Scouting Report: Steelers vs. Bengals AFC wild-card game
January 9, 2016 5:27 PM
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is able to get the ball off as he's pressured by the Bengals' Geno Atkins in November at Heinz Field.
By Gerry Dulac / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
When the Bengals have the ball
Key performers: QB AJ McCarron, RB Giovani Bernard, RB Jeremy Hill, WR A.J. Green, WR Marvin Jones, WR Mohamed Sanu, TE Tyler Eifert, LT Andrew Whitworth, RG Kevin Zeitler.
Who’s hot or not: Since replacing Andy Dalton in the second quarter of their Dec. 13 loss to the Steelers, McCarron has a 2-1 record and has not thrown an interception in those three games. But, after throwing a 66-yard TD to A.J. Green against the Steelers, he has completed only four passes longer than 20 yards and failed to make plays because of missing open receivers. He also has been sacked 12 times.
What’s been working: Hill had a season-high 96 yards, including a 38-yard TD, on 16 carries against the Ravens last week and leads the team with 794 yards and 11 rushing TDs. He has 190 yards on 54 carries since managing just 16 yards on seven carries against the Steelers. But offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is not hesitant to switch to Bernard, who has 83 yards on 28 carries the past three games. Hill and Bernard have combined for 1,524 yards on 377 carries, a 4.04-yard average.
Game plan: The Bengals top priority is making sure McCarron doesn’t turn the ball over. As such, he has not attacked downfield trying to make big plays. The Steelers tied for the AFC lead with 30 takeaways. However, they have also allowed seven passes of 34 yards or longer, including three of 60-plus yards, in the past six games. Green has more catches (69), receiving yards (937) and TDs (6) against the Steelers than any other team.
Keep an eye on: With a knee injury to FB/TE Ryan Hewitt, the Bengals have been using rookie RT Jake Fisher (6-6, 306) in that role. Fisher threw the lead block on Hill’s 38-yard TD run against the Ravens. The Bengals will also use an unbalanced six-man line. Rookie T Cedric Ogbuehi, their No. 1 draft choice, comes in as the extra lineman. The Bengals have rushed 39 times for 142 yards in two games against the Steelers.
When the Steelers have the ball
Key performers: DT Geno Atkins, DE Carlos Dunlap, DE Michael Johnson, LB Vontaze Burfict, LB Ray Maualuga, CB Dre Kirkpatrick, CB Adam Jones, S Reggie Nelson.
Who’s hot or not: Since he returned from a year-long knee injury Nov. 1 against the Steelers, Burfict has helped improve the Bengals rush defense. They are allowing an average of 79 yards rushing in the past five games and have allowed just one run longer than 20 yards in the past four. The Steelers are second in the AFC with 15 runs of 20-plus yards, but they’ve had only one in the past four games. Burfict played 90 percent of the snaps last week against the Ravens.
What’s been working: The Bengals are probably the best in the league at generating pressure from the defensive line. Their four-man front has accounted for 37 of the 42 sacks and features one of only two tandems in the league with double-digit sacks — DE Carlos Dunlap (131⁄2) and DT Geno Atkins (11). Dunlap will be matched against RT Marcus Gilbert, his friend and former college teammate who allowed only one sack in the regular season — to Dunlap in the most recent meeting.
Game plan: Priority No. 1 for the Bengals should be the same as last meeting: Don’t get beat deep. The Steelers lead the NFL with 21 completions of 40-plus yards, 13 of which have come since their first meeting at Heinz Field. But the Bengals have allowed a league-low 39 passes of 20-plus yards by rushing four, dropping seven into coverage and rarely blitzing.
Keep an eye on: Nelson has 30 interceptions in nine NFL seasons, but six have come against Roethlisberger, including three this season. He had two in the first meeting Nov. 1 at Heinz Field, the biggest coming on a bad overthrow with 2:44 remaining that led to a game-icing field goal. Roethlisberger has thrown more interceptions against the Bengals (26) than any other team. But he has also appeared in more games (24) and attempted more passes (759 against the Bengals than any other team.
The Bengals are always worried about Antonio Brown because he has the only three punt returns for touchdown against them since Kevin Huber became their punter in 2009. Brown had his fourth career scoring return, a 71-yarder, against the Indianapolis Colts earlier this season. Huber’s average has slipped from 47.9 yards to 44.9 since the most recent meeting, but his net of 40.5 is fifth in the AFC. K Mike Nugent has been streaky. He missed two of his first five attempts, converted 15 of the next 16 (with one block), now has missed two of the past seven. The Bengals have not been using Adam Jones to return kicks, even though he led the league in kick returns (31.3 yards) and was second in punt returns (12.0) in 2014.
To win, the Bengals must…
1. Take (Mc)Care(on) of the ball. The Bengals are minus-11 (13 turnovers, 2 takeaways) in six playoff games under
2. Ground Brown. The league’s co-leader in receptions (136) has 36 catches, 437 yards and three TDs in the past three games.
3. Apply a full-Nelson. They have not allowed a pass play longer than 31 yards against the Steelers’ big-play offense.
To win, the Steelers must…
1. Put the ‘Ben’ in Bengals. It’s all about Roethlisberger, who needs to end his streak of three consecutive postseason losses.
2. Keep AJ from A.J. Green averages nearly seven catches and 93.7 yards in 10 career games against the Steelers.
3. Put on the Fitz. Toussaint will try to energize a run game that has averaged just 54.3 yards and 2.9 yards per attempt the past three games.
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