Coach Mike Tomlin is well aware of what is at stake this Sunday when the Steelers host the Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field.
The Bengals hold a one-game lead over the Steelers and currently occupy the final playoff spot in the AFC. But a win over them would not just leave the two teams tied at 8-7, but it would give the Steelers the head-to-head advantage as they defeated them earlier this season in Cincinnati.
“It’s an enormous week for us with a big home game versus a division opponent, the Cincinnati Bengals,” said Tomlin. “There are a lot of ramifications on this game, for both teams. It is really creating an exciting environment around here as we prepare. I am sure it’s the same for them.”
The Bengals are a hot team right now, winning five of their last six games. One of the reasons for their success has been the play of several key weapons on offense, including BenJarvus Green-Ellis who has amassed 1,080 yards rushing to date. The Steelers held the explosive back to 69 yards in their earlier meeting this year, but understand stopping him isn’t going to be an easy task.
“He has a consistent run demeanor,” said Tomlin. “He always falls forward. He is kind of a one-cut runner. He’s had explosion plays for them over the last several weeks, as they have been a very hot team. He has been a significant part of that, providing a consistent run game for them but also providing some splash plays.”
Another player who will present a challenge for the Steelers’ defense is receiver A.J. Green, who has 85 receptions for 1,208 yards and 11 touchdowns this season.
“He is extremely talented,” said Tomlin. “We are familiar with him and what he is capable of. He is big, fast and quick. He plays to his size down the field. He plays the ball above eye level. That’s going to be a challenge for our defensive backs.”
Cornerback Ike Taylor has already been ruled out for Sunday’s game, so the job of covering Green and the Bengals’ receivers is going to fall on Cortez Allen and Keenan Lewis, both of whom are battling injuries themselves.
“They’re very capable professionals, guys that have played a lot of ball for us, guys that are capable of standing up and covering people regardless of circumstances,” said Tomlin. “We’ll have a contingency plan if one or more of those guys are unavailable. But as we sit here, we’re anticipating having those guys and we’re going to do what we normally do.”
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Running back Rashard Mendenhall is back on the active roster after a one-game suspension, but don’t look for things to change dramatically at the position. Jonathan Dwyer is still expected to start against the Bengals, with Isaac Redman coming in to spell him.
“I’m happy with the rotation as it is now,” said Tomlin. “I look forward to getting Rashard back in the building and participating with his teammates and kind of letting that participation lead us in terms of etching a potential role for him.”