Key Match-ups: Steelers-Bengals

Neal Coolong examines the key match-ups in today's game between the World Champion Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals.

SS Tyrone Carter vs. QB Carson Palmer

Palmer is coming off an injury-plagued 2008 season, and seems to be getting back to his form as an elite passer in the NFL. Surprisingly, he has received decent protection so far in 2009, but judging by the way the Steelers' secondary was exploited by short, rhythmic passing in a loss at Chicago, all he'll need is to play dink and dunk football.

He will likely use a lot of motion while calling his play at the line, and try to maneuver his talented receiving corps around to exploit a match-up on Carter. This is what the Bears did with a high level of success, and what Tennessee did in Week 1. Carter has to play his position with a sense of aggression, and be prepared to be thrown at most of the game.

LT Max Starks vs. DE Antwan Odom

Odom was the AFC Player of the Week for his five-sack performance against Green Bay. While the Packers weren't great in pass protection in their Week 1 win over Chicago, five sacks is a lot. Odom had two against Denver in Week 1. Some of Odom's success can be attributed to a Bengals' secondary that is playing very well, but he is playing much stronger than he was a year ago, and the Steelers aren't exactly known for their quality pass protection at this point.

Starks is generally a solid player, and has shown instances in his career of being an upper-echelon player at the left tackle position. Odom plays with more strength than quickness, which can play to Starks' advantage. Despite his massive size, he has very quick feet, and can use that to position himself underneath Odom's pads on his power moves. The question will be how long Starks can keep Odom at bay, because the Bengals' secondary has marked a few notches in the unofficial "coverage sack" category this year.

TE Heath Miller vs. FS Roy Williams

On the other side of ball, Williams seems to be showing a bit of rejuvenation, like Palmer. He's playing a physical brand of football, which is helping the Bengals establish a strong pass rushing presence – something they've lacked for a few seasons. He's covered deep very well, and he's proved himself a stronger presence at the deep safety spot than his career has shown to this point.

The Steelers are likely to want to attack from their bunch packages, trying to disguise their tight ends' assignments on running and passing downs. QB Ben Roethlisberger will salivate if he sees Williams locked on Miller, but Williams' location will be a key read in Roethlisberger's progression. If Miller can establish himself in the middle of the field, assuming the Steelers can control the line of scrimmage without his blocking help, more of the field will open up for the run and the pass.

LB Lawrence Timmons vs. RB Cedric Benson

The most improved, if not underrated, ability Benson has in his Career Part II with Cincinnati has been his vision. He's finding lots of cut-back space in which he's turning what used to be 2-yard gains into 12-yard gains. Cincinnati will try to run out of a variety of spread formations, and rely on zone blocking and Benson's vision to crank out some yardage against a team that's mostly shut them down offensively the last four times they've played.

Timmons will have to play a fundamentally disciplined game in order to negate Benson's cut-back ability. The Bengals will rely on the weakside defenders over-pursuing the ball carrier, and it's on Timmons to make sure the back-side of the play is cut off. If Timmons and the Steelers can remain disciplined, Benson shouldn't be able to haul off for 141 yards like he did against Green Bay last week.

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

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