Bernard and rookie Jeremy Hill. Jermaine Gresham will pose a problem for the Steelers as one of the game’s better tight ends. The Bengals aren’t sexy on offense, they just manage to get the job done on most gamedays. Dalton has been sacked only 14 times all season. Given that the Steelers have only gotten to the opposing QB 21 times this year, this could propose a definite problem for Pittsburgh. If the Steelers can’t at least sack Dalton, they had better find a way to pressure him and get some licks in on him.

On defense, the Bengals have been solid against the pass. They’ve only allowed 6.31 yards per pass – third-lowest in the league – and have surrendered an NFL-low 11 passing touchdowns.

Prediction: At this point, I honestly have no idea what to expect from the Steelers. This is a game in which they are the underdogs and are expected to begin their fall from the AFC playoff race. Funny thing is, these are just the types of games in which the Steelers come up big and surprise you. It won’t surprise me to see the Steelers go into Cincinnati and come home with the victory, only to turn around and lose to the Falcons in Atlanta next week. Even an Almanac from the future has the possibility of having the wrong result when it come to the 2014 Pittsburgh Steelers. I’m going against the grain in this one…  Steelers 24 Bengals 21

 

Team Rankings

Total Offense: Steelers rank 3rd / Bengals rank 18th

Rushing: Steelers rank 11th / Bengals rank 9th

Passing: Steelers rank 4th / Bengals rank 24th

 

Total Defense: Steelers rank 12th / Bengals rank 21st

Rushing: Steelers rank 11th / Bengals rank 25th

Passing: Steelers rank 16th / Bengals rank 14th

 

Game Information

Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5) at Cincinnati Bengals (8-3-1)

Venue: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, OH.

Game-time: Sunday, December 7th at 1:00 PM

TV: CBS

Weather: Partly Cloudy. 41 degrees at kickoff.

Vegas Line: Cincinnati (-3)

 

Game Notes

* Steelers lead the overall series against the Bengals at 53-34. Steelers lead the series playing away at 24-19.

* Last Regular-Season Meeting:  Dec. 15, 2013-  Steelers 30  Bengals  20

* Ben Roethlisberger is 295 yards from away from recording 4,000 in 2014 to mark the fourth such season of his NFL career and in back-to-back seasons.

* Le’Veon Bell will become the first Steelers running back to record 1,100 yards in a season since 2010 (Rashard Mendenhall) with 54.

* Antonio Brown will match a Steelers single-season record for touchdown catches (12) with his next scoring grab (fourth occasion in team history).

 

Injury Report (12/5/2014)

Pittsburgh Steelers

Out: T Marcus Gilbert (ankle)

Doubtful: LB James Harrison (knee)

Questionable: DT Steve McLendon (shoulder)

Probable: CB Cortez Allen (thumb), CB Brice McCain (hamstring), TE Heath Miller (not injury related), S Troy Polamalu (illness, not injury related), QB Ben Roethlisberger (not injury related), LB Ryan Shazier (ankle), CB Ivan Taylor (shoulder)

 

Cincinnati Bengals

Out: LB Vontaze Burfict (knee), LB Jayson DiManche (forearm)

Doubtful: DE Margus Hunt (ankle), WR James Wright (knee)

Questionable: DT Domata Peko (elbow)

Probable: DE Robert Geathers (hip), WR A.J. Green (thigh), TE Ryan Hewitt (illness), CB Adam Jones (concussion), T Marshall Newhouse (hip), G Mike Pollak (knee)

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Mike DrakulichYour source for Pittsburgh sports!
From Midland, "The Basketball Capital of Pennsylvania", located 35 miles NW of Pittsburgh along the Ohio River. This former steel town was home to storied athletes such as Dave Alston, Norm Van Lier, Simmie Hill, and the legendary 1965 Midland High School Basketball Team.

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