ILB Lawrence Timmons vs. LG Kevin Zeitler
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton still has not defeated either the Pittsburgh Steelers (0-3) or the Baltimore Ravens (0-3) in his two starting seasons. With the playoffs on the line, Cincinnati must beat both of them with Dalton under center in the next two weeks. Cincinnati won’t put as much of their offensive success on Dalton against Pittsburgh. They’re going to run the ball, much like they started doing in the first half of their Week 7 loss against Pittsburgh.
They got away from it, and the Steelers put the clamps on Dalton, holding him to a 14-for-28 performance. Much of their offensive game plan will be dictated by the play of their outstanding rookie guard, Kevin Zeitler. His strength and athleticism makes them a multi-faceted running team. Zeitler’s ability to reach Timmons – who will often be the force defender against Cincinnati’s zone attack – on the second level, and prevent the Steelers’ leading tackler from making plays behind the line of scrimmage, will factor largely in any Bengals success on offense.
CB Keenan Lewis vs. WR A.J. Green
Ike Taylor and the rest of the Steelers’ secondary did an outstanding job with Green in their first meeting, limiting him to what’s been his least productive game this season – 1 catch for 8 yards. But that catch was a touchdown, showing the kind of impact Green can make on one throw.
Lewis has filled in well in Taylor’s absence, assuming the veteran role among what’s been a very green cornerback group. Despite missing some time in practice this week, Lewis says he’ll be ready to go in what’s probably the biggest assignment of his career. Green has 85 catches for 1,208 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2012.
RG David DeCastro vs. DT Geno Atkins
It’s DeCastro’s second career start, and he’ll be, at times, going up against one of the best interior defensive linemen in the game. Atkins is a pass-rushing monster, and will come from any gap on any down. DeCastro held up well against Dallas in his first start, but did allow a late sack in an otherwise quality performance – the kind the Steelers expected when they drafted in him the first round.
The key for DeCastro will be to remain balanced. Atkins showed Willie Colon what can happen if you come out of your stance too high; Atkins drove him all the way back into Ben Roethlisberger for a sack. Leverage and staying low will be key. If the Steelers’ interior line can handle Atkins on passing downs, they should be able to exploit the advantage they have in terms of the athleticism with their receivers.