PITTSBURGH STEELERS VS. CINCINNATI BENGALS
Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013
8:30 p.m.; NBC
PLAYERS TO WATCH** QB ANDY DALTON
His passer rating of 87.7 isn't overly flattering, and is in part attributable to his having thrown 16 interceptions. But the 120.5 rating Dalton posted in last Sunday's 42-28 win over Indianapolis was the fifth time he hit three figures in that department this season. Cincinnati is 5-0 in those games (14-1 in Dalton's career when his passer rating is 100.0 or better). Dalton has 25 TD passes, seven shy of Carson Palmer's franchise-record 32 in 2005. And with 3,419 passing yards Dalton has joined the great Peyton Manning as the only players to surpass 3,000 in each of their first three seasons.
LB VONTAZE BURFICT
He's the Bengals' leading tackler with 169 by a wide margin over runner-up and fellow LB Rey Maualuga (91). Burfict, an every-down player this season, is third among Bengals with 10 passes defensed (first among the front seven) and is tied for the team lead in fumble recoveries with two. Burfict also has an interception and a forced fumble, which he returned 13 yards for his first career touchdown on Nov. 17 against Cleveland. S Taylor Mays said Burfict has a "demeanor that's contagious," and Maualuga described Burfict as "the real deal."
ABOUT THE BENGALS
Cincinnati won its third straight game, improved to 9-4 overall and to 6-0 at home for the first time since 1988 via last Sunday's win over Indianapolis. The Bengals have clinched a third consecutive winning season for the second time in franchise history. Cincinnati can clinch a wild card invitation to the playoffs if it gains any ground on Miami (7-6) this weekend and can wrap up the AFC North title if it gains any ground on Baltimore (7-6). The Bengals beat the Steelers, 20-10, on Sept. 16 at Paul Brown Stadium. Cincinnati is on pace to outscore its opponents by 100 points (334-244) for the fourth time in franchise history and for the first time since 1989, and to score 400 points for the first time since 2005.
THE BENGALS' OFFENSE
Cincinnati is No. 10 in total offense (14th rushing, 12th passing). The Bengals have not had a 100-yard rusher in a game but average 115.8 yards per game on the ground. RBs BenJarvus Green-Ellis (662) and Giovani Bernard (620) have combined for 1,282 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns. WR A.J. Green has 1,175 receiving yards and eight receiving TDs. Cincinnati might finish with six pass-catchers with at least 500 receiving yards. The Bengals would be the second NFL team to pull that off (the 2011 New Orleans Saints accomplished the feat previously). Cincinnati has 16 touchdown drives of 80 yards or more this season, including six of 90 or more. The Bengals have lost eight fumbles this season but only two in their last eight games. Cincinnati is No. 3 in red zone offense, scoring touchdowns 69.4 percent of the time.
THE BENGALS' DEFENSE
Cincinnati is No. 8 in total defense (fifth rushing, eighth passing). The Bengals lost CB Leon Hall for the season on Oct. 20 (Achilles). He's been replaced as a starter by CB Adam Jones. The Bengals lost DT Geno Atkins for the season on Oct. 31 (ACL). He's been replaced as a starter by DT Brandon Thompson and by DT Wallace Gilberry. Cincinnati didn't produce a turnover or a sack against Indianapolis but held the Colts to 117 yards and zero third-down conversions (0-for-6) while shutting out Indianapolis in the first half. Indianapolis had 63 rushing yards for the game. Cincinnati is No. 4 in the NFL in yards allowed per play (4.8).
THE BENGALS' SPECIAL TEAMS
The Bengals have three blocked kicks this season (two field goals and a punt, which was returned for a touchdown on Nov. 17 against Cleveland). P Kevin Huber is No. 5 in the NFL in net average (41.6 yards per). K Mike Nugent is 16-for-20 on field goals (3-for-4 from 50-plus yards). Nugent hit a 43-yarder to beat Buffalo in overtime, 27-24, on Oct. 13, and he converted a last-play, 54-yarder to beat Detroit, 27-24, on Oct. 20.