Last time Palmer, Bengals hosted Monday Night Football: 34-13 loss to New England
“We let some games slip in the last four weeks so have to do a much better job, get a good start, play consistently through the mid-point of the game and then finish at the end”
—Coach Marvin Lewis on the importance of Monday night’s game.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are an NFL-best +9 in the Turnover Department
For a season that started with so much promise, there is no doubt its been an unmitigated disaster for Cincinnati. Standing at 2-5, and with games versus Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, New Orleans, and the Jets still on the schedule, hope and excitement are in short supply. Once again, our striped crusaders have disappointed us, but hey, we’re used to that.
This year is especially tough to stomach, however, as this was the year the team had it all in place. They were coming off a division championship, and a first-ever sweep of the AFC North. They were a top five defensive team for the first time since the 1980’s, and sported a bruising rushing attack. They were intimidating. They were gritty. They imposed their will on their opponents through a relentless attack that made opponents wilt as the game wore on.
It short, they were a lot like the Steelers.
While Cincinnati was enjoying that success, the men from the Steel City were uncharacteristically soft. Going to a more wide-open passing attack, the Steelers that they couldn’t control the clock the way they once could. Their defense had difficulty rushing the passer, and gave up big plays at inopportune times. Turnovers and sloppy plays were common, penalties abounded, and they had to overcome injuries to key players all year, most notably Aaron Smith and Troy Polamalu.
In short, they were a lot like our Bengals.
These two familiar opponents meet again on Monday night at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. As opposed to last year, they’ll meet on more familiar terms. Pittsburgh is 5-2 and enjoying first place in the division, in the thick of the playoff hunt and arguably the best team in the conference. Cincinnati is 2-5 and searching for answers despite returning nearly all starters from last year’s club and adding upgrades at several positions. Their chances of making the playoffs now are on life support, close to a flat line.
So can the Bengals win?
Of course. They have the talent to beat anyone in the league. They can trot out an offense that includes two of the best wide receivers in the game today, and a former Heisman trophy winner at QB. Their defense has the talent and the ability to stop anybody.
And believe it or not, the Bengals match up fairly well against the Steelers. Looking at the statistics, Cincinnati’s offense outperforms the Steelers in every major category except rushing yards per game, where the Steelers average 16 yards more per game.
On defense, the stark difference between the two clubs, again, is in rushing, where the Bengals give up nearly sixty yards more per game. However, the Steelers pass defense is suspect, giving up 243 yards per game. They are also weaker than expected on third down, with opponents converting 37% of the time.
To attack the Steelers, Cincinnati should continue to embrace the hurry-up, no-huddle offense, and continue to utilize the three-wide receiver set. This offensive attack has been the most successful over the years against Pittsburgh. The no-huddle will stunt the Steeler pass rush and spread out their defense for Cedric Benson and the running game.
The key here will be for the Bengals offensive line to hold up against the various blitzes Dick Lebeau’s defense will be coming with.
On defense, the Bengals must to a better job of stopping the run. Despite being ranked fourth in the league in rushing defense in 2010, the Bengals have been gashed regularly in the run game. Meanwhile, the Steelers have re-discovered the value of the run game, with Rashard Mendenhall becoming a bona fide star in their backfield. Containing Mendenhall will be priority one for the defense.
As always, containing Ben Roethlisberger will be huge. The defensive line must be disciplined in their rush lanes, and contain Big Ben in the pocket. WR Mike Wallace will get a lot of attention from secondary coach Kevin Coyle and his charges.
Penalties and turnovers must be kept to an absolute minimum for the Bengals, and they’ll need to come up with some extra possessions through forcing Steeler mistakes and turnovers on their side.
All of this together will result in a surprise win by the Bengals at home in front of a raucous crowd in the “Jungle”. Something like 23-20.
So will it happen?
The fact is that the Bengals will be their own worst enemy as usual, with penalties and mistakes putting their offense behind, and defensive breakdowns keeping them on the field on third downs. The Steelers meanwhile will be disciplined and won’t let the hostile environment get the best of them. Mike Tomlin’s team will be ready to play and while Cincy will be game, they’ll fold at the end. Steelers 31, Bengals 20