The Bengals are going to need a big game from their specialists Sunday in Pittsburgh (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) and they've got two guys who are rolling in kicker Mike Nugent and safety Jeromy Miles.
Nugent has missed just one field goal this season and is coming off another ice-cold performance last Sunday when his two fourth-quarter field goals provided the margin in the 23-20 win over the Browns. It also jacked his percentage to 87.8 (36-for-41) since he arrived in Cincinnati last season, the fifth best in the NFL since 2010. While he's been doing all that he's ninth in touchbacks with 29 after his career best had been nine.
And Miles is coming off a record-breaking performance of sorts. His five special teams tackles against the Browns were the most in special teams coach Darrin Simmons's 141 games with the club.
The Bengals will both need to be on Sunday since Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown is sixth in the league in kick returns and ninth in punt returns.
"And they've got Emmanuel Sanders back this week," Miles said of the fleet Steelers receiver that is also a dangerous return man that missed the game three weeks ago. "So we're dealing with two heads instead of one."
As usual, Miles is on top of it. A second-year undrafted free agent out of Massachusetts, Miles has impressed Simmons with his memory and study habits.
"He remembers what teams do to him and how they attack him and us," Simmons said. "He's fast and he's smart. He studies it and he's got a good feel for it. And he's had a chance to make even more plays, but he's been held or had some other bad breaks. He's been great."
The Bengals didn't let Brown hurt them in Paul Brown Stadium back on Nov. 13. His longest kick return was 26 yards (he averaged just 23 on three shots) and he had only 15 return yards on three Kevin Huber punts. Simmons is telling his guys the same thing head coach Marvin Lewis is telling his team.
"Make it an AFC North game," Miles said. "Be physical, Make tackles. Don't miss tackles."
Miles was surprised to hear his five tackles were a milestone. But he was just listening to Lewis.
"Coach had been saying all week that the big players play big in the big games," Miles said. "That means the whole team. Not just one guy."
It means more than Andy Dalton and A.J. Green. It also means guys like the 28-year-old Nugent, who has rebuilt his career with the Bengals. When he signed on Draft Day 2010, he had attempted 100 NFL field goals and made 79 of them. Under Simmons's eye, he's been right there with the game's best since who have made at least 35 field goals and tried at least 40 when it comes to percentage:
0.922, Matt Bryant, Falcons, 47-51
0.891, Rob Bironas, Titans, 41-46
0.889, Neil Rackers, Texans, 48-54
0.886, Adam Vinatieri, Colts, 39-44
0.878, Mike Nugent, Bengals, 36-41
"The big thing is getting the chance and the other thing is I sat down with Darrin and we figured out how I can hit it straighter," Nugent said.
It has all been strangely simple. Nugent says he has just opened up his foot and slowed down his approach and follow-through.
"You can see a lot of the differences," Nugent said of his tape work. "I'm not picking up my head as fast as I finish and my body is straighter down the field when I finish rather than kind of swinging and coming to the side."