Friday, October 19, 2012

Bullseye on Ike: Steelers at Bengals Preview

With only five games on the books, I had to say that any game this early in the season is a must-win game.  However, I'm now going to say that Sunday night's match-up against the Bengals is a must-win game.  Allow me to explain...

On Saturday, I was at Primanti's and someone asked the bar if the Steelers were going to go to the playoffs this season.  I immediately said that there was no way, but everyone else that jumped into the debate had two excellent points:
  1. The AFC is thoroughly mediocre this year and there aren't many teams that are good enough to fill all six spots.
  2. The Steelers have Ben Roethlisberger and a great quarterback gives you a better-than-average chance to win 9 or 10 games.
I knew #2 already, but I hadn't thought about #1 that much.  If you think about it, the Patriots will most likely win the AFC East and no one else in that division is good enough to finish above .500.  Same with the South, but substitute the Texans for the Patriots.  In the West, the Chiefs and Raiders aren't winning more than six games each, so that leaves you with the division winner (Broncos or Chargers) and whoever doesn't win the division.  As much as it pains me to say it, the hated Ravens are in the driver's seat in the North, even with all the issues they're having on defense.  The Browns are more competitive, but they're not going to the playoffs.  That leaves the Steelers and Bengals.

In order to make the playoffs, the Steelers need to sweep the Bengals (for tiebreaker purposes if nothing else), which is why they must win on Sunday in order to stay in the postseason hunt.

This is a game that they can win and probably should win, but the same could be said of the games against the Titans and Raiders.

Cincinnati has some talent on offense, but the only player that has game-changing ability is AJ Green.  Last season, Ike Taylor faced Green twice and held him pretty much in check, to the tune of seven catches for 123 yards and two touchdowns.  Given Green's production thus far this season and how god-awful Taylor has been since the start of the Denver playoff game last season, Green might post numbers like that on Sunday alone.  If he does, the Steelers won't be able to do enough to win. 

They can't get involved in shootouts and they can't have a situation where they're trying to protect a small lead late in the game.  If Green explodes, he'll probably blow up at the wrong time and the Steelers will move to 0-4 on the road.  Taylor needs to play somewhere close to his 2011 level for the team to win.  He could get help over the top, they could put Keenan Lewis or Cortez Allen on him in certain situations, but ultimately Taylor is the guy that needs to step up, put his failures from January onward behind him, and lock down on Green.  The Bengals know that Ike has been burned more times than a near-sighted crackhead this season, so they're going to go after him early and he needs to step up early and often.

Andy Dalton is the best quarterback Cincinnati has had since 2006, but that's not saying too much.  He's regressed a little since last season, defenses have enough films to adequately game plan for him, and the coaching staff is asking him to do more, all of which have combined to make him less effective and dangerous this season.  I wouldn't call it a "sophomore slump" it's just a combination of factors that has turned him into just a good quarterback.  He's not going to put the team on his shoulders and carry them to victory.

Jermaine Gresham and The Law Firm are fine players, but they aren't the guys that are going to make or break this game.

They've got some talent in the front four, but the back seven is kind of shaky.  When they've won games this season, they've done so because they put a bunch of points up on the board and their opponents weren't able to keep pace.  When the Steelers have lost, they've done so because they allowed their opponents to put a bunch of points on the board and couldn't keep pace.

Rashard Mendenhall and Issac Redman are out -- either officially or unofficially -- which means two things:
  1. Out of desperation, I picked up Jonathan Dwyer in one of my fantasy leagues.
  2. Ben Roethlisberger is going to have to win this game on the strength of his right arm and his ability to escape Cincy's front four.
Above all else, he needs to improve his accuracy and timing with his receivers inside the red zone.  The last two weeks, he's been great between the 20s, but was pretty far off target once he got inside the 20.  That's why the Steelers attempted seven field goals the last two games and that's one of the reasons they lost to the Titans last Thursday night.  I know that saying "you need to score touchdowns when you get in the red zone" is not expert football analysis, but that doesn't mean it's not true.  It's also especially critical for Sunday night's game considering the fact that the Bengals can score points in a hurry and the Steelers seem to need every last point of cushioning they can manage on the road in the fourth quarter.

If the guys subbing for the injured players step up and play above their potential and the guys that have played below their potential just far -- like, say, Ike Taylor --  play up to or above their potential, then they'll win this game.  If Green goes off or it's a tight game with five minutes left to play, I have to say that I don't have enough faith in this team -- to say nothing of the fact that the Bengals are actually pretty damned good -- to think they'll be able to pull off a road victory.

I just think that this is still a talented, veteran group with a solid coaching staff that will dig deep and win a game that they can -- and must -- win.  If they lose, then this is a declining, aging group with a solid coaching staff that will look to finish the season with a respectable record, for the sake of pride.

Like I said, it's a must-win.

Prediction:
Steelers 27, Bengals 17

2 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Ike did pretty good, right? Hopefully, this is a sign of things to come.

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