Troy Wayrynen/USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh's High-Powered Offense Is Ready To Test The Bengals' Stingy Defense

Sunday's potential AFC North Division clincher for the Bengals pits their top-ranked defense against the Steelers' potent offensive attack.

Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, an Ohio high school and college product, has been pretty tough on the Bengals since he brought his game from Miami University, located about an hour from Cincinnati.

Roethlisberger is 17-7 against the Bengals, with an 87.5 passer rating in 24 career games, including postseason. He has totaled 739 passes against the Bengals with 469 completions (63.5 percent) for 5,521 yards, or 230 yards per game. He has thrown 33 touchdowns and 24 interceptions, which represents a lower TD/INT ratio than his career mark.

The Bengals intercepted him three times in this year's first meeting for the third time in the series, tying their game-high against him (the first two instances took place in each game in 2006). They won 16-10 in Pittsburgh. Cincinnati hasn’t swept the season series since 2009. That is one of the goals Sunday.

But, there is the matter of the Steelers' high-powered offense. Under Big Ben's direction, the Steelers are second in the NFL in net offense, averaging 409.1 yards  per game, ranking sixth in rushing (123.1) and fifth in passing (286.0). Pittsburgh and Arizona are the only teams with top-10 rankings in both rushing and passing.

The Bengals rank eighth in net offense, but fourth in scoring (27.8), while Pittsburgh is sixth (25.9) in scoring. Both teams are coming off romps, as each team won by at least 34 last week. The Steelers won by 35 at Indianapolis (45-10). The Bengals won by 34 at Cleveland (37-3). In 91 previous Bengals-Steelers meetings, the two teams have never before come close to winning by such margins coming into Sunday.

According to Bengals' media notes, the closest to it has been Nov. 5, 1972, when the Bengals visited Three Rivers Stadium. Both teams were 5-2 and had won by at least 17 points the prior week, the Bengals by 23 vs. Houston (30-7), and the Steelers by 17 at Buffalo (38-21). The Steelers wound up beating the Bengals that year, 40-17, and went on to capture the AFC Central Division with an 11-3 record, en route to the AFC Championship game, losing to Miami. The Bengals finished 8-6 and missed the playoffs.

Some don't see a high-scoring game Sunday. The Bengals stayed No. 1 in the NFL in scoring defense for the second week in a row and increased their edge after yielding only three points last week to Cleveland. Marvin Lewis’ address to his team was unusually brief after the 37-3 victory over the Browns. “You know what’s at stake this next week,” Cincinnati's head coach said. “We’ve got the opportunity to win the division title, and the chance to do it at home. That’s all I need to tell you.”

At which point class was dismissed.

The 10-2 Bengals are strongly favored to emerge as the AFC North Division champions, but they can put all speculation aside with a win over Pittsburgh on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium. The second-place Steelers enter at 7-5, three games off the pace. A Bengals win, even a tie, will clinch the crown for Cincinnati.

“We always say ‘one game at a time,’ and we haven’t been thinking Steelers, but now they’re the next one up for us,” said Bengals fifth-year quarterback Andy Dalton, who nailed down his 50th career win last week. “This team has bigger goals than winning the division, but winning your division is always your first goal, so there’s a lot riding on this.”

The Steelers were the 2014 AFC North champions. The Bengals won the title in 2013. Cincinnati can make it two crowns in three years with a win this weekend.

“We have a chance to do something great,” said defensive end Wallace Gilberry, “and that’s to clinch the division in front of our home fans. I’m sure they’re going to pack the house, and it’s our job to give them a great show.”
     
The game is sold-out.


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