Stillers - Bengals Pregame
The Stillers trying for 3 in a row? I never imagined writing that this year, but nonetheless, with the sixth game upon us, here we are. Pittsburgh seems red hot while the Bungles are searching for win number one. The story goes that a winless team is a dangerous team and I'd have to agree. Especially with the way the Stillers have performed against sub-par teams over the past two seasons. Cinci will almost definitely prove to be a formidable foe.
The questions coming into this week are:
- How will Graham play after a two week layoff?
- After two wins and much improvement this season, will Pittsburgh fans return home field advantage to Three Rivers?
- How will the offensive line respond with Shar out (knee) and Gandy (shoulder) and Smith (knee) questionable?
If Graham plays like he's capable (decent yardage, few mistakes), the crowd shows up with a mean-on and the offensive line has a decent to solid game, the Stillers win. But I'm not 100 percent confident that all of these chips will fall into place. This is especially true since Cinci seems to be a hungry team. They've held leads at times in each of the past two weeks....they just don't have the winning attitude yet. My concern is that they are bound to pull through at some point, so the Stillers need to be wary.
Let's compare the two teams:
Pittsburgh is ranked 11th overall in the NFL (27th passing, 2nd rushing) while Cinci is 31st (31st passing, 20th rushing). The Bungles have allowed 20 sacks while the Stillers have allowed only 10. Pittsburgh averages 143 yards rushing, 174 yards passing and 317 overall yards per game. Cinci averages 101 yards rushing, 140 yards passing and 241 overall yards per game. Statistically, these teams are not very close, but I believe the stats to be slightly misleading. Both teams are similar in that neither has proven to be a power house, but Pittsburgh still has the edge.
Pittsburgh, as on offense, is ranked 11th overall (19th against the pass, 5th against the run). Cinci has the 21st ranked defense overall (14th against the pass, 30th against the run). Opposing teams have scored 14 TD's this season on Cinci while Pittsburgh has given up just 6. What bodes well for the Stillers is that Cinci's defensive weakness matches up against the Stillers offensive strength; running the ball. Likewise, the Bungles best offensive category, running the ball, must match up against the strength of the Stillers defense. Since Akili Smith has struggled to find his groove, it's likely that he will share snaps with Scott Mitchell so barring any break downs against the pass, the Stillers secondary could again have a big day. The edge defensively unquestionable goes to the Stillers but I must serve a warning....WATCH OUT FOR TAKEO SPIKES....this guy can play!
On special teams, both teams draw fairly even. Pittsburgh has a return threat in Hank Poteat while the Bungles have a threat in ex-college wonder Tremain Mack-daddy. Mack is averaging 23.5 yards per kick return with 15 returns to date. Yikes! Mack's problem is that he has often been diagnosed with fumble-itis. In terms of coverage teams, Pittsburgh's is always a liability so this remains a huge question mark for the umpteenth time in a row.
The Keys to the Game:
- Kick and punt coverage teams need to continue improvements...giving up big plays to struggling teams is often all it takes to kick them into gear.
- Introduce medium range passes early to loosen the defense which will assuredly be hawking the line of scrimmage early in the game.
- Attack Cinci's QB whether it's Smith or Mitchell. Neither of these guys has proven that they can handle pressure.
I have to stick with Pittsburgh to win number three this week. I have a feeling the home crowd WILL be behind the team and that Cinci will not quite put things together. The game will be close, but Pittsburgh ends the home drought 24-17.