At this time last year, I would have been really excited about this game. After all, the Bengals were in first place in the AFC North, and were on their way to sweeping the division. Unfortunately, that was then, and this is now.
Right now, it’s pretty hard to get excited about a game with the Bengals. Sure, we’d all like to see the Steelers put a few hard hits (that they’d probably get fined for) on Cincinnati’s duo of loud-mouthed wide receivers. But it would be nice to be excited about a division game for reasons other than wanting to see Ocho Cinco and T.O. get clobbered.
The Bengals have a 2-10 record. That’s exactly the same record as the Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions. They look more like the Bungals than like a team that swept the AFC North last year. But how did the Bengals fall so far so fast?
The problem with the Bengals is that they’re not doing what brought them success in the first place. Last year, the Bengals won by playing “Steeler football”. That’s right, they copied the Steelers. They ran the ball and played tough defense.
In 2009, the Bengals had one of the best defenses in the NFL. They were ranked #4 in the league, which was even higher than the Steelers defense was ranked. They allowed their opponents less than 100 yards/ game rushing (98.3 yards/gm), and were stingy with points allowed (18.2 points/game). But this year, their defense doesn’t seem to be able to stop anybody. They are currently ranked 20th in the NFL, and they are allowing 26.8 points/game. Moreover, their once stingy run defense is now ranked #24 in the league.
Not only has Cincinnati’s run defense declined, but they’ve changed their offensive philosophy. In 2009, they were a running team, led by running back Cedric Benson. They ran the ball 32 times per game, and averaged 128.5 yards/game on the ground. But this year, the Bengals have abandoned the run. They are ranked 26th in the NFL in rushing, and are only running the ball 25 times per game. Because of the decline in rushing attempts, they are only averaging 92.3 yards/game on the ground.
So what caused this change in offensive emphasis? My guess is having two diva wide receivers has forced them to become more of a passing team. After all, T.O. and Ocho are not going to allow Carson Palmer to hand the ball to Cedric Benson all day long, while they act as decoys. Nope, not gonna happen…..even if it would be better for their team.
While becoming a passing team has been detrimental to the Bengals, it may actually prove to be a benefit against the Steelers. Steeler Nation knows that the Steelers simply can’t seem to stop anyone’s passing offense. We have only one cornerback; Ike Taylor. All of the rest of them seem to be completely useless. Sure, Bryant McFadden and William Gay make an occasional big play. But do you want to rely on either one of them to consistently stop T.O.? I didn’t think so.
Unfortunately, the Steelers’ cornerbacks may be the deciding factor in this game. T.O. had a monster game last time we played the Bengals. The Steelers can’t allow him to do that again.
The other factor that may cause problems for the Steelers is injuries. The Steelers’ offensive line has been hurting all season long. They just can’t seem to stay healthy. The Steelers have managed to win despite the injuries to the offensive line, but how long can they keep that up?
I predict a Steelers win over the Bengals, but don’t expect it to be easy. AFC North games are never easy, and the Bengals do have receivers who can cause the Steelers headaches.
The Steelers will win 24-17, and go to 10-3.
Here we go Steelers, here we go!
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