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Five Key Matchups in Steelers vs. Bengals Week 8

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The Pittsburgh Steelers need a victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 8 at Heinz Field, and there are plenty of key matchups to watch throughout the game which could lead to victory for the Black-and-Gold.

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It's another crucial week for the Pittsburgh Steelers. With Cincinnati coming into town undefeated at 6-0, a loss would make winning the division quite improbable. A win keeps Pittsburgh in both the AFC-North picture and the Wildcard race.

The following are key matchups to watch for in this division showdown.

CB Antwon Blake vs WR AJ Green
AJ Green may be a Pro-Bowler but, when he lines up against the Pittsburgh Steelers, he's nothing short of All-World, All-Earth or All-Universe. In eight career games against the Black-and-Gold, the former Georgia Bulldog has 52 catches for 687 yards and four touchdowns. But as remarkable as that is, the Bengals are only 2-6 in those eight showdowns.

At 6'4" and 205 lbs, Green has 35 receptions (ranked 23rd) for 531 yards (ranked 15th) and three scores. Green is a savvy route-runner and nearly unstoppable in jump-ball situations. His ability to get separation spells trouble for defensive backs.

Due to the uncertainty of William Gay's injury status, Antwon Blake will draw Green. Blake has an interception this year, but he's prone to getting beaten.  Ross Cockrell should also be saddled with the responsibility of containing Green. AJ is exceptional in man-coverage, so the Steeler DBs will need to double him up.

Merely keeping Green around his average of 85 yards-per-game against Pittsburgh would be a victory in itself.

QB Ben Roethlisberger vs Pain, Absence and The Bengals Defense
With full participation in practice this week, Roethlisberger is slated to make his return to the lineup this week against Cincinnati. But questions abound regarding how effective the Steeler QB can be after suffering a sprained MCL and a deep bruise to his knee. There is also speculation on the dreaded rust-factor being bandied about.

The truth of the matter is that Big Ben has merited inclusion in discussions of elite quarterbacks in the National Football League. He knows how to compensate and navigate around restrictions such as a knee brace or slightly-reduced mobility. As far as the rust conundrum,   there really shouldn't be much. He's been throwing and practicing in some capacity since before the Arizona game. Even if some form of rust is evident, a Ben Roethlisberger that hasn't played in a month or moves a tick slower still gives the Steelers a much higher chance to win than a full-strength Mike Vick or Landry Jones.

Rust is less likely to hamper Rothlisberger than lingering pain. Ben admitted that this was the most painful injury that he's had as a pro and has commented that he expects to feel it the remainder of the year. His threshold for pain seems high and how he handles it going forward will be a main contributor to his success.

The biggest concern surrounding the return of #7 is protecting him from further injury or a new one altogether. It wasn't just Alejandro Villanueva that struggled in the loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. The entire offensive line did not do enough to protect Jones. Although Big Al played valiantly at times, he doesn't have the seasoning of a Kelvin Beachum and will have to improve immensely on the fly.

If Roethlisberger has ample enough time to throw, the intense supply of weapons at his disposal  that may just be the best he's ever had in his storied career, will lessen the load on his shoulders.With Le'Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant together with Ben for the first time this season and the potential reemergence to prosperity of Heath Miller, Darius Heyward-Bey and Markus Wheaton, the preseason prophecy of fireworks from the offense may come to fruition.

Todd Haley's crew will be facing a Bengal defensive unit that ranks 21st overall in defending the passing game. They have allowed 261.5 yards-per-game by air, but have been stingy when it comes to points with a seventh-ranked 128 allowed over six games.

S Mike Mitchell vs QB Andy Dalton
Dalton is having a very effective year behind center for Cincinnati. With AJ Green and Marvin Jones to throw to, in addition to a potent running game, the much-maligned Bengal QB is thriving by completing 67.4% of his passes and throwing 14 touchdowns. He has only thrown two interceptions and 2015. The fear in Cincinnati is the Dalton is going to revert to his old ways in fold any day now. However, against a less than stellar Steeler defensive backfield, Dalton should thrive again this week.

Mitchell is slowly becoming a potent force on the Steelers defense. His patrolling of centerfield and dishing-out of crushing blows is not Polamaluesque, but is approaching the Ryan Clark neighborhood. He helped win the game late against Arizona and will be heavily relied upon to stop Dalton.

RB Le'Veon Bell vs LB Rey Maualuga and LB Vincent Rey
Bell continues to ran rampant since his Week 3 return from suspension. #26 has 511 yards rushing and is averaging five yards-per-carry. He is averaging 90.3 ypg and a touchdown per game in four games against Cincy.

Rey and Rey are tackling machines for the 6-0 Bengals. Vincent has 57 on the year, while Maualuga has tallied 39. They lead a defense that ranks 17th against the run with an allowance of 109.9 ypg.

ILB Ryan Shazier vs TE Tyler Eifert
The Steelers continue to have trouble against big guys at the tight end position. Tyler Eifert is very similar to Travis Kelce, who had his way with the Steeler defense last week to the tune of five catches for 73 yards.

Eifert is hovering around the perimeter and soon may join the elite at his position. In 2015, Eifert has 28 receptions for 342 yards. His six scores lead his squad. The Notre Dame product is a favorite target and safety valve for Andy Dalton.

Shazier and the DBs struggled with Kelce and will be hard-pressed to keep the TE with the initials "T.E." from moving the chains. Shazier has the speed and skill to stay with Eifert, but size and strength favors the man in white, black and orange. But if the Steelers find a way to chuck Eifert as soon as the pigskin is snapped, Shazier throwing a blanket party with him as the guest of honor may be effective.

Other Matchups To Watch:

Steelers Front Seven vs RB Giovanni Bernard

RG David Decastro and RT Marcus Gilbert vs DE Carlos Dunlap and DT Geno Atkins

WR Martavis Bryant vs CB Adam Jones

RB Deangelo Williams and CB William Gay and Friends vs The NFL Uniform Policy