Here is some information to get you prepared for Saturday's Steelers-Bengals Wild Card Game in Cincinnati.
Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6) vs. Cincinnati Bengals (12-4)
Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016
Paul Brown Stadium
LAST MEETING: Steelers 33, Bengals 20, Dec. 13, 2015, Paul Brown Stadium: The Steelers knocked Bengals QB Andy Dalton out of the game and ended up with three interceptions on the way to earning a split of the season series with Cincinnati. RB
LAST TIME OUT: The Steelers beat the Browns, 28-12, in Cleveland. The Bengals took care of the Ravens, 24-16, in Cincinnati.
WHEN THE BENGALS HAVE THE BALL: They’ll attack the Steelers the way they usually do. The potential difference this time is OC Hue Jackson’s play sheet might not resemble the Hong Kong phone book the way it normally does due to McCarron’s presence at QB rather than Dalton. McCarron is working off of a much smaller menu and might not rely on the same diversity of formation but he has the arm strength to make all the throws and the presence to make all the plays. In the three starts that followed his relief appearance against the Steelers, McCarron has made good decisions and he’s protected the ball (four TD passes, 0 interceptions). There’s a chance he’ll be out of his element in his first postseason start due to his inexperience but McCarron’s background is that of a big-game QB that won championships at Alabama.
RBs Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard have combined for 1,524 rushing yards and 13 rushing TDs (11 for Hill). The Bengals made no secret of their desire to run the ball against the Ravens when they repeatedly brought in rookie OT and No. 1 pick Cedric Ogbuehi as a second TE and lined up rookie OT and No. 2 pick Jake Fisher (he wore No. 44 and played H-B due to Ryan Hewitt’s unavailability) in front of Hill. Cincinnati isn’t opposed to playing power ball when the mood strikes. The Bengals ran it 27 times and threw it 27 times against the Ravens.
WR A.J. Green had 17 catches, 250 receiving yards and two TDs in the two games against the Steelers this season. TE Tyler Eifert, often overlooked by defenses to a degree due to the Bengals’ array of weapons at WR and RB, had 13 TD receptions in 13 games (Eifert played nine snaps in the Bengals’ loss to the Steelers in December). And WR Mohamed Sanu can run it out of the Wildcat or on end-arounds or pass it with effectiveness. Cincinnati went 0-for-9 on third down against Baltimore and still possessed the ball for 30:47.
The defensive line is led by DE Carlos Dunlap (13.5 sacks) and DT Geno Atkins (10). It’s a deep group that’s counted upon to penetrate and disrupt in the running game and help generate pressure on the four-man rushes that Bengals favor in the passing game. Rushing four allows the Bengals to drop seven into coverage and cover underneath while protecting against the big play. They don’t blitz often but when they do they usually bring numbers (as opposed to five). LB Vontaze Burfict excels against the run and the pass and has worked his way back to health after making his 2015 debut against the Steelers on Nov. 1. He had a monster game against the Ravens (12 tackles, a tackle for a loss, two quarterback hits, two passes defensed and an interception).
Veteran nickel CB and former first-round pick Leon Hall has been in and out of the lineup due to concussion/back issues (he played about half of the game against the Ravens). Third-year CB Chris Lewis-Harris plays the slot when Hall can’t. And third-year S Shawn Williams (6-foot, 200 pounds) has seen some time when a bigger sub-package presence is required (Williams had an interception in the Bengals’ win in Pittsburgh. The longest completion the Bengals allowed the Steelers in the first meeting was 25 yards. The longest completion Cincinnati surrendered in the second game was 31 yards. TE
SPECIAL-TEAMS HEADLINERS: Jones averaged 11.2 yards on 16 punt returns and 23.5 yards on 10 kickoff returns but has given way of late to WR Brandon Tate due to injury concerns. K Mike Nugent is 10-for-13 on field goal attempts from 40-49 yards away and 2-for-3 from 50 yards out. The Bengals have had one punt blocked and have blocked two field goals this season. Cincinnati hasn’t allowed a punt or kickoff to be returned for a touchdown and hasn’t produced one, either.
THE X-FACTOR: Who will protect the football? The Steelers went 8-1 this season when winning takeaway/giveaway, 2-0 when the turnovers were even and 0-5 when they turned the ball over more than their opponent. And the Bengals are 70-15-1 all-time under head coach Marvin Lewis with a plus turnover differential, 26-20-1 when even and 16-59-1 with more giveaways than takeaways.
THEY SAID IT: “Just go out there and play hard, play physical. Just go out there and hunt. That’s kind of our motto in here, we just want to go hunt.” _ RB Fitz Toussaint, who played for the Ravens last year, on the approach necessary to beat a division champ on the road in the first round of the postseason, as the Ravens did against the Steelers last season.