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Steelers looking for fifth straight win

A history lesson, tape review, prediction, complete breakdown and much more in this Steelers-Bengals game day preview.

MEMORABLE SERIES MOMENT

Steelers 18, Bengals 16

Jan. 14, 2016 at Paul Brown Stadium

Some want to discredit the only Steelers playoff win since the 2010 season by saying they were lucky last January when they won with the help of a controversial 30-yard penalty call that led to the game-winning field goal with 14 seconds left. But the Bengals were lucky to even be in the game. The Steelers held a 15-0 lead late in the third quarter when Cody Wallace, in for the injured Maurkice Pouncey, was called for holding. Jordan Todman, in for the injured Le'Veon Bell, gained for two yards. On third-and-18, Ben Roethlisberger was sacked by Vontaze Burfict and left the game with an injured shoulder. A 42-yard pass interference penalty on Will Allen set up the Bengals' first touchdown. A sack of Landry Jones gave the ball back to the Bengals and they cut the lead to 15-10. A three-and-out with Jones gave the ball back to the Bengals, and on a third-and-7 A.J. McCarron threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green for a 16-15 lead. A Jones interception on the next Steelers play should've ended the game, but Ryan Shazier forced Jeremy Hill to fumble on the next play and Roethlisberger returned to lead the game-winning drive. Of course, multiple 15-yard penalties on an incompletion that knocked Antonio Brown out for the season were a big help, but it was a game the Steelers should've won earlier.

TALE OF THE TAPE

"There's a noticeable drop in production by the Bengals front four since even the beginning of the season. They have the same players, but when you watch them there's not the intensity with guys finishing plays. Even Geno Atkins, the best of the four there, watching him as he pulls up around the hash marks when the play is outside the numbers is surprising. I've never seen that from Geno before. The drop in production is noticeable in everybody up front but Vontaze Burfict. He's a unique animal. He's hard to account for on every play because he does appear to have a green light to freelance from time to time. This is a defensive unit I think the Steelers can run on and pass on." -- Steelers Radio analyst Craig Wolfley.

TOP QUESTION

Can the Steelers block Carlos Dunlap?

One bright spot for the Bengals up front has been the pass defense of Dunlap, their left defensive end. He's defensed 14 passes, most of them on deflections. He leads NFL linemen in that category and also leads the Bengals with seven sacks, 21 QB hits and snaps (690 of 875). The task of blocking him will once again fall on his old college teammate, Marcus Gilbert. In seven meetings between the two, Dunlap has 2.0 sacks, only one of which was a full sack.

THREE QUESTIONS: With WR COBI HAMILTON

Q: You said when you got here you were confident you could play in this league, even though you had just been cut a fifth time. What's been the basis of that confidence?

CH: "Just my ability in practices. It's never been my ability or knowing the plays, it's been the situations I've been in, like being with too many receivers or teams with more -- um, not favoritism, but, I don't know. It was just rough for a guy getting on the train. I don't know. It's just been kind of rough for me."'

Q: Guys who weren't drafted coming out of college usually don't win ties in roster battles, or even when they're slightly ahead, do they?

CH: "It seems to be that way in other places, but not here. Coach Tomlin has said since Day One at Latrobe, 'We don't care how you got here.' Other teams weren't like that. They kind of took care of the guys who had been there. For a guy who's just coming in it's like 'Oh, he's good but we're sticking with the guys we've got here.' Even when you're playing well coaches think there must be something wrong with you when you're an undrafted player. I've had coaches tell me 'What's your deal? Are there off-the-field issues?' I was like 'I don't know.'"

Q: Was there a particular moment when Tomlin noticed you could play?

CH: "I think it was in Latrobe he got a good feel. He's a good coach so he kind of knows talent when he sees it. So I think in Latrobe he started to recognize this kid was able to play. And they gave me every opportunity, so I have to compliment the Steelers and Coach Tomlin for giving me a chance."

GAME BREAKDOWN

What to look for from the Steelers at 1 p.m. today at Paul Brown Stadium:

ON OFFENSE:

Ladarius Green, come on down. Two games ago against the New York Giants, the Steelers tight end caught six passes for 110 yards and a touchdown. He'll be going up against a Bengals defense that's allowed opposing tight ends to lead their teams in receptions in five of the last eight games. And in the other three games, Dennis Pitta caught 3 for 34, Will Tye caught 5 for 53 and Rob Gronkowski caught 7 for 162.

ON DEFENSE:

Conversely, the Steelers must defend Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert for the first time this season. The NFL leader for tight ends with 18 touchdown catches the last two seasons has four touchdown catches in his last three games. He's one of the primary threats with A.J. Green not expected to play. Eifert caught 5 for 58 in January's playoff game and had 2 for 42 on the first series of the December game last year before leaving with a concussion. If not Eifert, the Bengals' primary threat will be rookie Tyler Boyd. The Pitt product has caught 21 passes for 231 yards since Green injured his hamstring four games ago.

PREDICTION

The Steelers aren't looking past the Bengals and toward next week's game against the Baltimore Ravens. Not by any stretch. Their low-key approach this week regarding the Bengals is masking a quiet seeth as they prepare to face Vontaze Burfict for the first time since the linebacker knocked Antonio Brown out of the playoffs with a cheap shot last January, after trying to injury Ben Roethlisberger last December, after celebrating his knee blowout of Le'Veon Bell last November. The Steelers should continue their roll with a
rough-and-tumble win in what likely will be a close game. Steelers, 27-23.

BY THE NUMBERS

4.7: Yards allowed per carry by the Bengals in their last four games.

54: Percentage of Steelers offense gained by Le'Veon Bell in their last four games.

78: Andy Dalton's passer rating in 11 games against the Steelers.

85: Ben Roethlisberger's winning percentage at Paul Brown Stadium.

93: Receptions by NFL leader Antonio Brown this season. He's caught at least 100 passes each of the last three seasons.

DOWNLOADS

* Even with all of the speed the Steelers have been flashing on defense lately, rookie CB Artie Burns didn't want to dignify the question of "Who's fastest?" with a response. "We'll race in the summer and I'll tell you then," he said. Even though he was one of the nation's top hurdlers in high school, Burns only timed 4.46 in the 40 at the Combine. That's a half-step behind Ryan Shazier's 4.40 pro day time. "I never really actually put my full effort into the 40," explained Burns. "I'm not really a 40 guy. I'm more of a race guy. I grew up running and racing. If somebody's next to me, I'm faster than if somebody's timing me."

* Shazier, in response to Burns' call for a summer race: "Everybody wants to race me now. Hey, man, we just try to swarm to the ball as fast as we can. We're gonna race, but at the end of the day I'm just happy how fast we're all getting to the ball."

* Today marks 10 weeks since Sammie Coates mangled his hand against the New York Jets. He hasn't started a game or caught a pass from Ben Roethlisberger since. Mike Tomlin told reporters this week there's nothing more to it than Coates still can't catch hard passes while working back to the quarterback. Coates remains second in the NFL (min. 20 catches) with an average of 21.3 yards per catch but has played only 6 percent of the snaps during the current four-game win streak. Cobi Hamilton and slot receiver Eli Rogers have played in 54 and 56 percent of the snaps, respectively, but have combined for only 136 receiving yards throughout the four games. Bengals CB Pacman Jones said of the Steelers' apparent lack of a No. 2 WR: "They got a No. 2 receiver. He's number 89 (tight end Ladarius Green) and number 26 (running back Le'Veon Bell), whichever one you want to put at number two."

* Ramon Foster, who returns to his left guard position today, on criticism that the Steelers' four-game win streak has come against inferior opposition, even though the New York Giants have beaten the Dallas Cowboys twice: "That makes no sense to me, absolutely no sense. You can't say just because we beat a team on their bad day that they suck."

* Roethlisberger said that defenses counter the Steelers' big boy offensive sets by bringing in extra defensive linemen, but that the Bills left in their defensive backs. "So if they bring big guys in, we’ll try to throw it. Maybe with (Chris) Hubbard." The third OT/TE Hubbard did confirm that he caught a pass in practice "and I brought it quick to the tuck and got up the field," he said, citing one of Mike Tomlin's WR coaching points.

PARTING SHOT

"There's definitely a different feeling on the team. I can honestly tell everybody's confident. Everybody's putting 10 toes in, like Coach Tomlin says. We're bound by what we're doing." -- Chris Hubbard.


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