Cincy Jungle, SB Nation's Bengals site, is one of the best on the network and the best Bengals site available. We're joined by staff writer Scott Bantel, who has been kind enough this holiday season to answer five questions for us. Check out their work here, and follow them on Twitter @CincyJungle
1. Back in August, did you expect Cincinnati to be playing at Pittsburgh in Week 17 for the division championship?
No. In my preseason division previews I had the Bengals at 11-5 and the Steelers at 9-7 (and a wildcard team). I also picked the Bengals to lose this game, so I had the Bengals coming in at 11-4, the Steelers at 8-7 and the Steelers playing for a playoff spot. I underestimated how good Le'Veon Bell would be this year and underestimated how strong the Steelers passing attack would be. This played out just the way the NFL wanted it to - the division coming down to the last week - and while I wish the Bengals had wrapped up the division before this week, you couldn't ask for more as a fan, two teams playing in the final week with the winner taking the division.
2. Cincinnati's defense has seen it all this year; collapses, complete shutdowns, takeaway waterfalls...what has been the one constant for them this season?
The secondary. With the exception of the big play to Martavis Bryant in the first matchup, the secondary has been very solid and the one constant of the defense. The line has been up and down with injuries and depth issues and the linebacking corps has been decimated by injuries. The secondary, despite little pressure by the line (32nd in sacks - 20), has held opponents to just 6.5 YPA (t-5th), 16 touchdowns (t-1st), 75.3 passer rating (3rd), 59.9% completion percentage (8th) and are tied for 6th with 18 interceptions.
3. I'm putting the over/under of targets for A.J. Green at 15. Which are you taking?
I would say under for two reasons: 1) the health of Green's arm; and 2) the Bengals run game. First, the bruised arm Green suffered on Monday looked bad - bad enough that Green thought he had broken his arm and was taken into the locker room in the first half for x-rays; and bad enough that he had zero catches for just the second time in his career. After every pass his way on Monday, Green was wincing in pain and his arm would just dangle at his side.
Second, since the Bengals and Steelers met last, the Bengals have found their recipe for success - running. Despite the fact that Dalton had success in their first matchup (302 yards, 2 TDs, 1 running TD, 0 INTs and a 128.8 rating), the Bengals are better when they run the ball and keep the opponent off the field. In the two games since their first matchup (2-0), the Bengals have run for an average of 225.5 YPG and an impressive 5.5 YPA. While Cleveland has a terrible run defense, the Broncos are the 2nd rank defense in terms of the run and came into Monday's game giving up just 71.6 YPG.
For whatever reason, the Bengals game plan in their first matchup with the Steelers did not involve much running - 14 carries between Hill and Bernard - barring a large early deficit, that will not be the case Sunday night. Jeremy Hill, who is a very similar back to Le'Veon Bell in both size, style and talent, ran for 5.8 YPA against the Steelers but only had 8 carries. In the two games since, Hill has averaged 23.5 carries per game and 147.5 YPG. If the Bengals hope to win on Sunday night, Hill will need to have 20+ carries.
4. Andy Dalton's primetime record is a considerable dropoff from his average statistics over his career. His performance against Denver was probably his best - 17-for-26, 146 yards, two touchdowns and pick that was returned for a touchdown. Is there concern regarding Dalton in this game, or is the generally positive games he's had against Pittsburgh in the past more the expectation?
Andy Dalton had a solid game on Monday night, but I don't think you will find any Bengals fan that is 100% confident with Dalton in big games. One solid game does not erase the history of poor games. With that said, in Dalton's defense, he has been solid in two of his three primetime games in 2014. In the Bengals Week 5 matchup in New England, despite the Bengals being blown out (43-17), Dalton was not the reason for the loss - Dalton had a 117.4 passer rating, 2 TDs and 0 INTs.
With that being said, you are correct that Dalton has had some success against the Steelers. After starting his career 0-3 against the Steelers, Dalton has gone 2-2 since, including a division clinching performance, in Pittsburgh, in 2012. In fact, in the Marvin Lewis era, the Bengals are 5-6 at Heinz Field and just 2-11 at Paul Brown Stadium. Given Dalton's success against the Steelers in Week 14, combined with the Bengals powerful run attack, I would expect another solid game from Dalton.
5. What would consecutive divisional championships do for Marvin Lewis's legacy with the Bengals?
Back-to-back division championships would be nice, but it won't change the legacy of Marvin Lewis. Lewis has three AFC North championships and five playoff appearances under his belt, but he has zero playoff wins. At this point, the only thing that can change the way fans see Lewis is playoff victories. This team was expected to make the playoffs and if they make it and lose again, it will further solidify Lewis's legacy of being a solid regular season coach and a terrible playoff coach.
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