The Steelers are 11-2 in Cincinnati since the stadium opened in 2000. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, a native of Findlay, Ohio, is 14-1 in games in his home state, including 7-1 in Cincinnati.
This time, however, the Steelers (2-3) are desperate for a victory. They have yet to win on the road this season, are coming off an embarrassing 26-23 loss to the Titans, and this is their first game in the AFC North, where they already trail the 5-1 Ravens by 2 ½ games.
The Steelers aren’t afraid to put pressure on themselves entering this game.
“I’ve been there in December, praying for four teams to lose, and we don’t want to be in that,” linebacker Larry Foote said. “We still control our destiny. ... It’s a divisional opponent, and we’ve got to get this win, whatever it takes.”
The Bengals (3-3) aren’t exactly coming in on a roll. They lost to the previously winless Browns 34-24, thanks to two pick sixes from quarterback Andy Dalton.
That sets the scene for the showdown. Let’s look at the three keys for each team.
1. Protect Roethlisberger: Well, at least reasonably well. Roethlisberger has taken a beating for years behind the Steelers line, but he’s so big and moves around so well in the pocket that he minimizes the impact, and actually makes huge plays down the field when the protection breaks down. The Steelers have injury issues on the line. Right tackle Marcus Gilbert (ankle) is out, and rookie Mike Adams will make his first start and have to square off against Carlos Dunlap. Standout center Maurkice Pouncey is questionable with a knee injury — he played one snap against the Titans — and would be replaced by Doug Legursky. Left tackle Max Starks is off to a bad start and will have his hands full against end Michael Johnson, who has six sacks on the season. The entire Bengals line is solid. Tackle Geno Atkins is tied for the team lead with six sacks and is stout against the run. If the Steelers can give Roethlisberger enough time, he’ll be able to make plays against a poor Bengals secondary.
2. Stop A.J. Green: Green may be the best overall receiver in the game. He leads the league with 628 receiving yards and has caught a touchdown in five straight games. He will again face Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor, who has not rebounded after giving up the game-winning touchdown against the Broncos in the playoffs. But Taylor and the Steelers did a respectable job last year against Green, though he caught a touchdown in each matchup. He caught just one ball in the first game and six for 86 yards in the second. The Steelers got physical with Green at the line and tried to reroute him constantly. Because of their zone blitz scheme, Green will likely have opportunities against the safeties. Ryan Clark has played very well, but Ryan Mundy (in for the injured Troy Polamalu) can be had if the Bengals can get Green matched up against him.
3. Force Dalton into mistakes: Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton is tied for second in the league with nine interceptions and has had four returned for touchdowns the past two seasons. Because Dalton doesn’t have a big arm, he has to rely on his accuracy and his anticipation. Both have been issues at times this year, so expect Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau to try to scheme up a number of disguises and pressures. Dalton is also taking a lot of sacks.
1. Get Roethlisberger down: Like a lot of teams, the Bengals and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer have had success getting to Roethlisberger. The problem is getting him to the turf. The Bengals haven’t done that well enough, and they’ve paid the price. The Steelers have dangerous weapons in receivers Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown, and tight end Heath Miller has played very well of late. That could be trouble against a Bengals secondary that has had issues outside of safety Reggie Nelson. They’ve produced only two interceptions, which is the same number that Roethlisberger has thrown all season.
2. Run the ball: The BenJarvus Green-Ellis era got off to a good start when he averaged 5.1 yards per game against the Ravens in the opening game, but the former Patriot hasn’t been over 4.0 since. The Bengals have yet to produce a 100-yard runner so far this season — as a team they’ve gained 100 just twice — and that’s putting too much pressure on Dalton to be perfect. Last year the Bengals averaged 111.1 yards per game on the way to the playoffs. The Bengals need a complementary running game to give Dalton the space off play action to make some throws. The Steelers are tied for 17th allowing 4.1 yards per rush, so the Bengals will have opportunities on the ground.
3. Play even, at least, on special teams: The Bengals gave up a 60-yard punt return to Josh Cribbs of the Browns last week, and Bengals kickoff returner Brandon Tate couldn’t get the ball out to the 20-yard line. That’s not a good sign as the Bengals face a team they’ve struggled against on special teams. In 2010 at Cincinnati, the Bengals had a punt blocked, fumbled a kickoff and missed two field goals. In last year’s matchup in Pittsburgh, Antonio Brown returned a punt for a touchdown, a field goal was blocked and Tate fumbled a kickoff. The Bengals have to be better than that to emerge with a victory.
PFT: Tom Brady, who turns 36 in August, says he has "never felt better throwing the football" and his confidence is peaking.
2013 SNF Schedule
Check out the 2013 Sunday Night Football schedule.
Latest from ProFootballTalk
Video: Football from NBC Sports
Next step towards total dominance for NFL
ProFootballTalk: The NFL and the NFLPA are reportedly close to finalizing a new offseason schedule that would move the scouting combine, draft and OTAs up a month. Mike Florio thinks this will help further the NFL’s dominance over the other sports in the American landscape.
Check out some of the NFL cheerleaders from across the league.