Bengals QB Andy Dalton is 10-5 on the road as a starter, but yet to beat the Steelers. He hopes to finally breakthrough with the highest of stakes on Sunday. (US Presswire)

The Bengals have lost five consecutive games to the Steelers and have only one win in the past five years at Heinz Field.

When needing a breakthrough win against Pittsburgh, the Bengals have repeatedly fallen a play or two short. These rarely have been blowouts. Of the five straight losses, three had possible game-winning/tying drives thwarted in the final minutes.

The Bengals couldn't need a win more than Sunday in Pittsburgh. With a victory the Bengals clinch a playoff berth, but a loss means they need to beat Baltimore and have the Browns defeat the Steelers in Week 17 to sneak in.

So, with the highest stakes in this series since the 2005 playoff game, why do the Bengals believe this time could be different?

1. Defense and running game travel

Nothing combats a hostile environment in the NFL like a dominating defense and consistent running game.

Since Week 11, the Bengals rank third in the NFL in yards per rush (5.1). Only the historic yardage of Adrian Peterson in Minnesota and hot streak of Marshawn Lynch in Seattle top BenJarvus Green-Ellis and the Bengals. Over that time, Green-Ellis cracked 100 yards in four of five games.

Along the same lines, since the Bengals' four-game winning streak began against the New York Giants on Nov. 11 no defense could top their dominance. The Bengals rank No. 1 the NFL in yards allowed per play (4.31) and touchdowns allowed (5). Only two other teams allowed single-digit touchdowns over the same span.

Running and suffocating defensive make the Bengals look capable of ending their five-game losing streak to the Steelers.  

Quotable: “We've been on a good stretch for six, seven weeks,” defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer said. “I think their confidence is better. Obviously, we've played a lot better. I think we are better now then when we played them (in Week 6), but that is just saying that. Until we do it on Sunday in Heinz Field it really doesn't matter.”

2. Andy Dalton on the road

Dalton has developed a reputation as road warrior. The Bengals are 10-5 away from home with him at QB.

The scouting report coming out of TCU led with Dalton's mental toughness and reputation as a winner. That's proved to pay off considering of those 10 road wins, half came when the Bengals trailed in the second half.

Also, the Steelers have lost two in a row at Heinz Field.

Quotable: “I think he's hard to rattle,” OL Andrew Whitworth said. “He's a guy that he goes on the road to win, and I think he kind of likes that moment of everybody being against him and that kind of deal. I think he loves that environment.”

3. No Ike Taylor

Any team going against the Bengals must come up with an answer for WR A.J. Green. With Pittsburgh's top CB Taylor out, Green has the potential to enjoy one of his signature games.

Consider in the two weeks since Taylor's injury opposing top wideouts had solid games: 

  • San Diego: Danario Alexander -- 7 receptions, 88 yards, 2 TD
  • Dallas: Dez Bryant -- 4 receptions, 59 yards, TD

LeBeau utilized Taylor and cloud coverages to hold Green to his worst game as a pro -- one catch for eight yards. Without Taylor, the plan to force all throws to the other receiving weapons could fall apart. Especially considering the Bengals have seen the plan.

Quotable: “Ike is more of a bump-and-run guy,” Green said. “(CB Josh Victorian and Keenan Lewis) play off a little bit, but they're both long guys. I'm still going to have my work cut out for me against both of them. Ike is ... just patient. He's been in the league a long time. The biggest thing is he's real patient.”

Follow Paul Dehner Jr. for Bengals updates on Twitter at @CBSBengals.