The Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals will line up under the lights of Monday Night Football tonight. If the Steelers want to avoid a dreaded 0-2 start, they must uncover their offense.
Here are the four keys to victory:
1. Center-field home run
Offensive coordinator Todd Haley needs to get the speedy duo of Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders matched up against Bengals safeties Reggie Nelson and George Iloka. Last week the Chicago Bears had success when Brandon Marshall was moved around, forcing the Bengals safeties to cover him. It’s a big game for Sanders. He needs to show he is not the 2013 version of Mike Wallace and redeem himself after dropping the ball in Week 1.
Haley used tight end Heath Miller in a big role the last time the Steelers were in Cincy, but Miller’s injury will force the entire receiver core to step up. Slot receiver Jerricho Cotchery may be the go-to guy. Hopefully Haley will wise up and use his speedy new toy Markus Wheaton on the deep center-field routes instead of slow-footed Cotchery this week. Keeping Wheaton on the bench again this week would be stupidity times two.
2. Find Terence Newman and attack
Terence Newman is the “William Gay” of Cincinnati. The 11-year veteran is the target opposing quarterbacks scheme to exploit. Roethlisberger is one of them; Antonio Brown primarily lined up against Newman in both of his 95-plus-yard games last season.
3. New kid on the block
Bengals will undoubtedly attack the Steelers’ new starting center Fernando Velasco. The Steelers will not only need Velasco to hang tough versus nose tackle Domata Peko and Geno Atkins, but the running backs need to step up in protecting Roethlisberger. The backs gave up 3.5 of the five Titans sacks last Sunday.
Steelers tackles Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert have to live up to their potential tonight. The Bears’ tackles kept Cincy defense ends Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap sackless last week. Adams and Gilbert need to do the same. They will also need to contend with their former teammate James Harrison. He will be “gunning” for them.
4. Rev up the running game
As unlikely (and frankly stubborn) as it is, head coach Mike Tomlin has said the Steelers will again try to establish a running game with Isaac Redman, Felix Jones and Jonathan Dwyer. Dwyer ran for 122 yards in his last visit to Cincy, a game in which the line was in worse shape than it is now. (Both Maurkice Pouncey and Marcus Gilbert were lost during that game to injuries)
The Steelers will have fullback Will Johnson for his first game action since a preseason hamstring injury. Haley likes to use Johnson in the passing game as a blocker, and he has been a reliable receiving target. Johnson vs. James Harrison or Rey Maualuga would be a favorable matchup for the Steelers.
I know no one is picking them to win but call me a homer. We keep listening to the hype about the Bengals defense, yet the Steelers have a better secondary and linebacker group than the Bengals. And there is no comparison between Dalton and Roethlisberger. Big Ben also plays well in his homestate of Ohio. A healthy Polamalu, Jarvis Jones, Woodley, and Steve McClendon in Dalton’s face will help the ailing Steelers offense.
STEELERS win 20-13.