The Pittsburgh Steelers’ playoff fate hinges on their ability to beat the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday and then getting help from the Cleveland Browns against the Baltimore Ravens, but coach Mike Tomlin doesn’t need to remind his players how big this week is.
Tomlin said the focus is like every other week: “We better take care of the business in our stadium.”
Pittsburgh is 25-8 against the Bengals under Marvin Lewis and have won seven straight in the series.
Here are five things Tomlin said about the matchup:
1. Playing to offense’s strengths
The Steelers have been throwing the ball more than usual this season, as Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster both have more than 100 catches. That has especially been the case the last few weeks with James Conner sidelined with an ankle injury, but Tomlin said whether he is in the game or not, the Steelers are going to highlight the skills of the players on the field.
Lately that has meant utilizing Ben Roethlisberger’s arm. On Sunday with Conner expected back, it could mean using both.
“We don’t necessarily look at the number of runs versus passes,” Tomlin said. “Sometimes that’s game plan related or game circumstance related. When we run it, we want to run it effectively and when we pass it we want to pass it effectively and so forth. We realize we have to be able to do all things to have the type of balance we desire so we can do what it is we need to do in given moments.”
2. Turnovers are key
Pittsburgh is at minus-10 in turnover ratio, and Tomlin said that has been the team’s biggest Achilles heel during a stretch of four losses in five games.
The Steelers have turned the ball over 10 times in those five games and caused just three turnovers on defense.
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“We haven’t done a good enough job of taking care of the ball, and we haven’t done a good enough job getting the ball,” Tomlin said. “To me, they go hand in hand and you can’t talk about one without the other because it is a relative thing. At times we haven’t done a good enough job taking care of the ball but we’ve gotten turnovers and it hasn’t impacted the result of games and vice versa. The fact we are minus-10, we’re not doing a good enough job of taking care of it and also getting it.”
3. Preparing for same Bengals defense
The Bengals’ defense has changed since the teams last met, as Lewis took charge when defensive coordinator Teryl Austin was fired in Week 10.
However, Tomlin said he isn’t preparing any differently because the Steelers still have to worry about the same players.
“Obviously, they’ve highlighted probably some things differently, some things they wanted to do or do less of, but we focus more on the things we think they are capable of with the core components and obviously they still have Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap up front,” Tomlin said. “They have very good coverage men on the back end. The major components and how they approach their business is virtually the same from that perspective, so we better be prepared for what they are capable of as opposed to looking at some of the nuances of some of the things that might be somewhat different.”
4. Keying on Joe Mixon
Cincinnati’s offense is probably less recognizable than the defense when the Steelers watch film, but Tomlin said running back Joe Mixon is still a big threat.
Mixon topped the 1,000-yard rushing mark last week and ranks fifth in the league despite missing two games and seeing limited touches in several games.
“You know, they are still handing that thing to Joe Mixon and I think he’s No. 1 in the AFC in rushing,” Tomlin said. “Obviously, we have respect for that, and we better start it there.”
5. Finishing the game
The Steelers have struggled closing out games the second half of the season, but that hasn’t typically been the case in the series with Cincinnati.
In the last four meetings, Pittsburgh has outscored the Bengals 58-10 in the second half.
“We just focus on doing what it takes to win, and some circumstances we haven’t done it lately,” Tomlin said. “Sometimes that culminates at the end of games, but there are many, many plays in a game that have an impact on the outcome and we are focused on all the plays. Some of our recent losses have been highlighted by how the games finished, but we want to play better throughout and we want to do what’s required to win.”