Originally posted on Pro Sports Daily  |  Last updated 12/20/12
If it doesn't happen now, when? That is the simple question that the Bengals must address as they face Pittsburgh on Sunday. With a victory, the Bengals advance to the postseason in consecutive seasons for the first time in 30 years. They also beat one of their division rivals to show they have taken the next step. In order to do that though, quarterback Andy Dalton is going to have to play his best, which is something he has not done against the Steelers. Dalton is winless in three previous meetings against Pittsburgh he has completed 40-of-82 for 410 yards, with four touchdowns and three interceptions. In an Oct. 21 loss against the Steelers, Dalton was 14-of-28 for 105 yards, his worst performance of the season. "It just comes down to us not executing," Dalton said. "I don't think it was as much what they were doing as much as it was what we weren't doing. That's what we've got to do. "Yeah, we did start fast last time and we've got to keep that going, whatever it takes to keep putting drives together. If we do that, good things will happen." The fact is though that Dalton has not executed in those three games. In last year's first meeting, Dalton threw three interceptions, including two in the fourth quarter. In the game at Pittsburgh last December, it was bad decisions in the red zone during the first quarter. In this season's first game, it was being indecisive in the pocket or releasing the pass to quick for his receivers to be able to make a play. During the second half of the season, when the Bengals have won five of the last six games, he has done a better job in not doing that but it has also resulted in taking more coverage sacks. Somewhere there has to be a happy medium for Dalton. He has to be able to get the ball out and also in time for the receiver to make a play. That is also the danger when there isn't a reliable second receiver. Dalton had that during November, when Mohamed Sanu caught four touchdown passes, but the offense has struggled the last three games since Sanu was lost for the season because of a foot injury. In order to get their first victory over the Steelers in three years, Dalton and the Bengals need to take a lesson from the 2009 team. That Cincinnati team had to grind out wins in both games, that season but they were effective. They took advantage of Steelers' mistakes and converted good field position into points. This game though might come down to something the Bengals have not been able to do well, run the ball. Cincinnati has not had a 100-yard rusher against Pittsburgh since 2004 and the Bengals haven't had 20 first downs or more in a game against them since 2005. Ball control will be key. With balance, Dalton has been effective. When he's had to throw it 40 times or more, the Bengals are winless. More than anything, for this young team to take the next step, it needs to get a victory like this. Carson Palmer did it at Heinz Field in a December, 2005 game in which the Bengals took control of the AFC North. Dalton's opportunity comes Sunday. "Yeah, we've got everything in front of us. We've put ourselves in a good position to control everything," Dalton said. "So these last two games are two big games for us. We've got to come out and show what kind of team we are, and there's not better opponents to do it against than the Steelers and the Ravens."
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