The Cincinnati Bengals travel to Pittsburgh in Week 7 of the NFL season to take on the AFC North rival Steelers.
The Steelers (4-2) lead the AFC North and are coming off a huge win on the road over the previously undefeated Kansas City Chiefs. The Bengals (2-3) arrive in Pittsburgh coming off their bye week, which allowed the team to recharge, get healthy and prepare to get back in the AFC playoff picture after starting the season 0-3.
The game showcases two of the best defenses in the NFL and two of the most prolific wide receivers.
The Bengals have won their last two games, and the change to Bill Lazor as the offensive coordinator has brought life back to an offense that was stagnant early in the year. Quarterback Andy Dalton has played the best football of his career the past three games and has a passer rating of 116.2 over that stretch.
Wide receiver A.J. Green has been the beneficiary of most of those passes and will look to do so against a passing defense that is the best in the NFL. The Steelers allow only 153.5 yards a game through the air and the secondary has yielded only one pass of more than 40 yards through six games.
Green historically has been good against Pittsburgh. In the 11 regular-season games against the Steelers, Green has four 100-plus yard receiving games and 71 total receptions. He also has six career touchdown receptions against Pittsburgh. Green enters the game second in the NFL with 504 yards and also is second in average yards per game at 100.8.
Coming off the bye week should allow 2017 first-round draft pick, wide receiver John Ross, to get more playing time for the Bengals. This should give Green more space to roam in the Steelers' secondary. Ross has been injured most of the season with a knee issue and hasn't played since the Houston Texans game on Sept. 14.
"It just feels good," Ross said. "It felt really good. I feel fast. I always feel fast. I got out there and had a chance to run. I think the bye week helped a lot. Not just for me, but for everyone. I got a chance to really recover and heal up well and it felt good today."
Green's counterpart on the Steelers, Antonio Brown, enters the game as the best wide receiver in the NFL with 700 yards receiving on 48 receptions. Brown also leads the league with 11 catches over 20 yards. But sledding will not be that easy for Pittsburgh's offense against one of the best defenses in the NFL.
Cincinnati defensive coordinator Paul Guenther has his troops playing inspired football. The Bengals head to Pittsburgh with a defense that is ranked in the top three in the NFL in sacks (18), yards allowed (262.8) and points allowed (16.6).
For the Bengals to win on the road, Lazor will need to find a way to get the running game rolling. Cincinnati averages only 3.2 yards a rush and has only scored one rushing touchdown this season. Rookie Joe Mixon is the only Bengals player with over 100 yards rushing and he stands at 187 yards through five games. That's a paltry 37.4 yards a contest.
The one weakness in a solid Steelers defense is their ability to stop the run. They are 23rd in the NFL, allowing 118.5 yards to their opponents. Defensive coordinator Keith Butler did put together a successful game plan in Week 6 that limited Kansas City's Kareem Hunt, the NFL's leading rusher, to just 21 yards on nine carries.
Conversely, Pittsburgh's run game is starting to hit full stride. Running back Le'Veon Bell got off to a very slow start to the season after holding out in the preseason. Bell enters the Bengals game with 550 yards and averaging 4.1 yards a rush. Of note is that 350 of those yards and three of those scores have come in the past three games.
Cincinnati has allowed 103.2 yards rushing per game, which ranks 14th in the NFL. Historically, the Bengals have stymied Bell and the Steelers' rushing attack. Bell has faced the Cincinnati defense five times in his career and he has 400 career rushing yards with three touchdowns.