Gerry Dulac breaks down the Steelers' must-win game
December 23, 2012 6:30 AM
Matt Freed /Post-Gazette
Safety Ryan Clark is having one of his best seasons since joining the team in 2006.
When the Bengals have the ball: The biggest difference in an offense that features the Pro Bowl passing combination of Andy Dalton and A.J. Green is the impact of RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who has rushed for more than 100 yards in four of the past five games. Green-Ellis has become a big-play back. He's had the three longest runs of his career (48, 41, 38 yards) in the past four games. Conversely, the Steelers have allowed just four runs of 20 yards or longer, fewest in the league. Two of those have come in the past three games (34 by Baltimore's Ray Rice, 28 by DeMarco Murray of Dallas). Dalton, who is 0-3 against the Steelers, has struggled recently. After throwing nine TDs with no INTs in consecutive victories against the Giants, Chiefs and Raiders, he's had just three TDs with three INTs in the past three games. He also has been sacked 11 times in the past two games. The Bengals have struggled to find a No. 2 receiver to complement Green after a season-ending injury to Mohamed Sanu. Rookie Marvin Jones is the fourth different starter opposite Green.
Game: Steelers (7-7) vs. Cincinnati Bengals (8-6), Heinz Field.
When: 1:25 p.m.
Radio: WDVE-FM (102.5), WBGG-AM (970) and the Steelers Radio Network.
Favored: Steelers by 31/2.
When the Steelers have the ball: Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer has done a good job getting pressure on the quarterback while also being able to stop the run. And he gets his pressure from a rotation of seven defensive linemen. Of the Bengals' NFL-high 43 sacks, 35 have been produced by the defensive line, led by T Geno Atkins (101/2) and DE Michael Johnson (81/2). The Bengals have allowed only five offensive TDs and an average of 12.5 points in their past six games. Their run defense, which ranks ninth in the league, has allowed only five runs of 20 yards or longer. One of those was a 32-yarder by Jonathan Dwyer in the teams' first meeting. Dwyer rushed for 122 yards on 17 carries in that game. One of the reasons for the improved run defense is a more active linebacker corps. Rookie Vontaze Burfict leads the team with 139 tackles. The secondary features a pair of good cover corners in Leon Hall and Terrance Newman, but re-signing S Chris Crocker early in the season has stabilized the unit.
Keep an eye on ...
CB/PR Adam Jones ... The former West Virginia star known as "Pac-Man," has become a big contributor for the Bengals both on defense and special teams. Jones is the nickel back in their sub packages and has 39 tackles, a sack, one forced fumble and nine passes defensed. More importantly, he has split time returning punts with Brandon Tate, ranking second in the AFC with a 14.1-yard average on 21 returns. That includes an 81-yard scoring return against the Browns.
The Steelers have won 10 of the past 12 meetings with the Bengals, including 24-17 in October in Cincinnati. But the Bengals are 4-6 at Heinz Field, most recently winning there in 2009. ... The Bengals can clinch a wild-card spot with a victory. The Steelers need victories in their final two games to clinch a wild-card spot. The momentum, though, is with the Bengals, who have won five of their past six games. The Steelers have lost four of their past five. ... Bengals haven't earned playoff berths in consecutive seasons since 1981-82. ... Ben Roethlisberger is 14-4 vs. the Bengals and 34-9 overall against AFC North Division opponents.
Keys to victory
To win, the Bengals must ...
1. Not be gentle with Ben. Roethlisberger has been sacked 20 times and thrown eight interceptions in the past eight games against the Bengals.
2. Get A.J. some green. Their big-play wide receiver wasn't a factor in the first meeting and doesn't have a catch longer than 17 yards in the past three games.
3. Have the better Ben. Green-Ellis is the first Bengals player in 44 years to have four 100-yard performances in five games.
To win, the Steelers must ...
1. Gang up on Dalton. The defense had 27 QB pressures in past two games -- most in a two-game span this season -- but they need to get him on the ground.
2. Dash the splash plays. The Steelers have allowed only 29 plays of 20 yards or longer, the fewest in the league.
3. Find some new money. Receivers Antonio Brown, Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders have to make more big plays than mistakes.