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TPOP’s Preview of the Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cincinnati Bengals

Ben has worked his magic against the Bengals before.  He'll need to do it again today. Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty

Ben has worked his magic against the Bengals before. He’ll need to do it again today.
Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty

Bombs away.

That seems to be the approach the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense has employed and with good reason. With receivers Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton composing the best trio of receivers in the league, opposing secondaries simply cannot stop the offensive onslaught. Brown is seemingly unstoppable on the boundary with Wheaton providing exciting production from the slot position.

With these trio of receivers proving to be a nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators to stop, the question is simple, albeit terrifying: how do you stop the Steelers’ offense?

It appears as if the answer is … you can’t. It’s impossible. It’s the Kobayashi Maru of offenses. The plan is seemingly to limit the damage done by the trio of receivers, as well as the production from running back DeAngelo Williams and tight ends Heath Miller and Jesse James. Oh, and there’s that guy Ben Roethlisberger orchestrating the passing attack. That guy is pretty good too.

Which leads to the game this week against the current division leading Cincinnati Bengals, a team that evidently prides itself in taking out All-Pro running backs. I’m not bitter, though.

THE GAMEPLAN …

… Offensively

Throw it deep.

In a series of tweets earlier this week, I was able to put the recent production of the Steelers’ offense in context. It appears as if the NFL media leaves out the Steelers as one of the greatest offenses in the league, but it isn’t clear why.

The Steelers’ offense, when firing on all cylinders, is the best offense in the league and I don’t think it’s close. At all. Led by Roethlisberger, the offense over the last four games has racked up over 2,100 yards, an achievement not seen since the 1982 San Diego Chargers. This includes the ’07 New England Patriots and ’13 Denver Broncos. Neither of those two offenses, as historically great as they both were, were able to produce the kind of yardage this offense has in recent weeks. This is especially interesting when considering the Broncos played the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl, quarterback Peyton Manning was only able to orchestrate that offense to 8 points on neutral ground. Roethlisberger led the Steelers to over 560 yards of offense in CenturyLink and lost the game because of the offense’s inability to maintain control of the football.

I digress, however.

This offense has the unmatched ability of throwing it deep and forcing opposing defenses to continually play the pass which opens up the ground game for Williams. As great as Williams has played, the damage Le’Veon Bell could be doing with this sort of offensive attack is staggering.

This leads me to perhaps the most terrifying point of all: this offense isn’t anywhere close to being fully healthy, either. All-Pro ‘back Bell is out for the remainder of the season with All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey’s status still being a state secret. This offense has not yet had the time to truly operate at its best because its best has not seen the field together in 2015 and will not until training camp of 2016. Tack on the loss of left tackle Kelvin Beachum and this team should be hurting offensively, but has dominated instead.

This should scare the Bengals.

The gameplan in recent weeks has been simple yet effective: throw it deep. Force defensive backs to have to make plays against the abundance of talent the Steelers boast at receiver and turn every game into a track meet. It appears as if it’s working.

The Steelers are going to force the Bengals to play man coverage against a receiving unit that spits in the face of one-on-one coverage. With Brown and Bryant on the boundary, Wheaton has shown the ability to churn out yardage against Nickel corners consistently. Against the Indianapolis Colts, Bryant showed why man coverage isn’t going to cut it against this receiving unit. Two dropped touchdowns later, and that game could have been much worse for the Colts. Keep in mind, they lost by 35 points.

Roethlisberger is going to challenge the Bengals’ secondary all afternoon long on Sunday. The gameplan, much like it has been over recent weeks, is going to pick apart a defense that simply lacks the talent to stop the Steelers’ aerial assault. The first game between these two featured Roethlisberger returning after a month long absence and turned into a slug fest in which the Steelers grasped defeat from the jaws of victory.

Expect a fireworks show on Sunday afternoon.

While the gameplan is effective, it is not without its drawbacks.

… Defensively

The issue in turning every game into a track meet is … every game is turned into a track meet. With the current talent at secondary, the onus lies on the offense to continually score points because the defense is going to allow chunks of yardage, and points, to better quarterbacks. Andy Dalton falls into this category.

For better or worse, Dalton is no longer considered the “almost-quarterback” he once was. While yet to be seen if he has the ability to lead his team to a playoff win and has lost twice in primetime this season, Dalton has played well enough this season to push back against the Steelers’ offensive assault. The Bengals boast quite a few weapons offensively themselves and have the ability to pick apart a lackluster Steelers’ secondary. Wide receivers A.J. Green and Marvin Jones have shown to be pests for this defense in the past, and the Steelers usually dominant front seven has struggled stopping running back Jeremy Hill. While unclear at the time of this writing if tight end Tyler Eifert is going to play in this game, the struggles of the defense stopping tight ends this season have been well documented. Eifert can be a nuisance with his impressive combination of size and speed.

The pace of play is going to be dictated by the offense and for a defense that is built the way the Steelers are, this isn’t always a good thing. The gameplan defensively is going to remain consistent in applying pressure and continually trying to force third-and-long situations. While vanilla and somewhat vague, the offense scoring at their current rate is going to force opposing offenses to throw at the defense. In the current NFL climate, asking a secondary composed of defensive backs Antwon Blake, Ross Cockrell and William Gay to stop opposing offenses is unrealistic. Limiting the damage by receivers Green and Jones needs to take priority, but not allowing chunk yardage on blown coverages needs to take priority. Far too often a miscommunication on the defense has resulted in an explosive play for opposing offenses. It is simply too late in the season for this to be acceptable.

SCORE PREDICTION AND PARTING SHOTS

For the Steelers, this is a must-win game. It could be argued that every game remaining on the schedule falls under this category. At the current rate of the offense in combination of the personnel changes on defense (Brandon Boykin is playing!), the explosiveness of the offense is simply too much for the Bengals to handle.

Steelers 31 – Bengals 27

About Connor Isted (41 Articles)
Connor is a Steelers contributor to The Point of Pittsburgh.
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