There has been a lot of bad blood between the Steelers and the Bengals going back to their 2005 playoff game, when the Bengals accused Kimo Von Oelhoffen of going after Carson Palmer’s knee. It was obvious by Kimo’s reaction to seeing Palmer lay on the ground in distress, and the fact that they were very good friends, that it was totally unintentional on Kimo’s part. Fast forward to the last two years, when the season’s of LeVeon Bell and Antonio Brown were ended by the Bengals. Bell’s knees and Browns head were clearly targeted on each occasion, with those hits carried out by Vontaze Burfict. When you can’t beat a superior opponent, the only option left is to injure their best players, which is exactly how the actions of Burfict came across.
Unfortunately for the Bengals, Bufict’s lack of integrity and professionalism couldn’t get the job done. As for his “apologies” to Brown, they look to be about as shallow as a puddle on the sidewalk after a good rain. For the first time since week 8 of last season, Burfict and his Bengals face the Steelers with a healthy Bell and Brown in the lineup. If the Bengals weren’t good enough to cleanly beat the Steelers without both of them playing, how can they expect to cleanly beat the Steelers with both of them back in the lineup? This Steelers team is better than they were last year, and they are clearly better than when they played the Bengals earlier this season. Sure, the Bengals could pull out a win, anything is possible on any given Sunday, but here are a five reasons why that will not happen.
The Bengals Have Issues With Pass Protection:
Andy Dalton has had a rough year when it comes to feeling safe in the pocket. Playing behind a pourus offensive line, he has been sacked 36 times, or, 7.2% of the time he drops back to pass. In the first meeting with the Bengals this season, the Steelers only got to Dalton once, because of issues with generating a consistent pass rush, but things are much different now. Keith Butler has created multiple ways for his young defense to get after the quarterback, and as a result, the Steelers defense ranks near the top of the league in sacks over the last six weeks. A healthy Bud Dupree, added to the mix, only makes things more difficult for the Cincinnati pass protection.
Bengals have problems defending against the run:
Despite the return of Vontaze Burfict, who leads the Bengals defense with 92 tackles, they still have difficulty stopping the run. The Bengals defense is giving up 119 yards per game on the ground, at 4.5 yards per carry. That’s bad news for them, as they have to figure out a way to stop LeVeon Bell and an offensive line that has dominated the last four defensive fronts they have faced. Over that four game span, Bell has averaged 124 yards per game, and 5.3 yards per carry. Making things tougher on the Bengals in trying to stop Bell, is that LeV now has Roosevelt Nix leading the way for him, which could make it a long day for one Vontaze Burfict.
The Bengals Will Be Without AJ Green:
Although there is a chance that AJ Green will play, it is highly unlikely he will be very effective coming off of his torn hanstring. Even when Green was healthy during the week 2 matchup Ross Cockrell did an exceptional job of keeping Green in check, holding him to 2 receptions for 38. This time around, Andy Dalton will be facing a much improved Steelers secondary that has seen the emergence of two rookies, Artie Burns and Sean Davis. The development of Burns in recent weeks has allowed Willie Gay to move back into the slot where he truly excels. Sean Davis has provided a physical, athletic presence at the free safety spot, significantly upgrading the run support and deep middle coverage. With the prospect of having no AJ Green to go to Dalton’s main options will be limited to the Tylers, Eifert and Boyd.
Bengals lack a potent running game:
Jeremy Hill is the Bengals leading rusher with 788 yards, and he has two 100 yard games to his credit, both against Cleveland. What does that mean for the Steelers run defense? It means that while Hill has 279 yards rushing in two games against the Browns, he has 509 yards in the remaining 11 games. The Steelers limited Hill to 22 yards on 11 carries in week 2, and have significantly improved their run defense since then. The Steelers currently rank 4th in the NFL in run defense, giving up 90.1 yards per game. They have held their last three opponents to an average of only 71.3 yards per game, completely shutting down LeSean McCoy. Jeremy Hill is alright, but definitely not in the same class as the Shady one.
The Killer B’s:
The 5th reason why the Steelers should win on Sunday is because of Ben Roethlisberger, LeVeon Bell, and Antonio Brown. All three were injured last season by the dirty play of Vontaze Burfict, and now, all three are back at full strength, seeking a measure of payback. The best way to hurt a bully like Burfict is by putting points on the scoreboard. Despite his “apologies”, that is just what the Killer B’s intend to do. The Bengals couldn’t beat the Steelers by taking out two-thirds of the leagues most dangerous trio, and they shouldn’t be able to do it with all three of them present, at full strength, and focused on torturing them six ways from Sunday.
With the recent history of this rivalry being what it is, and the significance of what this game means, expect the Steelers to come out looking to throw the first punch. The Bengals whole motivation for this game is to hurt the Steelers chances for winning the division, and a postseason birth….that’s it. The Steelers are out to win the AFC North, and then the Super Bowl. Whether they publically state it or not, they also want to exact some revenge for the last couple of years, by burrying the Bengals 2016 season, with an exclamation point. The Steelers don’t intend to do it through post play skirmishes either, Mike Tomlin has made that crystal clear. The Steelers intend to exact their revenge by thoroughly beating the Bengals in all phases of the game, while at the same time sending a message to Baltimore in the process, that we own this division and we’re coming for you next.