CINCINNATI -- It’s pretty simple for the Bengals: Beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh on Sunday and the season is right back on track.
Of course, beating the Steelers is anything but simple for the Bengals. Marvin Lewis is 8-22 against Pittsburgh, including 1-7 in the last eight.
Let’s look at nine things the Bengals must do win Sunday in the 4:25 p.m. matchup at Heinz Field:
1. Bother Big Ben
Ben Roethlisberger is probably the hardest quarterback in the NFL to get on the ground. He’s listed 6-foot-5, 240 pounds. I think they copied that weight off the Miami Redhawk roster from his college days -- 270 more realistic. Defensive linemen tend to slide off him.
The Bengals’ pass rush has been terrific, fifth in the NFL in sacks. Geno Atkins and company don’t have to sack Roethlisberger. They have to keep from sitting back and letting Antonio Brown improvise.
2. Stay calm and play on
The Steelers have a way of baiting the Bengals into doing stupid stuff. The meltdown in the playoffs in 2015 was a result of that.
“We took the cheese,” pensive end Carlos Dunlap said.
Avoiding that has been a point of emphasis.
“Staying within it throughout the game is what’s important,” coach Marvin Lewis said. “Throughout. (Keep) the focus, stay the course. They’ve been 60-minute games, and we have to stay in the ebb and flow. If we get up, you got to get up. If we’re down, we have to fight back in it and not worry about it until the end. The outcome is what matters.”
3. Get the ball to Tyler
We speak of tight end Tyler Kroft. Tyler Eifert is done for the season after back surgery. Kroft has looked like Eifert the last couple of weeks -- 10 catches, 106 yards, two touchdowns. Having presence in the middle of the field is huge, particularly in the red zone. More on that later.
4. Keep Brown down
The Bengals have done a decent job on Antonio Brown lately. He had seven catches for 97 yards and no TDs in the two games last year.
He’s averaging well over that per game this year. He had 155 yards and a TD last week in Kansas City. The Bengals can’t let that happen and still hope to win.
5. Run the ball
The Bengals’ running game has been awful this year. They are 28th in the NFL at 84 yards per game.
Job 1 for the bye week was to improve on that. Joe Mixon has become the featured back. He looked good as the Bengals salted away the Buffalo game.
But the Bengals need establish the run early or Andy Dalton is going to take a beating from the rush.
6. Find a way to A.J.
Since Bill Lazor took over as offensive coordinator, A.J. Green has accounted for nearly half of Dalton’s passing yards and has caught a touchdown pass in each game.
“For us, we got back to playing how we know we can play,” Dalton said. “We’ve had a good connection. Any time I can get him the ball, I’m going to try and do it. I think it’s part of who we are -- what we’ve done -- and we’ve gotten better over the course of the last couple of weeks. We just want to keep doing it.”
7. Red zone
The Bengals were 0-for-3 in the red zone as far as touchdowns in the 24-16 loss in Pittsburgh last year. The Bengals have reached the red zone 15 times this year and converted that to five TDs. That’s the worst in the NFL.
It’s gotten better under Lazor. It’s been 36.8 percent since the change, up from 28.5 percent.
Against defense as good as Pittsburgh’s -- fourth in terms of scoring -- you have to make the most of your chances.
8. Rookies of the year
The Bengals are relying as heavily on rookies as they ever have under Lewis. Carl Lawson and Jordan Willis are key to the pass rush.
This, of course, is the first Steeler game for the rookies. They’ve been given a crash course in the rivalry this week.
“I recognized those guys (Wednesday),” Lewis said. “They all know the message.”
9. Finish the job
The Bengals had a 17-3 lead in the 24-20 loss in the home game last year. They had the wild card game in 2015 won. They let both slip away.
If they get the lead Sunday, they have to finish the job. Using the rotation on defense should help with that.
John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.