The Pittsburgh Steelers have overcome injuries, suspensions, and a leaky defensive secondary to land a coveted spot among the twelve teams who will play in the post season.
It wasn’t that long ago that one of the Steelers players said that all he wanted for Christmas was to play the Bengals in the playoffs. Well, Santa has delivered and now its time for Pittsburgh to produce.
The Steelers finished the regular season with the 3rd ranked offense. What makes this ranking so remarkable is that key players missed significant time due to injury or suspension throughout the year. Beyond a doubt, Pittsburgh would be the #1 ranked offense in the league if they could have made it through the season unscathed.
Individually, the Bengals will be facing Ben Roethlisberger, who led all quarterbacks with 328.2 passing yards a game. On the bonus end of those passes is arguably the top wide receiver trio in the NFL. Antonio Brown continues to impress, tying for first in receptions with 136 on the year and totaling 1,834 yards even without Ben at the helm for several games.
Martavis Bryant is spectacular when he turns on the switch, but had to be called out for a perceived lack of effort over the last two games. Markus Wheaton is the third receiver and does everything right. He knows his role and is more than willing to put up huge numbers if underestimated.
On the ground, the Steelers lost Le’Veon Bell early in the season but veteran running back DeAngelo Williams has filled in very well. Unfortunately, Williams is now ruled out for the game. Pittsburgh will have to go into this game with two relatively untested backups.
The Bengals are also banged up on offense, but at an even more crucial position. Quarterback Andy Dalton has been out with a broken thumb ever since the last Steelers-Bengals matchup. Cincinnati has ruled him out and backup quarterback A.J. McCarron will have to challenge the Steelers vulnerable secondary with A.J. Green at wide receiver and Tyler Eifert at tight.
McCarron will be better prepared then he was when these two teams last met and has done pretty well in relief. On the ground Jeremy Hill is a downhill runner while Giovani Bernard is more versatile on the edges and as a pass catching threat.
Defensively, every team that has played the Steelers know where to find their Achilles heel. Pittsburgh has a very good front seven with elite players like defensive end Cameron Heyward and inside linebacker Ryan Shazier, however their cornerback play has been less than inspiring.
They simply give up too many critical plays but as McCarron found out in their last meeting, they are also capable of the occasional splash play.
The Bengals ended the season with the league’s No. 2 scoring defense, but allowed 26 points the last time they faced the Steelers. Defensive ends Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson can be disruptive, but if neutralized, the Steelers can hamstring a defense that rarely blitzes.
Cincinnati’s secondary generally plays up to their opponents but was torched by Brown and company in their last outing regardless of whether they lined up in man or zone.