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.

WR Mike Wallace vs. CB Jonathan Joseph

Wallace gave Joseph, one of the league's better cover corners, all he could handle in the first meeting between these teams. Wallace grabbed a career-high seven catches for 102 yards in the loss, and Joseph had a game-changing interception and touchdown when he was responsible for WR Santonio Holmes. Expect Pittsburgh to test Joseph in the deeper secondary, especially since S Roy Williams has been placed on the IR.

Joseph had troubles recognizing his assignment when Pittsburgh showed its Bunch formation. Pittsburgh has improved substantially on offense since Week 3, and that Bunch set is a part of it. Whether it's a man or zone, Joseph has to be cognizant of the Steelers ability to get the ball deep down the field.

RILB Lawrence Timmons vs. LG Nate Livings

Cincinnati has had a good deal of success this season in their zone-running game with RB Cedric Benson. Livings was the starter in Week 1, but an injury kept him out of Weeks 2 and 3, including Cincinnati's 23-20 win over Pittsburgh. Evan Mathis has been performing at a high level at left guard, but he won't play Sunday due to an ankle injury. Mathis did a great job on Steelers RDE Brett Keisel and Timmons, and they had a fair amount of success rushing to the offensive left.

The key to the Steelers success in this game will be the elimination of cut-back lanes Benson. Timmons must remain disciplined, and choose which gaps to shoot with a good amount of care. Livings is a quality zone blocker, and has a considerable size advantage over Timmons, so the amount of discipline Timmons applies when attacking the Bengals' left side rush is critical.

SS Troy Polamalu vs. QB Carson Palmer

It's the predictable match-up, but it's essential nonetheless. Without Polamalu in Week 3, Pittsburgh had a difficult time stopping Cincinnati's passing game when the field was spread with receivers. Benson ran effectively in doses, but didn't produce a large amount (76 yards on 18 carries). Palmer put the team on his back in the fourth quarter, and completed 10 passes, leading Cincinnati to two touchdowns and an improbable victory. His performance in the final 15 minutes, in relation to pedestrian full game numbers, is common for Palmer this season. His numbers aren't eye-popping, and do not accurately reflect the full scope of his performance.

Polamalu's assignment will be aggressive against the short-passing Bengals. Cincinnati is without big play threat Chris Henry, and due to their success in the running game, Polamalu is likely to set up shop off the strong side to provide run support. However, Polamalu's other-world speed and ability to deceive opposing passers (eg. Denver's Kyle Orton in Week 9) is utilized at its best when he lines up near the line of scrimmage. Polamalu will have to vary his responsibilities between the run inside the tackles and the short pass to mix up a very accurate passer in Palmer.

RB Rashard Mendenhall vs. WLB Brandon Johnson

Mendenhall averages 5.7 yards per carry, which is second-highest in the NFL. Cincinnati goes into Pittsburgh boasting the league's second-stingiest run defense, allowing just 83.9 yards per game. Mendenhall has become a much more patient runner, and despite still having problems protecting the football, he becomes a more complete back with each game. While his challenge this week is daunting enough just carrying the ball against a stout defense, the fact Johnson replaces emerging LB Keith Rivers at the weakside linebacker position doesn't help extra blockers like Mendenhall.

Johnson filled in for Rivers in Cincinnati's Week 9 win over Baltimore quite well. He registered 1.5 sacks, and added another QB pressure. Baltimore had troubles picking him up when he rushed, and he was a big part in a dominant Bengals performance. Mendenhall could be asked to help pick up Johnson if/when he blitzes. Baltimore was down two touchdowns early in the game, so they never really committed to the run (just 17 carries for 55 yards). Mendenhall has great cut-back vision, and can look to exploit an over-aggressive Johnson on draws and delay runs.

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
  Special teams x

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