Before reading this week’s key match-ups, please read my Steelers-Bengals Preview. Also, you may want to read our Top 10 Reasons Pittsburgh is Better Than Cincinnati.
This Thursday, the Steelers will face their AFC North rivals the Cincinnati Bengals on NFL Network. While the two teams sit at opposite ends of the AFC North standings, Cincinnati has won 2 of the last 3 games in Pittsburgh.
These are the match-ups that I believe will have the highest likelihood of impacting the outcome of the game.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger vs. Bengals defense
Big Ben has been sacked quite a bit this season. Teams have learned that Ben is susceptible to the all-out blitz. Fortunately, the Bengals’ blitz is one of the weakest in the NFL. The Bengal’s defense only has 11 sacks this season. That’s one fewer than Steelers’ linebacker James Harrison has by himself. The Bengals didn’t sack Big Ben once in their meeting earlier this year. Expect more of the same this time.
When Roethlisberger is given time to find his targets, he can pick any defense apart. He passed for over 300 yards last week against a San Diego Chargers defense that is much better than the Bengals’. Advantage: Steelers.
Steelers linebacker James Harrison vs. Bengals tackle Anthony Collins
Bengals’ starting left tackle Levi Jones is out with a back injury. His backup, rookie Anthony Collins, gets the unenviable task of trying to block Pro Bowl LB James Harrison. This will be Collins’ first NFL start. Talk about a baptism in fire. Last time the Steelers met the Bengals, Harrison abused starter Levi Jones for 2 sacks. Nine hundred sacks against Collins may be attainable. By the end of this game, Collins should be curled up in a fetal position crying uncontrollably. Welcome to the NFL, rookie. Advantage: Steelers.
Steelers Defensive End Brett Keisel vs. Bengals guard Nate Livings
The entire left side of the Bengals’ offensive line has been decimated by injuries. Not only is left tackle Levi Jones out with an injury. Starting left guard Andrew Whitworth is also out with an ankle injury. Number 2 left guard Scott Kooistra is also out with a knee injury. So third string guard Nate Livings gets to make his first NFL start against the league’s #1 defense. Let’s see, a starter on the #1 defense against a third stringer on the league’s worst offense. You do the math. Advantage: Steelers.
Dick LeBeau vs. Bengals Offensive Coordinator Bob Bratkowski
Not only is Bengals’ Offensive Coordinator Bob Bratkowski going to have to run his offense without the left side of his offensive line, he’s also going to have to do it against the league’s top ranked defense. Bratkowski’s first thought will be to try establishing the run by sending his top running back, Cedric Benson, against the Steelers’ defense that is rated #1 against the run. Yeah, good luck with that. Bratkowski’s second thought will be to try focusing on the pass, and using Ryan Fitzpatrick against the Steelers’ defense that is also #1 against the pass. Hmmm, that option isn’t much better than the first one. Is suicide an option?
Steelers Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau loves playing against the team that once fired him. Early in the first quarter he should have Bratkowski in check. By the end of the first half, it should be checkmate. Advantage: Steelers.
Heath Miller vs. Chris Crocker.
It looks like Heath Miller will be playing this week. Last week, QB Ben Roethlisberger threw 6 passes to backup tight end Matt Spaeth. Hopefully, Big Ben and Steelers Offensive Coordinator Bruce Arians have finally realized that the tight end can be a valuable weapon if they actually throw to him. If they do, Heath Miller will find himself going against Bengals’ safety Chris Crocker. Crocker will be starting at safety in place of injured starter Chinedum Ndukwe (foot injury).
Heath Miller is one of the best tight ends in the NFL. Against a backup, he should have a good game. That’s a nice way to come back from an injury. Advantage: Steelers.
Ike Taylor and Bryant McFadden DeShea Townsend William Gay vs. T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chad Ocho Cinco.
Despite the difficulties that the Bengals have had establishing their passing game this year, these are two of the most dangerous receivers in the NFL. Few tandems are as talented. Ike Taylor has enjoyed a tremendous amount of success against Ocho Cinco during his career. However, Gay will have his hands full with T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Houshmandzadeh leads the league in receptions, and this will only be Gay’s second start. This may be the best match-up of the game. Advantage: Bengals.
Update: Ocho Cinco won’t play tonight. Advantage: Neither.
NT Casey Hampton vs. C Eric Ghiaciuc
Bengals’ center Eric Ghiaciuc struggles against large nose tackles. Casey Hampton is a very big, Pro Bowl nose tackle. Casey should eat him alive. Ummm, that was just a figure of speech, Big Snack. We don’t mean it literally. The NFL frowns upon cannibalism. Advantage: Steelers.
We anticipate the Steelers should have a commanding lead by halftime. Backup quarterback Byron Leftwich should see a significant amount of playing time in the second half to avoid unnecessary injury to Big Ben.
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