The Cincinnati Bengals have been an afterthought for many on the national scene despite their 6-2 record. While national pundits have given them credit for not going winless as some predicted, most are in the "wait until they beat someone good" side of the room. Today's matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium is the opportunity for the Bengals to call the bluff of their remaining doubters.
Cincinnati will win this game against Pittsburgh for one simple reason: the Bengals are more talented on both lines than the Steelers. It's been a couple of decades since that's been true, but Cincinnati enters today's game with a decided advantage on both lines. They have the edge in both depth and speed on the defensive line, and Pittsburgh's offensive line has struggled all season to keep Ben Roethlisberger upright while the Bengals line has been superb in protecting Andy Dalton.
There are some intangibles, however, that will keep this game close, and if the Bengals don't execute well in these areas, Pittsburgh is good enough to escape with a victory.
1. Contain Big Ben
The Bengals defensive line will get to Ben Roethlisberger. That's a given. The question, as it always is with Big Ben, is can they bring him down and keep him contained in the pocket. There's not a quarterback in the NFL who's a better escape artist than Roethlisberger. And when he escapes the rush and containment, he usually make the opposition pay. That means the Bengals have to get pressure with their front seven and wrap him up once they get there.
2. Safety Squeeze
Reggie Nelson and Chris Crocker have to have solid games. At some point, maybe several times, Steelers' speedster Mike Wallace will get loose. The Bengals safeties must be sure not to let him get behind them. This is especially true if Roethlisberger is outside the pocket. Cincinnati has also struggled in covering opposing tight ends this season. Heath Miller is good enough and a big enough part of the Steelers' attack that he could hurt Cincinnati badly. Nelson and Crocker have to know where he is at all times and deliver some punishment when the ball comes his way.
3. Dalton's Composure
Andy Dalton's most valuable attribute thus far has been his unflappable approach to the game. He's not been phased by deficits, interceptions, sacks, or hostile crowds. On Sunday, he gets his first taste of a Dick Lebeau defense. That means he'll see some exotic looks and he'll most definitely get to meet James Harrison up close and personal. If Andy Dalton can continue to play like a veteran in a rookie's body, Cincinnati will have neutralized their most potent weapon, their defense.
Look for the Cincinnati Bengals to win a tight contest today and begin to silence some of their doubters. Of course there will still be some on Monday morning saying, "Let's see how they do at Baltimore." It won't matter much then though because Cincinnati will be 7-2. Bengals 23, Steelers 17.
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