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Steelers vs. Bengals Film Room Playoff Preview: Pittsburgh defense needs to bring the heat

As the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare to face the Cincinnati Bengals in the playoffs, the defense knows exactly what it must do in order to keep the Bengals' offense in check.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

The rubber match between division rivals is set for this Saturday evening in Cincinnati when the Steelers play the Bengals for the AFC Wild Card matchup. The teams split their season series and both are looking to solidify dominance in what has been the most heated rivalry in the division for the 2015-2016 NFL season. The Bengals ended Le'Veon Bell's season for a second straight year and appeared to take pride in it as they gloated Bell's injury during and after their victory in the first matchup. Pittsburgh beat the Bengals in Cincinnati later in the season in a game where they would knock the Bengals' quarterback out with a broken thumb when he tried to tackle Stephon Tuitt after an interception.

Needless to say, there's some bad blood here. So naturally, what the Steelers must do in order to win this game on the defensive side of the ball is bring heat, be nasty and terrorize the Bengals quarterback, whomever it ends up being at the end of the week.

The Steelers managed to get three sacks on the Bengals in each of their games this season. At one point this season, the Bengals had the highest ranked offense in points per game. Their current ranking sits at seventh on the season after the loss of Andy Dalton slowed down their offense, but even when Dalton has been available for the Bengals, the Steelers' defense seems to handle them well. The Bengals averaged 26.2 points per game this season, even with their quarterback missing the last several games. But when they faced the Steelers, that average drops to 18.0 points per game.

Much of that has to do with the turnovers the Steelers have caused against the Bengals, many of those resulting from an enthusiastic pass rush that was third in the league in sacks. We take a look at some of the big pass rush plays of the season for Pittsburgh against Cincinnati.

First Play:

What frustated me most while we watched our team lose to the Baltimore Ravens in week 16 was the lack of dialed up blitzes called on defense. We saw a return to that last week when the Steelers brought down Austin Davis seven times, and we need to see that again this week. Here you see the Steelers rush five players with a stunt from Lawrence Timmons and Cam Heyward that forced Dalton from his launch point and delayed his pass, only to be finished off by Jarvis Jones and Ryan Shazier. The Steelers have the players to win one-on-one matchups in the pass rush against the Bengals' protection group. Bring the heat to force Dalton or AJ McCarron off their launch point and disrupt their timing pass plays and the Bengals' offense will see another rough day.

Second Play:

While this is not an example of when the team dials up extra blitzers to rush the quarterback, it is a great example of how the Steelers win their one-on-one matchups with the Bengals' offensive line and extra pass blockers. Andrew Whitworth talked a big game coming into week 14, but here you can see Cam Heyward takes his lunch money as he pushes him back into McCarron and then peels off to get the sack. Heyward is one of those players that the Bengals will have to account for at all times as he brings pressure. Whitworth is arguably their best pass blocker and he gets manhandled by Heyward on a play that was not designed for Pittsburgh to get a sack and instead force a dangerous pass from McCarron into tight coverage.

Third Play:

This play isn't a sack but it's the perfect example of when heat creates turnovers. You don't get to see the interception William Gay returns for a touchdown on this play (or his amazing celebration afterwards) but you do get to see James Harrison beat, guess who, Whitworth around the edge to put heat on AJ McCarron. The young quarterback from Alabama saw Harrison coming and his quickest thought was to float a pass to a receiver running a short route, which allowed William Gay to intercept the ball and return his NFL record fifth consecutive interception for a touchdown.


Pittsburgh's defense played a solid game the first time these teams met, despite allowing AJ Green to score the go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter. They played even nastier in the rematch when they recorded three interceptions and three sacks against the Bengals as the Steelers went on to win by doube digits in Cincinnati. The Bengals will have a focus to try and pre-emt the Steelers' pass rush, but from the looks of the past two games between the teams, Pittsburgh should have the advantage in the matchups at the line of scrimmage.

In short, bring the heat.