Pittsburgh Steelers: Here Come The Big Cats Of AFC North


With their backs essentially against the wall, the Pittsburgh Steelers face the undefeated Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday in what becomes not just a showdown, but perhaps a “must-win” game for the Black and Gold.

The headline going into the game with the 4-3 Steelers and the 6-0 Bengals is the return of Ben Roethlisberger. Having missed the last four games, the longest stretch of inactivity for the seasoned veteran in his career, in past games when he was coming off an injury, Big Ben has won only two out six games played. That does not bode well for Steelers Nation and Mike Tomlin’s team who if they want to defend their division title, will most likely HAVE to win this game.

The Cincinnati Bengals have not had success in the playoffs since Andy Dalton was promoted to starting quarterback. Losers of four straight games in the first round, 2015 has represented another season for the men in stripes where they appear to be one of the best teams in the league. Three of those four playoff losses with Dalton behind center saw the Bengals just score 10 points and in another game just 13. Only one of those games was close, a 19-13 loss to Houston. The other three games were blowouts to the Texans, Chargers, and Colts, giving up 31, 27, and 26 points in the process.

So here they are again, having another great season and certainly heading to the post-season again. Will this be the year Dalton gets over the snide? First he must take on the Steelers for the first of two regular season games and show he can win a big, critical game.

When the Bengals have the ball: Many think that the most dangerous offenses in the NFL belong to the Steelers, Patriots, and the Green Bay Packers. But don’t discount the abilities of the Cincinnati Bengals offensive unit. Heading into week eight, they are third in total offense and fifth in the passing game. Their running game is not too shabby either averaging about 122 yards on the ground.

The Steelers could be in trouble defending against the likes of the ever-dangerous A.J. Green, who might be one of the most underrated receivers in the league. Dalton also has at his disposal Tyler Eifert, Marvin Jones, and out of the backfield Giovani Bernard. That quartet has accounted for 105 receptions and 1,313 yards. On the ground, Bernard and Jeremy Hill might be as lethal as Pittaburgh’s Le’Veon Bell/DeAngelo Williams. Through six games, those two runners have put up 659 yards of rushing.

Will Pittsburgh’s defense be able to get pressure and sacks on Andy Dalton? Thus far he has only gone down behind the line of scrimmage six times which is about one per game and has thrown just two interceptions. Dalton’s quarterback rating is a solid 116.1 and he has tossed 14 touchdowns. Unless Pittsburgh’s defense can make a stand and get physical, getting off on snaps quickly, this game could turn into a shootout. That is if Roethlisberger can pick up where he left off.

When the Steelers have the ball: Steelers Fans have been waiting a month for this. The return of their star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The word out of Steelers central is that Big Ben had a very good week at practice and some teammates even said he was pushing the action. But that’s just Ben Roethlisberger, he’s a born competitor. Big Ben may be one of the toughest quarterbacks in history and it’s tough to keep him down. So he returns on Sunday but will he show signs of rust?

-= Related: NFL: Predicting Week Eight Outcomes =-

As stated, the Bengals and Steelers have two of the most potent offenses in the National Football League. The Steelers offense has been quiet the last few weeks with the absence of Roethlisberger. His return comes in a game that is crucial to both teams but more so for Pittsburgh.

With Martavis Bryant having missed the first five games and playing in just the last two, Pittsburgh’s big four receivers have been Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Darrius Heyward-Bey, and Heath Miller. In comparison to the Bengals, those four have 102 receptions and 1,171 yards. To consider, Brown’s stats would probably be much heftier had Ben Roethlisberger not gotten hurt.

For Pittsburgh’s ground game, outside of the first two games, it’s been ALL Le’Veon Bell. This kid is special make no mistake. He may be one of the most enjoyable running backs ever to watch. Barry Sanders was an amazing running back who had he not retired early would have most likely set the all-time rushing mark that Emmitt Smith would have never surpassed. But for Le’Veon Bell, his patience, ability to find holes, stutter stepping, movement along the line of scrimmage, and bursts of speed may be the best ever.

More from Ben Roethlisberger

Through five games Bell is averaging 102 yards per-game. DeAngelo Williams has added an additional 239 yards. The Bengals are 17th in the NFL defensively against the run, yielding about 109 yards a game. So, they can be run on. Sitting at 21st in the league against the pass, this game could be a shootout. Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins will be the two players Pittsburgh’s defense will have to keep their eyes on as the pairs have combined for 10 1/2 sacks. As a team, the Bengals have five interceptions in six games.

Intangibles: Since the Steelers became perennial winners in the 1970’s, they’ve often farmed well in big regular season games. Here’s yet another one on Sunday and the Steelers should consider it an advantage that they are at home. Had this game been in Cincinnati, it would have been very hostile territory. For Steelers Nation attending this game, they will need to become that “12th man.” Pittsburgh needs to make most of housting this game and rally behind their star QB. Not just on offense but the defense needs to pick up that vibe too and both sides of the ball need to bring their A+ game and execute to near perfection. Any mistakes will definitely come at a price.

Prediction: Picking this game is difficult. How do some of the media’s experts see the outcome? ESPN’s Coley Harvey like Cincinnati by a margin of 27-21. On the other hand, that network’s Jeremy Fowler sees the Steelers the victors by a score of 31-27. Over on NFL.com, Elliot Harrison likes the home team to win 28-27. CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco sees the Bengals on top 23-21. Finally, there’s the Bleacher Report and Mike Tanier who has a final score of Cincinnati 28 Pittsburgh 24.

Here in this column, my gut says this game is too big for the Steelers to let slip away. I believe they will rise to the occasion and both offense and defense will come out with something to prove.  If either team can’t get up for this game, then there’s something amiss in the locker rooms. Pittsburgh 27 Cincinnati 24.

Next: NFL: Your Week Eight Short Takes

On a final note, William Gay, Cam Heyward, and DeAngelo Williams have all been fined by the NFL for doing something positive recently. Heyward for writing “Ironhead” on his eye black to honor his father, Gay for wearing purple shoes in the Chiefs game to make a statement about domestic violence, and Williams for wearing pink to honor cancer victims.

The NFL should be ashamed of themselves for taking money from players who are trying to send positive messages in a sea of football that has so many domestic, violent, and negative stories floating around (Greg Hardy). These players and any others should be permitted to make positive social statements in any fashion they deem worthy, especially if it does not affect the outcome of a game or distract from it any way. Harv Aronson welcomes your opinion on this matter.