Key Match-ups: Steelers-Bengals

Neal Coolong breaks down Sunday's battle between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals.

The Coolong Archive
Week 7: @ Broncos
Week 6: Bye
Week 5: v. Seahawks
Week 4: @ Cardinals
Week 3: v. 49ers
Week 2: v. Bills
Week 1: @ Browns
TE Heath Miller vs. DE/LB Robert Geathers

It's not the most favorable matchup for Geathers, the Bengals' DE-turned-LB. Due to injuries, Geathers has had to fill in at the strong-side linebacker, and will have coverage responsibility for the Steelers' leading receiver. Geathers did have his hand on the ground during a few series last week, and ate up Jets RT Anthony Clement.

If he's standing up over Miller, look for QB Ben Roethlisberger to go his way. Miller has been Roethlisberger's receiver of choice through the team's first six games. He is coming off of a five-catch, two touchdown performance against Denver last week, and has been all but unstoppable in the red zone. Bengals safeties Dexter Jackson and Madieu Williams will share coverage as well, but look for Roethlisberger to exploit situations in which any one of the Bengals' depleted LB unit is on Miller or back-up TE Matt Spaeth.

CBs Ike Taylor and Deshea Townsend vs. WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh

The Steelers took a beating from Broncos QB Jay Cutler last week, as he attacked the intermediate zone of the Steelers defense. Pittsburgh didn't get a great pass rush against him, but Bengals QB Carson Palmer and Steelers-killer Houshmandzadeh (29 catches for 326 yards and five touchdowns in his last five games against Pittsburgh) is an even more formidable combination than Cutler and Brandon Marshall.

Pittsburgh has kept Houshmandzadeh's counterpart, Chad Johnson, largely in check over the past two seasons, but Houshmandzadeh already has 51 catches and eight touchdowns through six games. He's a complete WR – he makes catches in traffic, can get open down the seam and his long stride makes him deadly after the catch. When locked up with him, Townsend and Taylor will have to seal off the inside, and force him toward the sideline. Because of his explosive speed, a missed tackle can lead to a long score.

LOLB LaMarr Woodley vs. RT Stacy Andrews

Woodley has been the most productive Steelers player on a per-down basis. Against Denver, he was in three plays, and got a sack and forced a fumble. Bengals RT Willie Anderson is out Sunday, giving Andrews his second start in the last three games. Andrews will likely see a lot of Woodley in the Steelers' base package, and the less time Palmer has to find his talented receivers, the better chance the Steelers will have in keeping him off the field.

Their win over the Jets was one of the few times the Bengals had all five of their starting offensive linemen in the game at the same time. It won't happen Sunday. The Bengals don't bring in a max protect offense very often, as they do not have a tight end who can help keep double-teams off Houshmandzadeh and Johnson. DE Aaron Smith won't play Sunday (for the first time in 115 games), and Nick Eason will have to fill in and help occupy Andrews to free up the blitz that will come to his side.

WR Hines Ward vs. CB Deltha O'Neal

They are both the veterans that represent their teams' respective positions. Ward has missed two games due to injury, but grabbed seven catches for 78 yards against Denver last week. O'Neal got burnt badly by double-move to his inside by Jets WR Laveraneus Coles. The play went for a 51-yard touchdown. O'Neal and opposite CB Jonathon Joseph also combined for blown tackles as Coles ran right through them for another Jets touchdown.

Ward is the Steelers best possession receiver, and judging by Coles' performance last week, testing O'Neal's mental game early will be an attractive option. Despite letting a ball bounce off his hands last week, the sure-handed Ward catches passes with his back to the corner quite often. He can still run deep routes with good success. If Ward can get to O'Neal's inside the same way Coles did, Roethlisberger will be able to look off the safety to find which deep completion he would like to make. This will also help the Steelers' ground game, as his lack of consistency with open field tackling make him a prime target on a power sweep.

The Coolong Scorecard
Steelers Unit Bengals
x Offensive line  
  Quarterback x
x Running backs  
  Wide receivers x
x Tight ends  
even Defensive line even
x Linebackers  
x Defensive backs  
x Special teams  

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