Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cincinnati Bengals: Advantage Big Ben?

The Pittsburgh Steelers face the division-leading Cincinnati Bengals this Sunday. A Steelers win would vault them into a playoff spot in the AFC.

(AP Photo/Fred Vuich)
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) is interviewed on the field after an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2015, in Pittsburgh. The Steelers won 45-10.

How does the 12th ranked offense in the NFL in 2014 jump to No. 1 without upgrading their offensive personnel? Easy, just make sure your quarterback makes the leap from good to great.

That is what Andy Dalton did, and that has made the Cincinnati Bengals the most efficient offense in the league. Currently in the driver’s seat (10-2) for the top seed in the AFC which would give them home field advantage throughout the NFL playoffs.

Dalton is on pace to smash his previous career highs in touchdowns, completion percentage, quarterback rating and Total QBR. His 1.6% interception rate is down from last season’s 3.5 percentage mark, and his net passing yards per attempt is a full yard higher than his previous career high in 2013. Dalton looks the part as well, confidently navigating the pocket and delivering the ball with more zip than ever before.

The quarterback has had his No. 1 receiving option playing up to his pedigree as well, something the Pittsburgh Steelers below-average defense will need to contain this Sunday. A.J. Green has been injury free and thriving this season, catching 70 balls for 1,037 yards and 7 touchdowns and commanding double coverage frequently. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson credited his and Dalton’s success to the chemistry they built coming up in the league together.

"When you think back to when A.J. first got here, he had to play,” Jackson told Fox Sports reporters. “They taught themselves how to play, to be honest with you. And now you're reaping the benefits of that because they played way early."

At 7-5, Pittsburgh’s 13th ranked defense by efficiency is going to have its hands full against the Bengals No. 1 ranked offense. The Steelers struggle against the pass, giving up over 275 yards per game and a 96.3 quarterback rating. The team constantly finds itself in shootouts, scoring 25 points per game while allowing 20. They have also scored at least 30 points in their last four games, going 3-1 over that time.

It goes to figure that Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger has been around for those last four games. The veteran gunslinger, known for extending plays, has been banged up with several leg injuries this season but looks to be back and better than ever. He has thrown for an incredible 383.5 yards on average over his last four games, including 10 touchdowns in that time.

This is undeniably going to be a shootout. Both of these offenses score and do it very well, using the run to balance the pass attack and springing big plays several times a game. Cincinnati has a very strong defense as well, but it figures to not matter much facing Big Ben and Antonio Brown. Both teams are hot and have been playing well, but Pittsburgh knows they need this win to continue their fight for a Postseason spot. Give the Steelers a slight edge this Sunday in what should be an exciting contest. 

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