Dec 7, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) and Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) after the game at Paul Brown Stadium. Pittsburgh Steelers defeat the Cincinnati Bengals 42-21. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
The Cincinnati Bengals have taken the NFL by storm throughout the first six weeks of the season by jumping out to a 6-0 start. So far they have had impressive comeback wins against the Baltimore Ravens in Baltimore and in overtime at home against the Seattle Seahawks. The Bengals offense has been one of the best in the league, averaging 410.3 yards per game, good for ninth in the NFL after the bye week. This Bengals team has an opportunity to do what no Bengals team has ever done–go 7-0–but first, it must overcome its most crucial matchup so far this season in its upcoming Week 8 contest against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
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Take a trip back in time to Week 17 of the 2014 regular season.
The Bengals led the Steelers in the AFC North by half a game going into Pittsburgh in the regular season finale. The Steelers led 20-17 with 5:43 remaining in the fourth quarter when Andy Dalton hit A.J. Green for a 17-yard reception when cornerback Antwon Blake tacked Green, forcing a fumble that led the an eventual Bengals loss. The Bengals then finished second in the AFC North by half a game and Green was concussed during the Bengals Wild Card loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
If the Bengals want to continue to prove critics wrong and show the NFL that the AFC North runs through Cincinnati, then it goes without saying that the Bengals will need to win on Sunday in Pittsburgh. Cincinnati already has a 2.5 game lead in the AFC North following a 23-13 Pittsburgh loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. However, don’t count these Steelers out quite yet; Ben Roethlisberger will likely return to action on Sunday.
A year ago, this Steelers offense ranked second in the NFL, averaging 411.1 yards per game. Many optimistic analysts predicted that the 2015 Steelers offense would become one of the best offenses in league history in the league, due to the trio of Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. Roethlisberger looks to return for his first start in five weeks after spraining his MCL against the Rams in Week 3. For only the second time this season, the Steelers’ trio will take the field together in an effort to revitalize their currently 11th-ranked offensive unit.
This game has the makings to end up in a shootout. While the Bengals defense has been stout at times, it has still allowed 20.3 points per game. The Steelers defense hasn’t exactly been the “Steel Curtain” that has been known to dominate the AFC North in the past. Pittsburgh’s defense is currently ranked 24th overall, allowing 376.6 yards per game. However, the Steelers’ scoring defense has been much better; Pittsburgh has only allowed 18.7 points per game.
The way Dalton is playing right now isn’t a fluke. Expect him to return to the way he was playing before the bye week and possibly even better with an extra week of preparation. It will be key for the passing game to excel against the Steelers’ improving secondary, but it would be even nicer to see if Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill can get the run game going early.
Bengals fans are eager to see Hill break out of his current sophomore slump and return with a dominant performance running the ball, as his 2015 season has been extremely disappointing. A solid game against a Steelers defense that has locked down against the run in 2015 could give Hill and the Bengals the confidence they need to move forward and win even more games. Plus, Hill’s re-emergence could open up another dimension of the Bengals offense that hasn’t even been unlocked so far in the 2015 season.