Week two of the NFL season concludes with a Monday Night Football match up of AFC divisional rivals when the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers meet at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. Pittsburgh is a perennial contender not only in their division, but in the AFC as a whole. The Bengals on the other hand are up and comers, who have made the playoffs in back to back years and are looking to make one more leap forward by winning a playoff game this season.
It is shocking to think, given their impressive resumes, that either Cincinnati or Pittsburgh will see themselves fall to 0-2 when the final whistle sounds in Ohio.
The Bengals blew a late lead against the Bears in week one, and other than the late collapse can feel pretty good about how they played in Chicago.
Pittsburgh’s opening performance did not inspire as much optimism as their rivals. Upset at home by a Tennessee Titans team that does not have much enthusiasm surrounding it entering the 2013 season, Pittsburgh’s lack of a running game was exposed and the injury bug began to bite.
Both teams need a win to climb back into a tie atop the divisional standings with defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore.
When the game kicks off tonight, several factors will decide who leaves town victorious and who is scrambling to save their season.
Pittsburgh’s offensive line will need to perform far better than last week and find a way to replace center Maurkice Pouncey, who fell victim with an injury against the Titans. Cincinnati boasts one of the best front sevens in football, and you can bet that linebacker James Harrison will be jacked up to face his former team.
Talking about taking on his former team, the All-Pro Harrison said that “I don’t have a chip on my shoulder against the Steelers. I don’t hate the Steelers. All the things they’re saying, that the media is blowing it up to be … am I disappointed? Yeah, I’m disappointed.”
Always an emotional player, he certainly will be gunning for Roethlisberger from the onset of this one.
Probably the biggest concern for Steelers fans is the lack of run game. Usually a run-heavy offense, I’m not sure the average fan even knows who is going to be the lead back come kickoff.
“I think a consistent running game is really important, not only to be good offensively, but to strike a balance,” Head Coach Mike Tomlin said. “We haven’t been able to do that to this point.”
That is an understatement, last week the Steelers managed just 31 yards on the ground. Injuries to Larod Stephens-Howling and Le’Veon Bell leave the backfield close to empty. Isaac Redman will likely lead the way for Pittsburgh despite gaining just 8 yards on 7 carries in the opener. Jonathon Dwyer was resigned after being cut during the preseason, and could also see some action in this one.
The Bengals offense seems ready to pounce on a down Steelers secondary. AJ Green and Andy Dalton are on fire, and the chemistry the two have developed in their short time together is uncanny. If Benjarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard can establish a ground game, the Bengals could put up points in bunches.
Despite struggling historically against the Steelers, the Bengals enter this game a deserving 7 point favorite. They were able to win the last meeting between the teams 13-10, and on paper look to have leapfrogged their rivals in the divisional rankings. It will come down to execution as usual, and if the Bengals are able to take care of the ball and run their offense, they will find themselves back in contention in the AFC North.
Senior Sports Editor
The Guardian Express