Bengals receiver A.J. Green is always a tough matchup for any secondary.
By Gerry Dulac / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
When the Bengals have the ball: One of the biggest differences from the first meeting is rookie RB Giovani Bernard, who has developed into a multi-purpose threat. Bernard has 620 yards rushing, but averages 4.7 yards per carry and is second on the team with 47 catches. WR A.J. Green is third in the AFC with 78 catches and 1,175 yards, but he has not had big games when matched against CB Ike Taylor. He had six catches for 41 yards in the first meeting and has 14 catches for 172 yards and two TDs in four games against Taylor. QB Andy Dalton is a smart, rhythm passer who is third in the AFC with 25 touchdowns. But he has also thrown 16 INTs, third most in the AFC, and gets into trouble when he tries to force the ball to Green. Dalton is only as good as his running game -- he is 19-3 when the Bengals run at least 30 times.
When the Steelers have the ball: The Bengals have had to alter their defensive front and protect the back end after season-ending injuries to their two best players -- Pro Bowl DT Geno Atkins and CB Leon Hall. They have tried to keep their pressure going by using OLB James Harrison in the same role he performed for the Steelers, but with more blitzes. DEs Carlos Dunlap (7) and Wallace Gilberry (61/2) have combined for 131/2 sacks and provide most of the pressure, but tackles Brandon Thompson and Domata Peko have been solid inside against the run. OLB Vontaze Burfict never comes off the field and leads the NFL with 169 tackles, including 116 solo. But the Bengals have had injuries in the secondary in addition to Hall. They lost two nickel backs to injury -- Emmanuel Lamur and Taylor Mays -- and have been forced to use Vincent Rey. They could also be with CB Terrance Newman, forcing Dre Kirkpatrick, last year's No. 1 pick, to make his first start. Kirkpatrick could be matched against Antonio Brown, who is second in the AFC with 90 catches and has four of his seven touchdowns in the past four games.
Keep an eye on:WR Marvin Jones ... A fifth-round draft choice in 2012, Jones has emerged as a big-time threat opposite A.J. Green and has started two of the past three games instead of Mohamed Sanu. Jones has 19 of his 35 catches, 271 of 518 yards and five of his eight touchdowns in the past six games. Included in that was a monster game against the New York Jets in which he had eight catches for 122 yards and four touchdowns.
Intangibles: The Bengals have won the past two meetings, including 20-10 in Week 2 in Cincinnati. And they have won two of the past four games at Heinz Field, including a 13-10 victory in Week 15 last season. That game ended a five-game losing streak against the Steelers. The Bengals haven't won three in a row against the Steelers since they won six consecutive games in the 1988-90 seasons. ... The Bengals are one of five teams who are unbeaten at home (6-0), but they are 3-4 on the road. ... The Steelers have lost two in a row and have all but been eliminated from wild-card contention, although they remain mathematically eligible.
To win, the Bengals must ...
1. Go Green. The Bengals' receiver will stretch a defense that has allowed 12 passes of 40-plus yards -- eight more than in the previous two seasons combined.
2. Get an All-Worilds performance. RT Andre Smith has to contain OLB Jason Worilds, who has five sacks, 14 hurries and 29 tackles in the past four games.
3. Blame it on Gio. Bernard has become the Bengals' version of Ray Rice with his ability to run and catch the ball.
To win, the Steelers must ...
1. Gang up on Dalton. He has the third-best road record among active quarterbacks (14-9), trailing only Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.
2. Not let Burfict be perfect. The Steelers have failed to rush for more than 100 yards in 10 games this season, including the past four.
3. Tie up Tyler. Rookie TE Tyler Eifert had a 61-yard catch in the first meeting between the teams that set up a touchdown.
Game: Steelers (5-8) vs. Cincinnati Bengals (9-4), Heinz Field.
When: 8:30 p.m.
Radio: WDVE-FM (102.5), WBGG-AM (970) and the Steelers Radio Network.
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