Game Day Matchups

Neal Coolong breaks down the top matchups in today's Bengals-Steelers game at Heinz Field.

CB Ike Taylor vs. WR Terrell Owens

Without a doubt, the Bengals will drool if they see Owens lined up across CB Bryant McFadden. Owens had a monster second half and sparked a furious comeback effort out of the slot back in Week 9. That's why it's possible the Steelers will shadow Owens with Taylor, who's on a hot streak he hasn't seen since 2008.

Taylor took on some of the game's best that season – including Owens, when he was with the Cowboys, and the Steelers held him to three catches. He's starting to play with that same swagger over the past few games. Owens is big and physical, and Taylor plays those receivers very well.

TE Matt Spaeth vs. LB Dhani Jones

Spaeth will be active for his first game since Week 11, when he sustained a concussion. Starting TE Heath Miller picked up a concussion of his own last week. It's a good match-up for Spaeth, and one in which the Steelers will look a few times to exploit in this game. Spaeth started in Miller's spot in Weeks 10 and 11 in the 2008 season, and had a combined 12 catches for 108 yards in a loss to the Colts and a win over San Diego.

Jones has been targeted by opposing teams' quarterbacks, particularly when he's matched up on a tight end. While he didn't have coverage on Saints TE Jimmy Graham when he rumbled for 52 yards on one catch – half of it came after the catch – Jeremy Shockey had three catches on him, and Jets TE Dustin Keller had four catches on him in Week 12. If the Steelers can use Spaeth to grab a few first downs, they'll have more of a chance to establish the run and not allow Cincinnati's explosive passing attack on the field.

RB Rashard Mendenhall vs. DT Domata Peko

Mendenhall's hard-fought 45 yards was the game-high against Baltimore, and it put him over the 1,000 yard mark for the second time in his third NFL season. He had 99 yards on 22 carries in Pittsburgh's 27-21 win over Cincinnati in Week 9, after managing just 36 yards in one game against them last year. The 45 yards against Baltimore, though, came a week after a career-high 36 carries against Buffalo. Considering the current state of the Steelers' offensive line, in terms of injuries, it wouldn't be surprising to see the team put their game plan on Mendenhall's shoulders.

Peko, typically, is Cincinnati's main deterrent to an opponent's game plan of power running. He's not having as strong a season against the run as he did in 2009, when the Bengals finished AFC North champions with the league's 7th-ranked run defense. They are now 24th, allowing 124.9 yards per game. Peko is a load to handle playing off the guard's inside shoulder, and if Mendenhall can burst and spin past him, the Steelers can control this game on the ground.

WR Mike Wallace vs. CB Leon Hall

Wallace had perhaps his best game in a winning effort the last time he faced Hall and the Bengals. His five-catch, 111 yard effort with a touchdown (from WR Antwaan Randle El) was balanced throughout the game and kept the Steelers with just enough of a lead to survive Cincinnati's comeback effort. After a three-game streak of over 100 yards receiving, Wallace has managed a combined 109 yards and no touchdowns in his last two.

Hall, typically one of the better corners in the game, was on the field as New Orleans had five pass plays of 40 yards or more in a Week 13 loss. And Wallace's touchdown was on Hall, but don't expect any trickery this time; Hall should be prepared to turn and run deep with Wallace who will reach the 1,000 yard receiving plateau for the first time in his career with 132 more yards.


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