The Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3) host the Cincinnati Bengals (6-0) in a monumental AFC North clash this Sunday. If the Bengals win, the division race is all but over; if the Steelers win, they’re right back in the thick of things.
Ben Roethlisberger, who has missed the last four games with a sprained MCL, is expected to play, but how effective will he be? Especially against a vaunted Bengals front seven?
“We all know about Ben’s biggest (asset) – and that’s extending the play, buying extra time and letting Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant get loose deep in the secondary,” CBS NFL analyst Dan Fouts said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “Will he be able to do that? He’s going to have a brace on his left knee. He’s had to work out this week trying different types of braces. That offensive line has always been good, but he makes it better because he can escape the pocket. That’ll be the big question for me. Can he do that against a Bengals defense that has 17 sacks in just six games?”
The Bengals, meanwhile, have gotten surprisingly stellar play from Andy Dalton, who has been one of the best quarterbacks in football this season. Say what you will about his postseason resume; Dalton has been unflappable in 2015.
What’s been the difference for the 28-year-old this season?
“Well, No. 1, he’s taking advantage of the talent around him,” said Fouts, a Hall of Fame quarterback. “He’s always had A.J. Green. Everybody knows about him. But the biggest addition is getting Tyler Eifert back at the tight end position. Eifert has caught 28 passes this year, six of them for touchdowns. That’s an unbelievable ratio. So that means he’s a tremendous target in the red zone and Dalton has taken advantage of it.”
Indeed, Dalton has 14 touchdowns to just two interceptions on the season and has done a great job of spreading the wealth. Green, Eifert and Marvin Jones all have 24+ catches, 3+ touchdowns and are averaging at least 12.2 yards per catch. Heck, even Giovani Bernard (77 carries) and Jeremy Hill (74) are getting fairly even touches.
But there’s no denying who has transformed the Bengals from good to, so far, great.
“For me, it’s Dalton’s team,” Fouts said. “He’s got an offensive line that’s experienced and protecting him very well. He’s only been sacked six times all year, and he’s got two running backs in Hill and Bernard. Weapons galore for Andy Dalton, and he’s taking full advantage of them and Hue Jackson’s system.”