Bengals bent on spoiling the Steelers’ playoff seeding

On Monday Night Football, the Cincinnati Bengals will host the Pittsburgh Steelers – an AFC North rival and the current divisional leader – looking to prevent a two-game sweep of the series in 2017 and, at a minimum, spoil the way the Steelers are seeded. Both teams are aware that a win by the Bengals won’t have much of an impact on how the Steelers move forward at this point, but that doesn’t mean that Cincinnati can’t (or won’t) get a few extra hits in. It’s just a matter of how they’ll execute that plan.

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Mixon ready to turn things loose

Following the Bengals’ win over the Cleveland Browns, I talked about how the Bengals had finally gotten the type of performance they wanted out of rookie running back Joe Mixon. In fact, I praised Mixon’s play. Mixon gave credit to his offensive line but said part of the reason he hadn’t had a breakout earlier in the season was because the Bengals organization couldn’t decide whether they would clear out the crowd in the offensive backfield. They did, releasing Jeremy Hill, and Mixon went off, carrying the ball 23 times for a career-high 114 yards and one touchdown. Mixon added three receptions for 51 yards. Mixon, however, feels there is more to come in his game.

I’ve been putting emphasis on it for myself, been trying to go ahead and finish runs violently. I feel I’ve got to put that on tape… – J. Mixon

Just one snap after safety Jabrill Peppers got a penalty for a hit to the head on Mixon’s teammate, wide receiver Josh Malone, Mixon ripped off a 14-yard run and drilled Peppers hard enough to knock the veteran’s helmet off.

“He hit my teammate the play before and knocked him out and we wasn’t feeling that, so, it was just an unfortunate feeling. I caught him in the middle of the field and was like ‘Hey, I’m going to punish you’ That’s what happened,” said Mixon. “There are certain situations, depending on what kind of game it is, how the defender is coming at you. It depends how I’m feeling. In some games, I want to make you miss and some games I’m going to make you pay when you try to tackle me.”

Mixon is playing angry (not a good thing from a Bengals player against the Steelers considering their history) and he is a dangerous, elusive tool. Pro Football Focus noted that Mixon broke four tackles on 23 carries and gained 65 yards after contact. To stop him, the Steelers defense will need to do a much better job of tackling than they have recently.

Emile Pierce of Fansided‘s Stripe Hype said:

If the Bengals are going to have any chance of moving deep into the playoffs, it starts with the Steelers. They have to punch them in the mouth and take no prisoners. Whatever war-of-words has been flying about has to be backed-up with brute force under the lights.

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Defense looks to tighten up against Steelers

Against the winless Browns, the Bengals defense allowed 16 points, 405 yards, let Isaiah Crowell run for a season-high 95 yards and gave DeShone Kizer his best NFL game with 268 passing yards. It was a lapse of focus and execution, according to safety George Iloka. “I’ve alluded to that in the previous weeks,” Iloka said. “We have to focus…” Indeed. The Steelers offense is finally clicking, according to Ben Roethlisberger and the score of their past two games.

The Bengals defense ranks 10th in the league in points allowed (averaging 19.5 per game) and are 28th against the rush. That means Le’Veon Bell will be a focal point if the Bengals hope to prevent Pittsburgh from going off. Bell is currently leading the league with 1,377 combined yards (rushing and receiving).

“It’s a big game, man,” said cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. “It’s definitely a big game for me… At the end of the day, we’ve got to go out there and get this ‘W’.” Kirkpatrick feels he’ll be successful in limiting Antonio Brown by putting tighter pressure on the Steelers’ top receiver, but he doesn’t see himself as a lone wolf out there on defense.

“At the end of the day, I’ve been screaming that we’ve got to win our moments. The last two weeks that’s what I’ve been saying,” Kirkpatrick said. “We’re all with it because when you’ve got moments when you can make a big play and you don’t make a big play or you drop an interception or you drop a touchdown, you’re not winning your moment. I feel like we’ve got to win our moments. They’re going to present themselves. We just have to go out there and take them …”

One of the reasons the Bengals have been victims of the Steelers is due to shooting themselves in the foot with penalties. Pittsburgh has won five in a row and it was an 18-16 playoff game during the 2015 season that illustrated how easily Cincinnati can become their own worst enemies. With the game on the line, Vontaze Burfict and Adam Jones earned serious penalties that set up the game-winning field goal in the closing seconds and handed the chance for an AFC Championship away.

The game should be a great one with more action than the first time these two teams met this season.

If we’re not a good team, it will show. If we’re a good team, it will show. This will be an opportunity to do it. – G. Iloka

The Bengals would love nothing more than to hand the Steelers a big loss and shake up the Steelers’ playoff seeding. They can’t completely derail the Steelers’ chances for a playoff bid, however. “If we win the game, it won’t really change much for them, and we’ll still have another must-win game the following week,” Iloka said. “(A win) just keeps us alive. And for them, it will just irritate them. They’ll still be whatever they’ll be if they lose.”

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