By Danny Cox
If anyone knows what the Pittsburgh Steelers organization is about, it’s coach Bill Cowher. As an analyst for CBS Sports on THE NFL TODAY, Cowher now gets to watch all teams around the NFL, but still knows what the Steelers are all about. Considering they play in the same division, he also knows what the Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh’s Wild Card opponent, are capable of.
This weekend’s playoff game takes place Saturday, January 9 at 8:15pm ET on CBS and will pit the Steelers and Bengals against one another for a third time this season. During the regular season, they split the series. Now, this is where it really counts and Cowher thinks that stopping the big-play wide receivers is the key for both teams.
If Andy Dalton is ruled eligible to play this week or next, if they make it, who do the Bengals go with as their starting quarterback?
Bill Cowher: “Given his health…A.J. McCarron has played the last three games and gone 2-1 in that span. Andy Dalton, if he is totally healthy, he will need at least a week of work to prepare to play again after missing weeks. I anticipate McCarron starting and playing this week. If the Bengals make it to the next round, it’s a wait and see how they played on whether Dalton goes in or not.
McCarron, in these three games, has four touchdowns and no interceptions. He’s done well. Still, Andy Dalton is the Bengals’ quarterback and if he is healthy with work behind him, he will play.”
Pittsburgh’s defense hasn’t been the greatest this season, what is their primary goal in stopping the Bengals?
BC: “The Steelers have a big play defense. They may give up a lot of yards, but they keep the amount of points down, make sacks, and take the football away. Their goal has to be to make Cincinnati one-dimensional. Stop the run, pressure McCarron, and the biggest thing is going to have to be to take away the threat of A.J. Green.
He can make big plays at any point and turn an entire game around. Give extra attention to Green and make the Bengals one-dimensional and the Steelers can stop them.”
After starting out 8-0, the Bengals went .500 through the second half of the season. Do you feel as if Cincinnati is a Super Bowl caliber team?
BC: “I do think so. Their four losses have all been to playoff teams. The losses to Houston, Arizona, and Denver were by a total of about 10 points. The loss to the Steelers was their only one by double-digits and that’s a divisional opponent. They have a good sense of balance with running the ball and passing. Getting Tyler Eifert back is going to be big and they have so many weapons.
The defense can rush the quarterback, they have a good secondary, and their offense is balanced. The biggest question for them is at the quarterback position.”
Is there one person on the team who can possibly stop Antonio Brown?
BC: “In his two games against the Bengals this season, he had one with six receptions for 47 yards and seven receptions for 87 yards. Given the way he has played this year, I’d take those numbers if I was an opposing defense. Who the Bengals need to watch is tight end Heath Miller. This year against the Bengals, he has 20 receptions for 171 yards. Cincinnati has to also be careful of Martavis Bryant who is another big-play receiver.
If DeAngelo Williams can’t go, the focus of the Bengals secondary will have to be on taking away the big plays and forcing the Steelers to get yards a little at a time.”
Danny Cox knows a little something about the NFL, whether it means letting you know what penalty will come from the flag just thrown on the field or quickly spouting off who the Chicago Bears drafted in the first round of the 1987 draft (Jim Harbaugh). He plans on bringing you the best news, previews, recaps, and anything else that may come along with the exciting world of the National Football League. Danny is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.