Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5) vs. Cincinnati Bengals (10-2)
Sunday, Dec. 13, 2015
Paul Brown Stadium
Take a look at this matchup against the Bengals in 2001. The Steelers defeated the Bengals 16-7, and Jerome Bettis rushed for over 10,000 yards in his career.
SERIES HISTORY: Steelers lead, 55-35 (Steelers lead, 1-0, postseason) **LAST MEETING: Bengals 16, Steelers 10, Nov. 1, 2015, Heinz Field: The Bengals rallied from a 10-6 deficit with 10 fourth-quarter points and then held on as the Steelers drove to the Cincinnati 16-yard line in the closing seconds but were unable to produce a last-play, game-winning touchdown. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger threw for 262 yards and a touchdown but was intercepted three times. Bengals QB Andy Dalton threw for 231 yards and a touchdown but was intercepted twice. Cincinnati WR A.J. Green caught 11 passes for 118 yards and a touchdown. The Steelers lost RB Le'Veon Bell for the season to a knee injury sustained on a tackle by LB Vontaze Burfict.
LAST TIME OUT:The Steelers scored 30 or more points for a franchise-record fourth straight game in a 45-10 hammering of Indianapolis last Sunday night at Heinz Field. The Bengals held an opponent to 10 or fewer points for the fourth time in five games in a 37-3 bashing of the Browns last Sunday afternoon in Cleveland.
WHEN THE BENGALS HAVE THE BALL:They'll have the ability to run it or throw it and the versatility to rely on a number of weapons while doing so. Dalton runs the show for a unit that's No. 8 in total offense (tied for ninth rushing, 12th passing) and No. 4 in scoring offense (27.8 points per game). The Bengals are also tied for third in red-zone efficiency (66.7 percent), thanks in part to Dalton's career red zone TD passes-to-interceptions ratio of 17.4-to-1 (third among active players behind Aaron Rodgers, 26.8-to-1, and Russell Wilson, 19.0-to-1).
RB Giovani Bernard is supposed to be the complement to RB Jeremy Hill, but Bernard leads the Bengals in rushing this season (607 yards) and his 5.1 average per carry trails only Thomas Rawls of Seattle (5.6). Bernard has a 100-yard rushing game (123, Sept. 20 vs. San Diego) and a 100-yard receiving game (128, Nov. 22 vs. Arizona) this season. Hill hasn't been what he was last season, but he's churned out 184 yards and averaged 4.8 yards per attempt over his last two games. Cincinnati is 7-0 this season and 80-12 under head coach Marvin Lewis when it gets 30 rushing attempts in regulation and has won its last 29 such games.
Green has averaged 9.8 catches and 129.3 receiving yards in his last four games against the Steelers but has only two TDs in that span. TE Tyler Eifert missed the Cleveland game (stinger) but still leads the NFL with 12 touchdowns (all receiving). Dalton has relied heavily upon those two will compiling an NFL-leading passer rating of 107.4. He had a season-low 19 attempts and a season-low 14 completions against the Browns and the Bengals still scored 37 points.
*WHEN THE STEELERS HAVE THE BALL: *They'll need to do a better job against Cincinnati's front four than they did in November. The Bengals aren't opposed to blitzing (they brought a seven-man pressure while snuffing out a fourth-down attempt by the Browns) but the signature of the defense is the line's ability to penetrate, disrupt and make plays. DT Geno Atkins draws a lot of double-teams, and the Bengals like to stunt behind those (especially DE Carlos Dunlap). Atkins and Dunlap, in particular, are a handful (they've combined for 17.5 sacks).
Burfict made his debut on Nov. 1 against the Steelers and played a season-high 68 percent of the defensive snaps against Cleveland. He's an every-down LB but still on a snap count while still working his way back from knee surgery. LB Rey Maualuga and LB A.J. Hawk play the run and Vincent Rey and Emmanuel Lamur play the pass. The Bengals rotate a lot of players at front-seven positions and are deep enough to pull it off.
Here is a look at the statistical leaders for the both the Steelers and Bengals heading into their AFC Wild Card game at Paul Brown Stadium.
The secondary has been battling injury of late. S George Iloka (groin) and slot-CB Leon Hall (back) didn't play against Cleveland, CB Adam Jones (foot) was in a cast on Wednesday and 2014 first-round CB Darqueze Dennard (shoulder) is on IR. Cincy may be down to rookie fourth-round pick Josh Shaw and rookie Troy Hill (signed off the practice squad on Nov. 5) as the No. 2 and No. 3 corners. FS Reggie Nelson picked off his NFL-leading and career-high seventh pass in the Browns game. Nelson has an INT in four straight games and had two of the Bengals' three on Nov. 1 against the Steelers. Cincinnati has playmakers at all three defensive levels, which helps explain the Bengals' No. 1 ranking in scoring defense (16.3 points per game). They're also No. 3 in red-zone defense (44.4 percent) and have allowed an NFL-low 27 red-zone opportunities. SPECIAL-TEAMS HEADLINERS: Steelers DE Cam Heyward blocked a 42-yard field-goal attempt in the Nov. 1 game. Dunlap blocked a 47-yard field-goal attempt in the Cleveland game. The Steelers will try WR Markus Wheaton on kickoff returns and stick with WR Antonio Brown on punt returns after Brown replaced WR Jacoby Jones against Indianapolis (fumbled KOR, muffed PR) and took a punt back 71 yards for a touchdown. Adam Jones hasn't returned a punt for the Bengals for the last three games. When healthy he's a weapon (11.7 per). When Jones isn't healthy, WR Brandon Tate (8.0 per) takes over.THE X-FACTOR:What will the Bengals think of next? They threw another pass to rookie OT Jake Fisher (No. 74 is eligible) in the Cleveland game, this time in the end zone (Fisher didn't catch it). And they ran their OT-WR bunch formations again. And WR Mohamed Sanu can run (on sweeps or from the Wildcat) and throw (5-for-5 for 177 yards, two TDs and 0 INTs for a career passer rating of 158.3). The Steelers need to be ready for anything from anywhere.
THEY SAID IT: "It's a challenge, but the way we have to look at it as an offense is they need to try to stop us. We don't try to conform to what other defenses do. We make them try to conform to us." _ Roethlisberger on taking on the No. 1 scoring defense in the NFL.