PITTSBURGH, PA – NOVEMBER 26: Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) looks for a receiver during an NFL football game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers on November 26, 2017 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, PA. (Photo by Shelley Lipton/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The week 13 Pittsburgh Steelers are a much different team than they were in week five. At that point, They were criticized and labeled an eight win team, nine at best. Ben Roethlisberger faced criticism by many who said he’s washed up at 36. They called Antonio Brown a locker room cancer over an emotional outburst that targeted a water cooler. They declared it was time to trade Brown and Le’Veon Bell for players who weren’t selfish. The Steelers, unlike some fans, never panicked and have reeled off six straight wins. Consequently, the Steelers currently hold the top spot in the AFC and are looking for more.

Prime time loves the Pittsburgh Steelers, who play the Cincinnati Bengals this Monday night. It’s the third of four straight games they Steelers play under the lights, and features a divisional opponent looking to derail their winning streak. The Steelers beat the Bengals 29-14 last month, and look to sweep the season series, but there’s more at stake. A win keeps them atop the AFC and just about guarantees a division title, but it won’t be easy. The Bengals would love nothing more than to wreck the Steelers momentum, while the Steelers look to end their misery. Either way, just throw out the records in this one because the Steelers are going hunting in prime time. The week 13 Pittsburgh Steelers keys to victory shows how they will bag their prey.

When the Steelers Have The Ball

The Pittsburgh Steelers offense is finally here after a sluggish start. They have balance, quick strike capabilities, and a number two receiver in JuJu Smith-Schuster, who’s reliable and explosive. More importantly however, the redzone offense has greatly improved over the last few weeks. The Steelers have scored nine redzone touchdowns over the last three games, equaling the total from the first eight. This coincides with Roethlisberger’s return to form. The Steelers head to Cincinnati, in another prime time matchup, looking for their seventh straight win. Executing these week 13 Pittsburgh Steelers offensive keys to victory will help ensure they are successful.

Protect Ben Roethlisberger

As Roethlisberger goes, so goes the Steelers offense, trending up since the fourth quarter of the Colts game. He has thrown 14 touchdowns against five picks since his five interception game in week five. Roethlisberger has a passer rating of around 100 over the same period of time,  throwing for 279.8 yards per game. Roethlisberger looks to continue his winning ways against the Bengals, and improve his career record against them to 21-7. The Bengals in turn are looking to add to their 50 sacks of Roethlisberger.

Todd Haley and the offensive line need to ensure that Roethlisberger stays upright throughout the game. Getting rid of the ball quickly is paramount. Haley’s game plan has to focus on keeping the Bengals off balance and on their heels. It’d be wise to utilize the no-huddle to wear down the Bengals defensive front, pounding them with Bell in between quick passes. Getting Roethlisberger into a rhythm early on is crucial to winning this divisional game.

Success begins upfront, especially in the AFC North, where he who wins the trench wars wins the game. First, Maurkice Pouncey and the line has to do a better job leading Bell to daylight. Bell’s had to work hard lately to get his yardage, putting the Steelers behind the chains on third down. He is at his best when he’s hesitating to set up defenders, not waiting for a hole to open up. That is often the difference lately between a three yard struggle and a six yard burst.

Secondly, the line must repeat their previous performance against the Bengals, keeping Roethlisberger clean. Pressure leads to turnovers. Roethlisberger, in seven losses to the Bengals, has 14 interceptions while being sacked 19 times. Conversely, he only has 13 interceptions while being sacked just 31 times in 20 wins. The bottom line is that the Steelers chances of winning increases with each play that ends with Roethlisberger on his feet.

When the Bengals Have the Ball

The Steelers defense ranks fourth in points given up and in total yards allowed. They give up just 17.5 points and just over 180 yards passing per game. Despite a few hiccups and key injuries, Keith Butler‘s unit carried the team during the first eight games. Despite the success, the defense has a few chinks in its armor that the Bengals want to exploit. They have the weapons, but can Andy Dalton feed them before Stephon Tuitt and Cam Heyward get to him? The week 13 Pittsburgh Steelers defensive keys to victory detail what they must do to shut the Bengals down.

The Steelers Must Pressure Andy Dalton

Dalton isn’t the quarterback he was a few years ago, but still possesses a great arm. Part of his problem is a reduction in accuracy that comes from playing behind the league’s worst offensive line. Dalton’s time in the pocket has been uncomfortable at best. He’s spent most of the season running for his life and picking himself off the ground. When he’s had time, he’s been too skiddish to take advantage of it, hearing footsteps and rushing his throws. Despite the constant harassment, Dalton has managed to toss 18 touchdown passes, meaning he’s still capable of the big play. The Steelers need to keep the heat on Dalton, much like week seven when they sacked him four times. The less he is able to get the ball to A.J. Green, the better off the defense is.

Tackle Properly and Eliminate Big Plays

Over aggressiveness has been the defense’s Achilles heel this season, leading to missed tackles and big plays. They’ve cleaned the issue up for the most part, but it tends to creep up at the most inopportune times. Over aggressiveness has led seven touchdowns of 40 plus yards given up this season. The defense must remain focused and disciplined because  Green and Joe Mixon, among others, will burn them. The Bengals have nothing to lose and will let it all hang out. The Steelers defense must stay within themselves and play as a unit. Artie Burns, who’s gotten burned a few times in the last several weeks, for blown assignments, needs to play smarter. The linebackers need to maintain their gaps and make tackles.

Conclusion

There is no reason the Steelers shouldn’t be 10-2 when they leave Cincinnati. They’re superior on both sides of the ball, and have the chance to just about wrap up the division. The Steelers thrive on Monday Night Football, so look for them to play with intensity, purpose and efficiency. There’s something about the national spotlight that brings out the best in the Steelers. Unfortunately for the Bengals, they are about to find that out.

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