Steelers Vs. Bengals: Passing games likely to be on display as Pittsburgh heads to Cincinnati

Jason Miller

Neither team has been running well in 2012, but they both have match-up advantages favoring their passing offenses.

Rob Bironas's 40-yard field goal at the end of regulation propelled the Titans to an upset victory over the Steelers in Week 6, and hugely magnified the importance of Pittsburgh's Week 7 game at Cincinnati.

The Steelers (2-3) dropped another road game, in the AFC, no less, and now face the prospect of the worst start this franchise has seen in the last seven years.

Pittsburgh didn't lose its fourth game until Week 15 in its last two seasons, and Week 11 in 2009. It reached a 2-4 mark in the 2006 season after losing its Week 7 game at Atlanta in overtime.

The Steelers finished 8-8 that season, one year after winning the franchise's fifth Super Bowl title. Obviously, times have changed.

The Bengals haven't needed many games to lose four over the same time period, but Cincinnati, equipped with mega-stud wide receiver A.J. Green and a quarterback not even remotely afraid of getting him the ball deep, look to challenge the Steelers in the one area they've allowed very little success in recent years - the big play.

When the Bengals have the ball

This game will come down to Cincinnati choosing the right opportunities in which to get Green the ball. He has a ridiculous 22 catches for 317 yards and four touchdowns in his last three games. Still, the Bengals are riding a two-game losing streak, erasing the momentum generated from a 3-1 start to the season.

Cincinnati hasn't run particularly well, averaging just south of 100 yards per game (21st in the NFL), but Dalton is averaging over 40 passing attempts per game, and is ninth in the NFL with 288 yards per game.

Expect the Bengals to test besieged Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor outside the numbers, the way teams have been through the Steelers' first five games. Against Tennessee, the Steelers played a Cover 1 shell, leaving their cornerbacks in single coverage outside the numbers. While Taylor's penalty concerns are valid (his seven penalties is the highest mark among defensive backs in the NFL), he's been left without help often in the absence of Troy Polamalu - who won't play Sunday.

Nothing helps coverage like a pass rush, though. And the Steelers have gotten little help from their pass rush. With just 11 sacks (24th in the NFL), they've been without James Harrison or LaMarr Woodley for 18 of the 20 quarters they've played this season. The Bengals throw the ball often, so the 19 sacks they've allowed isn't shocking, but it's a game in which the Steelers absolutely must get pressure on the passer.

When the Steelers have the ball

With the amount of injuries the Steelers have on the offensive side of the ball, it will be interesting to see what tweaks will be made to the game plan - if any.

As of Friday morning, right tackle Marcus Gilbert is not expected to play, leaving rookie Mike Adams to make his first career start in his place. The Bengals are statistically around the bottom third of the league in rushing defense (116.8 yards allowed) and scoring (27.2 points per game), but the Steelers have found ways to be unsuccessful running the ball (74 yards per game) against most of the opponents they've played this season.

Injuries can be blamed for much of it, but inconsistent rushing efforts from Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer over the first three games is just as culpable.

This will be a particular issue Sunday considering neither Rashard Mendenhall nor Redman have practiced this week heading into Friday's final session. If neither are able to play, Dwyer and Baron Batch will likely split the load, with Chris Rainey getting a few carries mixed in.

The Steelers' best chance in this game is going to be in the air. Expect them to challenge Cincinnati's back seven over the middle portion of the field. Linebacker Rey Maualuga is a liability in coverage, and can be attacked where he stands. Getting him isolated on any of the three Steelers running backs likely to be active in this game will be an advantage for the Steelers.

The banged up offensive line combined with what could be a lack of running back depth suggests the Steelers will throw more passes per drive than they have all season. It won't be the same kind of vertical game the Bengals will likely have in store, because the only effective defense against a player like Green is to keep him off the field.

Turnovers will be particularly critical, partially in avoiding them, but even more so in forcing them. The Steelers enter the game with a +2 give/take ratio, while the Bengals have a -7.


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