Cincinnati was Team No. 2 in line during Pittsburgh's epic four-game losing streak to start the 2013 season. While Tennessee - numero uno on that list - ran the ball frequently, the Bengals were the team that really drove home the point of how much the Steelers' run defense would struggle in 2013. Rookie Giovani Bernard showed every reason why he was a second-round pick with 65 total yards and two touchdowns on nine touches, but he highlighted Cincinnati's ability to strike at the Steelers in a variety of different ways.
Steelers' defensive end Ziggy Hood, according to Tribune-Review writer Ralph N. Paulk, is expected to start again in place of Brett Keisel (foot injury) in the re-match from Cincinnati's 20-10 win in Week 2, and he knows the Bengals well. He was a starter at that point in the season, but has since been replaced by Cameron Heyward.
"They have running backs with different styles, but they have the same goal," Hood told Paulk. "We have to be aware of who's in the backfield and what they're capable of doing."
The running backs, Bernard and BenJarvis Green-Ellis, are capable of doing plenty, and that's not mentioning A.J. Green, wide receiver extraordinaire, or second-year WR Marvin Jones, or tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert.
Cincinnati is arguably the most balanced offensive team in the NFL, and their biggest strength is probably within their team defense. They don't play terrible special teams either, making them one of the most complete teams in the NFL. That's something quite evident in their 9-4 record, and borderline coasting status at the top of the AFC North (they lead Baltimore by two games, meaning a Bengals win and a Ravens loss to Detroit clinches the division for the first time since 2009).
It's an every-play thing with the Bengals, as the Steelers saw in Week 2. Bernard hurt them on the ground, but his touchdown reception in the third quarter really showed everything fans needed to know about that game. No Steelers defender seemed particularly intent to get off their blocks, and Bernard went 27 yards untouched for the score.
Eifert, the rookie from Notre Dame, had a season-high 61 yard reception in the first half, making himself one of many positive contributors to an offense that held the ball for over 35 minutes in the win.
Worst of all, Cincinnati is a more explosive unit now. Winners of three straight games, they've scored over 40 points in two of those three games. It's all coming together for the Bengals, as it appears the Steelers are winding down.
Being aware of who the Bengals have on the field is just one of myriads of things Pittsburgh will need to do to compete in this game.
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