As tonight’s rubber match between the Steelers and the Bengals draws closer, the game plans have been installed, the Bengals are still talking, and they are busting up a Foosball table from the TV show “Cheers”, that Woody Harrelson believes has caused the Bengals 25 year playoff curse. It’s not the table Woody, It’s not a curse, it’s the franchise. If the Steelers play the way they are capable of, the “curse” gets extended to 26 years, and a Foosball table was murdered for nothing. What exactly do the Steelers have to do to advance and move on to Denver next week? The Players with playoff experience must lead the way. On offense, the Steelers are going to be without Deangelo Williams, but they have plenty of other weapons. There are however still some minor concerns.
Ben Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown has been the deadliest combination in the NFL over the last three seasons, and is a big reason why the Steelers find themselves in the postseason. Over the last few games though, Ben has thrown has thrown an uncharacteristically high amount of interceptions trying to force the ball to Brown, for big plays, when there were plays available to be made underneath. In tonight’s game, Ben needs to get back to being Ben and taking what the Bengals Defense gives him, even if that means “dinking and dunking” until something opens up downfield. This might be the game to dust off their no-huddle offense, to help wear down the Bengals defense.
Fitzgerald Toussaint / Jordan Todman:
Nobody is expecting Toussaint or Todman to be Deangelo Williams, or to go out and rush for one hundred yards. The job they do tonight, has to start with providing enough of a running game to keep the offense from becoming one dimensional. Maybe even more important than that, is that both backs have to be up to speed in their blitz pickups, to help provide Ben with time to get rid of the ball. They also need to maintain the presence of mind to go from blocker to becoming another option that Ben can dump the ball off to. Both running backs know this offense, which puts them in a much better position than the Steelers were in last years postseason.
After a couple of weeks where Bryant totaled just two receptions for six yards, it’s time for Bryant to get his head back in the game. Over the last two games, Bryant looked listless, like he was just going through the motions. Recently Ben called Bryant out and challenged him to step it up, and Bryant has accepted that challenge. The Steelers need Bryant to return to his normal self, which means fighting for every contested ball, and to help open things up for the rest of the offense, because he just might be the most important factor in tonight’s game.
On defense, the Steelers ranked fourth in the NFL this past season with 48 sacks, and ranked fifth in run defense. What the Steelers need to do against Cincinnati, is to shut down running backs Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill to make the Bengals offense one dimensional, and to force A.J. McCarron beat them with his arm. McCarron is prone to being sacked, and when he was at Alabama, the few times he made mistakes, was when he faced consistent pressure.
Cockrell / Boykin / Gay:
This is the rotation at cornerback that is key for the Steelers tonight. All have the ball skills necessary to create turnovers, and the quickness-size to battle the Bengals receivers. Their coverage ability is good enough to help buy the pass rushers the extra second or two they might need to get to the quarterback.
The only team that is going to beat the Steelers tonight, are the Steelers themselves, because they are the better team, with more weapons. If the Steelers can protect the ball, and Ben, contain the Bengals receivers, and not let the Bengals players bait them into any penalties, the Steelers will walk away with a 31-17 win.