Steelers Need To Pull The Bengals' Tail To Avoid 0-2
By Marc Jenkins
Following a very disappointing and injury-riddled performance in Week 1 versus the Tennessee Titans, the Pittsburgh Steelers look to rebound in a major way this week when they face the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday Night Football.
In their 16-9 defeat at the hands of the Titans, Pittsburgh not only lost its opening game but also three starters for the season to significant injuries – All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey (torn ACL and MCL), veteran linebacker Larry Foote (ruptured biceps) and running back LaRod Stephens-Howling (torn ACL). With these three players out of the fold, it will make things difficult for the Steelers. However, the best way to move on is with a big win the following week and that is exactly what Pittsburgh wants in Cincinnati.
Both teams enter this week’s contest 0-1 looking for their first victory of the season; in fact, all four teams inside of the AFC North lost their initial contest, leaving many to question exactly how competitive this division will be this season.
The Steelers are need to figure out how to get the ground attack going because they can only go as far as it takes them. Last week, Pittsburgh rushed for just 32 yards on 15 carries as a team with a long of just eight yards. Now with Stephens-Howling out of the mix and rookie Le’Veon Bell still nursing his Lisfranc injury, the Steelers have re-signed Jonathan Dwyer and will start Isaac Redman this week Felix Jones may also be called upon in hopes they can avoid a 0-2 hole to begin their season.
The offensive line will have to do a better job of protecting QB Ben Roethlisberger, who was sacked five times last week. That will be difficult to do considering: 1) they will be without Pouncey and 2) the Bengals possess one of the better defensive lines in the NFL. The spotlight and pressure will on backup C Kelvin Beachum to not only successfully snap the ball into Roethlisberger’s hands, but to also protect him from DT Geno Atkins, who recorded 12.5 sacks last season and is a handful up the middle.
Pittsburgh was only able to muster up 195 total yards against Tennessee, so the Steelers offense will have to do better this week as a whole.
Turnover ratio is another aspect which has seemed to plague Pittsburgh for some time now and last week was no exception. The Steelers gave away the ball twice (one Roethlisberger interception and one Redman fumble) and did not force any turnovers. The only way a team can win that way is if their offense is gaining yards and putting up points like the “Greatest Show on Turf” and this offense is far from that.
Besides creating more turnovers, the Steelers will have to set their focus on stopping QB Andy Dalton from getting the football to his favorite target – star WR A.J. Green. Last week, Dalton and Green connected nine times for 162 yards and two touchdowns against the Chicago Bears. Of Dalton’s 33 total pass attempts, Green was targeted 13 times, which means that CBs Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen and William Gay will have their hands full attempting to contain the third-year receiver.
The Steelers also need to get some type of pass rush on Dalton to get him off of his rhythm, which means that DE Ziggy Hood, OLB LaMarr Woodley and S Troy Polamalu will need to enter the backfield early and often. Pittsburgh managed just one sack on Tennessee QB Jake Locker last week and a repeat of that will likely guarantee an 0-2 start in a tough road game.
One aspect that will truly be interesting to watch is how former Steeler OLB James Harrison looks against his old mates for the first time since he was released by Pittsburgh during the offseason. During his nine-year Steeler tenure, the controversial pass rusher racked up 617 tackles, 64 sacks, countless fines for egregious hits and the 2008 AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year award. Harrison has been working with the Bengals on both sides of the ball in practice this week to aid his new team. Now he will finally get to face Roethlisberger without getting in trouble for it.
All in all, this should be a very competitive game between two teams that are both physical and desperate not to begin the season with two consecutive losses. When it’s all said and done the team that can run the ball more consistently and minimize their mistakes should be the team that comes out victorious in a classic Monday Night Football matchup.