Sunday, December 15, 2013

Sunday Night-Game Day 14: Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers

Tyler Eiffert left the Steelers' defense behind
"If we don't shore things up, we won't win a game. Simple as that. It's not mystical."
-- Steeler safety Ryan Clark, following the Sept. 16th loss to the Bengals

Tonight at frozen Heinz Field, the 5-8 Steelers will host the 9-4 Cincinnati Bengals for the second prime-time TV match-up of the two AFC North Division foes this year.

Nearly three months ago, on the night of Monday, Sept. 16, the Bengals won, 20-10. Since then, the formerly forlorn Bengals have risen up to seize firm control of the division once dominated by the Black 'n Gold. The Bengals have won three in a row; the Steelers have lost two straight.

We all know how the Steelers have fared since that Monday night loss, in which the Bengals seized the early opportunity afforded by tight tend David Paulsen's pivotal fumble (as the Steelers were driving to possibly take a 10-0 lead in the first quarter). Andy Dalton immediately hit tight end Tyler Eiffert with a 74-yard pass-and-run. It was all downhill from there.

The Bengals went on to control the clock for more than 35 minutes, as the Steelers couldn't put together anything on offense. Over the first 23 minutes of the second half, Todd Haley's offense mustered all of minus-two yards. The offensive line allowed only two sacks, but opened no lanes for the running backs. Defensive end Michael Johnson owned left tackle Mike Adams all night long.

Sign of Things to Come
Perhaps more ominously, in the big-picture scheme of things, that pass to Eiffert presaged many more big plays the Steelers would surrender this season. In fact, this year the Steelers have surrendered an astounding 18 plays of 40 yards or more, including 11 plays of 50 yards or more. The Steelers have given up five runs of more than 40 yards. Pittsburgh's run defense is ranked 24th in the NFL.

That game in Week 2 of the regular season served notice of many significant issues the Steelers would face this season -- and have not fixed yet.

As for the match-up itself, prior to that Week 2 game, Joey Porter's Pit Bulls flagged a number of storylines to watch, and many of them still apply:

James Harrison; the Steelers' inconsistent offense; the Steelers' secondary vs. a Bengals receiving corps featuring A.J. Green, Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eiffert (whom the Steelers had a chance to draft No. 1 but passed on him in favor of linebacker Jarvis Jones, who may have to match up on occasion with Eiffert), Dick LeBeau's defensive schemes; and Ben Roethlisberger, of course, as always, etcetera, etc.

Yeah, lots of angles and storylines to watch tonight, again. Let's hope for a better result.

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