By Daniel Benjamin
The Pittsburgh Steelers have dominated the Cincinnati Bengals the past three years, and the Steelers will look to continue this run when the Bengals visit Heinz Field on Sunday, Oct. 22. Kickoff is slated for 4:25 p.m. ET and the game will be televised by CBS.
Pittsburgh improved to 4-2 on the season with its huge 19-13 win over the previously unbeaten Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday afternoon. The Steelers dominated the game on both sides of the ball through the first three quarters, but they needed a couple of big plays out of their defense down the stretch. And they got them, courtesy of cornerback Artie Burns, safety Sean Davis and linebacker James Harrison.
Cincinnati (2-3) started the season with three straight losses to the Ravens, Packers and Texans. However, the Bengals have won two straight with victories over Cleveland and Buffalo.
The Steelers, who have won two division titles in the last three years, are 6-1 against the Bengals over this period. They hold a 60-35 advantage overall in the series, including 31-15-0 at home.
Cincinnati struggled mightily on the offensive side of the ball during the first three weeks of the season, scoring a total of 26 points, which includes getting shutout in the season opener by the Baltimore Ravens. They exploded for 31 points and 350 yards against the Browns in Week 4 as Andy Dalton tossed four touchdowns. They then racked up a season-high 388 total yards of offense and 20 points, with 10 of those points coming in the fourth quarter, in a comeback win over the Bills.
Overall, the Bengals rank 24th in total offense averaging 311 yards and next-to-last in scoring at 16.8 points. The Bengals are also 18th in passing yards with 227 yards a game and 28th in rushing yards at 84.0 yards a contest.
Dalton has picked up his production lately, as he has completed 71.2% of his passes for an average of 307 yards to go along with five touchdowns and two interceptions. Both of those interceptions came off the hands of wide receiver A.J. Green against Buffalo, where he threw for a season-high 328 yards.
Cincinnati has been very strong on the defensive side of the ball all season. The Bengals are second in the league in scoring defense (16.6 points per game) and also second in total defense, permitting 262.8 yards a game though they are No. 1 in yards per play (4.2).
The Bengals pass defense has been superb as they are only behind the Steelers in the rankings. They are allowing 158.0 yards a game on the year as opposing quarterbacks are completing only 57.4% of their passes. They don’t allow a lot of big plays and have given up five touchdown passes while collecting four interceptions.
The Bengals have also been excellent against the run. They rank 14th in run defense, permitting over 103 yards a game, but they have not given up more than 100 yards since the first two weeks of the season.
Cincinnati has done a fantastic job at getting to the quarterback, recording 18 sacks. However they haven’t forced a ton of turnovers ranking 27th overall with 4 interceptions and zero fumble recoveries. The Bengals do have a defensive touchdown.
Players to watch: wide receiver A.J. Green and linebacker Vontaze Burfict
Green is a top-10 receiver in the league. The thing is, he is the Bengals’ only real weapon with tight end Tyler Eifert done for the season after electing for back surgery. Green has posted two 100-yard receiving games over the past three games, and is coming off a season-high 189 yard performance on seven receptions against the Bills. He has also reached the endzone in each of his three games.
Green leads the team in receptions with 32 on a team-high 51 targets, both of which are more than two times more than next Bengals player. He is one of two players in the league to accumulate over 500 receiving yards and average more than 100 yards a game this year — Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown is the other receiver.
Burfict has been outstanding since returning to the field after serving a three-game suspension. The linebacker has collected 19 tackles, 14 of the solo variety, along with one sack and three run stuffs. He led the team with 13 tackles against the Bills.
Outlook Steelers 21, Bengals 13
This is a big game for both teams. A win by the Steelers would give them a 3-0 record against AFC North opponents this season with a win over each of the other three division members. It would also allow them to keep their one and a half game lead over Baltimore.
A win by the Bengals would jumble up the division. The Steelers would still have the edge in the division by virtue of them playing seven games and already defeating the Ravens. But it would give the Bengals, Steelers, and Ravens a 2-1 stance in the division.
It will likely come down to which team can run the ball and is able to avoid a costly turnover. Both teams have only scored more than two offensive touchdowns in a game once, and both quarterback are prone to throw interceptions. Ben Roethlisberger has been intercepted eight times already this year, and Dalton has been picked off six times.