CINCINNATI -- The Bengals' defense has been especially good at not giving up big plays this season. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther counts five in the first five games.
That’s a big reason why the team is second in the NFL in scoring defense at 16.6 points per game.
Let’s just say continued excellence in preventing chunk plays Sunday in Pittsburgh ranks high on the list of the things the Bengals must do to beat the Steelers.
It won’t be easy.
The Steelers haven’t been an offensive juggernaut, but they have some of the league’s best playmakers in wide receivers Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant, running back Le’Veon Bell and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
“Antonio Brown is still putting up the yardage, touchdowns and receptions,” safety George Iloka said. They’ve got Bryant back. We’ve got our hands full. They’ve always had a good offense.
"That’s nothing new for us in terms of what we have to do on defense. We’ve got to keep them from scoring a lot of points and give our offense the ball back.”
Brown, the eighth-year veteran, is the leading receiver in the NFL with 700 yards on 48 catches. He averages 14.6 per catch and has a long of 51. He has 196 yards more than the second-leading receiver, A.J. Green.
The Bengals have done a decent job on Brown. He’s averaged 5.3 catches for 74.7 yards in his 13 games against them. He’s only had 100-plus yards twice.
“We play our division opponents two times every year,” Iloka said. “As an organization, as coordinators, as players, you should be better aware of what they’re trying to do. That’s what I attribute that to -- and us playing well.”
Teams work hard to take Brown away, but it is difficult. He had eight catches for 155 yards, including a 52-yard TD, last week against then-undefeated Kansas City. His score proved to be the game-winner.
“People are continually evolving in the way they work to minimize his game,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “The older he gets he’s really become cognizant of how people play him differently.
“He’s trying to grow and evolve to combat some of those things. It’s been fun to watch.”
Brown has been thrown to 74 times -- or 12 times a game. Bengal cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick does not find that surprising.
“He’s the best,” Kirkpatrick said. “He’s leading all the receivers. Get the man the ball. You just got to put him in situations where he’s uncomfortable.”
Bryant, at 6-foot-4, 211 pounds, gives a different look than the 5-10, 181-pound Brown. His career numbers against the Bengals -- 16 catches, 228 yards -- are his best against any team.
Bell is one of the better running backs in the league. He’s third in rushing with 550 yards and four touchdowns on 134 carries.
Stopping him or first- and second down to throw the Steelers off schedule is key.
“Get them (bad) field position on third down, and we have a great chance of winning this game,” Kirkpatrick said.
The Bengals have lost seven of eight against the Steelers. To reverse that, the Bengals have to play well defensively. Points will be hard to come by for the Bengal offense. The Steelers are fourth in scoring defense and first in passing defense.
The defense accepts that.
“Any time you play a good offense, you have to embrace that challenge,” Iloka said. “We’re up there in the league in defense, but come Sunday you have to throw all that away. We’re happy with what we’ve done so far, but we still have to improve to beat a team like we play this weekend.”
John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.