By Danny Cox
Right now, the Pittsburgh Steelers are doing exactly what they need to do, and at just the right time. After falling to 4-5, they have reeled off four straight victories and are on a clear-cut path to the playoffs. In order to pull it off, though, they need to keep winning to stay ahead of—or neck-and-neck with—the Baltimore Ravens. Up next is going to be a tough game against their division rivals, the Cincinnati Bengals.
Cincinnati Bengals Season Record: 5-7-1
It has been a very weird season for the Bengals, who have done nothing but flip-flop almost every single week. They won their season opener and then lost two in a row. They defeated the Miami Dolphins and then lost two in a row. After that, they defeated the Cleveland Browns, tied with the Washington Redskins, and then lost three in a row. Now, they’ve won two straight and are finally looking like a team on the move, but it may be a bit too late in the season to mean much.
Bengals On Offense
Oddly enough, the Bengals have looked good on offense recently and won two straight games without their star player in wide receiver A.J. Green, who has not played or practiced since Week 11 with a hamstring tear. He could end up back in practice this week, but his game time status against the Steelers likely won’t be known until just before game time.
Quarterback Andy Dalton is having a very good season with 3,555 passing yards, 16 touchdowns, and just six interceptions. He has a number of good targets and he spreads the ball around the entire offense. One thing that the Steelers can take advantage of is the Bengals’ weak offensive line, which has allowed Dalton to be sacked 36 times this season.
With Giovani Bernard on injured reserve, running back Jeremy Hill has been the main rushing threat. He rushed for 111 yards and a touchdown against the Browns on Sunday. He also caught three of four targets for 31 yards.
Bengals On Defense
In Week 2 of this season, the Bengals were without, quite arguably, their top defensive player in linebacker Vontaze Burfict. He’s back in the lineup now and leads the team with 92 total tackles. Burfict also has two sacks, two interceptions, and seven passes defended to keep his numbers up across the board.
Cincinnati produces a good number of sacks and a lot of interceptions (15). Ben Roethlisberger is going to have to keep his eyes on a strong secondary led by Adam “Pac Man Jones, George Iloka, and Dre Krikpatrick. The Bengals have the 25th ranked rushing defense in the NFL and that should play right into the hands of the Steelers and Le’Veon Bell.
Bengals Players To Watch: WR Brandon LaFell and DE Carlos Dunlap
In his first season with the Bengals, Brandon LaFell is having a pretty good season and is tied for the team lead with Tyler Eifert for receiving touchdowns with five. When LaFell is off, his numbers are way down. When he’s on, he has great numbers and can really produce for the Bengals. LaFell has become a big target for Dalton while Green has been sidelined.
After a career season in 2015 with 13.5 sacks, defensive end Carlos Dunlap is having another good one and he’s one of those players who quietly gets the job done. He has seven sacks this season to lead the Bengals while also forcing two fumbles and constantly tormenting opposing quarterbacks. Dunlap is one of those guys who works hard in the trenches and will be in the backfield and on top of Big Ben before anyone even realizes it.
Even though the Cincinnati Bengals have won two in a row, this is not a game that the Pittsburgh Steelers need to or even should end up losing. The way the Steelers have been playing, it truly doesn’t seem as if anyone can stop them. Not only are they on a four-game winning streak, but they defeated the New York Giants last week. The same Giants team that defeated the Dallas Cowboys, the team with the NFL’s best record, twice. Play like they’ve been playing for the last month and the Steelers will have no issues with the Bengals.