Free NFL Picks: Pittsburgh at Cincinnati 11-08-2010

November 7, 2010

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Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals

Monday November 8th, 2010 8:30 PM EST

Line: Pittsburgh -6

Overview:

At 5-2, the Pittsburgh Steelers have instilled fear in the rest of the league, punishing nearly every opponent they have faced by beating the will out of them. Last week, they struggled against the Saints, suffering their biggest loss of the season. The 2-5 Bengals looked promising in week two when they knocked off the Ravens, but have been suspect all season long. The game is in Cincy and the Bengals swept the Steelers last year. Will that be enough for the Bengals to knock off the Steelers?

Keys to the Game:

  • The Bengals have to put the ball in the air. Despite Carson Palmer’s struggles, the Bengals still manage to throw for 254.4 yards a game. While Pittsburgh is the best run defense in the NFL, they certainly are not the best pass defense, allowing 243.1 yards a game through the air. The Bengals are not going to be able to run the ball in this affair, so getting Palmer going early is imperative to their success.
  • Rashard Mendenhall has a chance to get back on track. While it is unfair to say Mendenhall has struggled, his production has fallen off since he burst onto the scene at the beginning of the season. The Bengals struggle against the rush, so getting Mendenhall the ball often is going to be huge. The Bengals want to make this game a defensive struggle. By feeding Mendenhall the ball early, they can eat away at the clock and soften up the defense. While the Steelers don’t shy away from the pass, they don’t need to take high risk shots in this game. If they play conservative smash mouth football, they put the Bengals in a position to beat themselves.
  • Carson Palmer has had the most impact on the regression of the Bengals from last season to this season, but as a whole, their defense has had a bigger hand in the drop off. The Bengals allow 23.3 points a game, compared to 18.2 last year. The fall off of their defense is largely due to the fact that Ndamukong Suh has more sacks than the Bengals do. They have a great cornerback tandem, but all the pressure is on them, as the Bengals have only gathered six sacks collectively this season. The Bengals are soft up front and their offense is not explosive enough to consistently compete when their defense gives up so many points.
  • Terrel Owens might not have been shown any love when NFL Network did their countdown of the top 100 players of all time, but he has quickly become Palmer’s favorite target. Owens has been thrown to more than any recevier in the NFL, being targeted 86 times already this season. The Bengals success does not directly correlate with the success of Owens, as Owens had a whopping 222 yards in a losing effort against the Browns. It will, however, give the Bengals a shot at competing. Chad Ochocinco and T.O. both have the potential to produce a 100 yard game, even against Pittsburgh. It will need to happen if they have any chance of beating the Steelers, as their lack luster run game is unlikely to do anything against the Steelers.
  • The Steelers might be giving up too many yards through the air, but the opportunity cost is slim, considering how punishing their defense has been. The reason they are giving up passing yards is because the Steelers attack the backfield with reckless abandon. Because they do such a phenomenal job at dominating the run game through run blitzes, teams resort to passing the ball. These blitzes have brought down the quarterback twenty times this year. The Steelers also have managed to force 13 fumbles and pick the ball off 10 times. They live off forcing other teams to make errors, which is made possible by leaving their secondary vulnerable at times. The Steelers come out ahead in that trade off.
  • James Harrison will feast on the Bengals offensive line. Andrew Whitworth simply cannot compete with James Harrison. Fines aside, Harrison is one of the most feared defenders in the NFL. While he has crushed the spirits of opposing quarterbacks, he has also been effective in pass coverage. Like Harrison, James Farrior, Lamarr Woodley, and Lawrence Timmons are all above average in pass coverage and excellent pass rushers. This gives the Steelers the ability to come from anywhere and expect production without having huge mismatches in pass coverage.
  • Maurkice Pouncey is having an all pro year. Some circles criticized the Steelers for spending a first round pick on Pouncey, but the Steelers liked his versatility and ability to play multiple positions. Pittsburgh has great respect for the center position, producing the late hall of fame center Mike Webster. Pouncey is quickly becoming a leader on the team. Tomlin even went as far as to say if the team had to do a revote for the captain position, Pouncey would have been elected captain. Cincinnati already struggles up front and Pouncey’s ability to pull and provide push for the Steelers offensive line makes him an asset for the Steelers. Mendenhall owes him a steak.
  • Ben Roethlisberger struggled last week against the Saints, which proved to be the difference in the game. He threw no touchdowns, an interception, and posted a 66.8 quarterback rating. The Steelers relied heavily on the run to carry them to victory when Roethlisberger was out. They met resistance last week and failed to really get the run game going. The Steelers could get similar resistance this week, though the Bengals are not quite at the same level as the Saints. The Steelers need to be able to able to revert back to the run game, should they encounter such a scenario again. While Big Ben is back in action, the Steelers appeared to try to force his production when the offense wasn’t clicking.

Wrap Up:

The Bengals probably won’t put up over 14 points in this one. While they have the potential to get something going through the air, they certainly don’t scare the Steelers on the ground. The Bengals will become one dimensional early on and fail to put up points. The Steelers should rebound after their disappointing loss last week. Getting their offense rolling will be a point of emphasis this week and they have an opportunity to do so here. After being embarrassed last year, Pittsburgh will go for the jugular here.

Free NFL Pick: Pittsburgh -6


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