NFL Wild Card game 2 2016 – Pittsburgh Steelers @ Cincinnati Bengals

DSC_0198Familiarity may well breed contempt and although the Steelers have only lost twice in Cincinnati since the Bengals 2001 overtime win in 2001 the Steelers will be approaching this game with more trepidation than contempt.
Losing number 1 Running Back La’Veon Bell after 6 games of the season (in controversial circumstances) during a home loss to the Bengals was a blow to the Steelers but up stepped veteran Running Back DeAngelo Williams who rushed for 11 touchdowns and recorded 1,274 yards from the line of scrimmage, but now he’s out injured too! Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman are now the Steelers only healthy Running Backs and they’ve rushed for 64 yards so far this season having had very limited opportunity (22 carries between them), the running game is a key part of the Steelers Offence not only have they have scored the 3rd highest number of rushing touchdowns in the NFL but the running game affords the Steelers trio of electrifying Wide Receivers and veteran Quarterback “Big” Ben Roethlisberger the time to create some of the most explosive plays in the NFL (with a league leading 21 pass plays over 40+ yards, 5 more than the 2nd ranked team the Odell Beckham Jr. lead New York Giants). Antonio Brown, Martavius Bryant and Markus Wheaton have been responsible for about 73% of the Steelers total yards on Offence this season and in order for them to remain effective the Steelers will need a running game or the Bengals Defence will focus on defending the pass. The effectiveness of the Steelers running game could also play a part in determining how effective the Bengals Defence is at the end of the game, particularly the pass rush in week 16, albeit in the altitude of the Rockies the Bengals Defence started fast and slowed considerably as the Broncos chewed up the clock and kept Domata Peko and co. out on the field for extended passages of play. If the Steelers only effective Offence involves throwing 40 yard bombs then conversely the Steelers Defence will be spending far more time on the field than Mike Tomlin wants.
The Bengals Defence is ranked 20th in the NFL in terms of yards allowed during the regular season but their 42 sacks are the 8th most in the league so either Todman or Toussaint (or both) may find that they have a loss of pass blocking to do. Incidentally, if the Steelers need good pass blocking and a dependable receiver in short, soft zones then Heath Miller could be the most vital player on the field for wither side. Cincinnati are the 3rd best team in the where defensive turnovers are concerned with a differential of 11, 9 more than the Steelers have managed this season. Reggie Nelson has accounted for 8 of the Bengals 21 interceptions and with rejuvenated Corner Back Adam Jones (or the artist formerly known as “Pac Man”) has 3 of the 21 but only Leon Hall has returned an interception for a touchdown this season. The Bengals have intercepted Roethlisberger 4 times in their 2 meetings this season but the Steelers have intercepted Bengals Quarterbacks 5 times in the same 2 games, so don’t expect this game to be dull. The Bengals have one of the best receivers in football in AJ Green and he’s already had 2 100 yard games against the Steelers this season (and caught 2 of 10 touchdowns against them) but he’s persistently struggled during the playoffs. This has been in part blamed on the Bengals Quarterback Andy Dalton who has traditionally been very strong during the regular season but is yet to win a game in the postseason in 4 attempts, but this time Dalton is replaced by rookie (and first Alabama Quarterback to win a game in the NFL) A.J McCarron who has looked impressive in the 7 games he’s played this season, although he was the Quarterback when the Steelers won in Cinci back in week 13 and 2 of his 5 career wins came against a frankly embarrassingly bad Cleveland Browns team.
These teams really don’t like each other and the Bengals must be tired of their rivals from just up the Ohio River beating them in their back yard so don’t expect them give up without a fight. It’s difficult to see how the Bengals can stop a Steelers offence with a fit Roethlisberger, Brown, Wheaton, Bryant and Miller in it, but the Bengals have a recent history of kicking Steelers out of games so there’s a real chance they can finally get revenge for the 2005 Wild Card game when Pittsburgh won 31-17 on the back of Big Ben and Hall of Fame Running Back Jerome Bettis (the bus). The bookmakers have the Steelers as favourites by 6 points or less but it really is too close to call, if the Steelers can cobble together some sort of run game with their healthy Backs and maybe their Wide Receivers joining in on the odd reverse or gadget play then there’s a real chance the Bengals rookie Quarterback could feel the pressure and the away team could win by closer to 20 points.

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