Know Thy Enemy: Cincinnati Bengals

Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall spent his off day in Monroeville helping fans over at the FedEx Office get their packages out in time for the holidays.  It’s part of FedEx’s national “Pack and Ship” promotion giving customers a chance to win 2011 season tickets by simply going online and registering at www.fedex.com/packwiththepros. Given Mendy’s occasional butterfingers, I sure hope none of those boxes were marked “Fragile.”

After playing the Cincinnati Bengals this Sunday, perhaps Rashard can share a few packing tips with Marvin Lewis. When this season is over, he’ll be boxing up his belongings as he seeks gainful employment elsewhere.  Hey, I hear Pitt is in the market for a new head coach.  Once he’s finished babysitting immature clowns like Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco, dealing with nineteen year old frat boys will seem like a walk in the park.

STEELERS DEFENSE vs. BENGALS OFFENSE

Credit where credit is due:  Owens absolutely tortured the Steelers in the first meeting between the two teams.  Since then, the Bengals have lost four straight as T.O. thinks of new and creative ways to throw his team under the bus.  He’s only signed for this year so it’ll be interesting to see who’s the next sucker to take him.  Despite being more cancerous than an asbestos jock strap, somebody will give him a contract.   Hello, Dan Snyder!

Cedric Benson has completely fallen off the map while Carson Palmer has struggled to the point there are whispers in Cincy that it may be time to take a quarterback with what appears to be a top 5 draft pick.  I think Palmer would benefit greatly by getting away from the stench of failure which follows this franchise.  Put him on a team like Minnesota or San Francisco and I wouldn’t be surprised if he wins Comeback Player of the Year.  There seems little point in keeping a 30 year old QB who’s never won a playoff game around when the entire team is need of rebuilding.

Remember, the Steelers had a Comeback Player of the Year of their own by the name of Tommy Maddox on their roster when they drafted that Ben Roethlisberger fella.  Smart teams always plan two steps ahead.  Then again, the Black and Gold are the ideal for how to run a franchise while the Bengwads are pretty much the poster boys for what not to do.

Anyway, back to the match-up.  The Steelers have a crappy secondary.  Bryant McFadden is coming off his worst game of the year and Willie Gay was the guy T.O. repeatedly torched the first time.  When the Steelers play a good QB capable of getting the ball off quickly, problems ensue.  Which is why despite a 20 point fourth quarter deficit, Palmer was able to bring the Bengals to within a completion on 4th and 5 from likely pulling ahead.   Hopefully, Dick LeBeau will learn from his prior mistakes, stick Ike Taylor (our only decent corner) on Owens, and then dial up enough pressure to cover everybody else’s shortcomings.

STEELERS OFFENSE vs. BENGALS DEFENSE

The first game saw the Steelers build a huge lead thanks to a fumbled kickoff, a blocked punt, a Palmer pick, a missed Bengals FG, and a TD pass by Antwaan Randle-El.  While you can certainly count on the fact a gutless team like Cincy will always find a way to lose, you can’t expect they’ll make that many mistakes.  Then again, the Steelers played an uncharacteristically sloppy game with Hines Ward fumbling, Big Ben throwing a lazy INT, and Skippy missing a crucial boot.  If both teams bring their “A” games, I don’t like Cincy’s chances since that match-up is roughly the equivalent of bringing a knife to a bazooka fight.

Our offensive issues in that first meeting were largely due to the fact the offensive line was absolutely decimated as the game progressed.  The bad news is the O-line is still a mess.  The good news is Flozell Adams, despite a high ankle sprain, practiced the past couple days and is expected to play.  The even better news, particularly if your name is Jonathan Scott, is the Bungles rank dead last in team sacks with a pitiful 14 all season.

Heath Miller, still suffering from post-concussion symptoms thanks to the dirty cheap shot by Jameel McClain, is not expected to play.  Ginger Dictator, if you’re reading, I would like to propose a simple rule change.  Instead of random fines or the Wheel of Justice, how about when a player is concussed thanks to a helmet-to-helmet hit, the guy who hit him is suspended until the injured player is cleared to return?   McClain losing $40,000 while we lose Heath for an extended period of time is hardly a fair trade.

Big Ben has practiced after the emergency nose job and other than wearing a plastic nose guard should be good to go.  By “good to go,” I mean “beaten to hell.”   I’ve seen pinatas suffer less abuse than Ben did last week.  But he’s a gamer and after a quarter or two, I expect he’ll be right back into the groove he found last week.  The Bengals give up points in bunches (fifth worst in the league) so scoring shouldn’t be a problem.

In many ways, this game is the key to the rest of the Steelers season.  Pittsburgh has only one tough game remaining after Sunday (the Jets next week) with two gimmes against the Panthers and Browns to finish out the year.  And if anybody watched that debacle Monday night, you know the Jets are far from unbeatable.  So I fully expect a 3-1 record down the stretch.

That would put the Steelers at 12-4 and almost certainly ensure a first round bye.  With the injuries this team has suffered, I believe they need a week off if they hope to make any noise in the postseason.  While on paper the Black and Gold are clearly the better team, Cincy always seems to find a way to play the Steelers tough.  A loss here and the Jets game becomes almost a must-win (which, as I said, isn’t impossible but far from a sure thing) as does playing out the string against the two bottom feeders.  So, for once, let’s hope the Steelers do things the easy way, win the game they should win, and turn their attention to next week’s battle of the titans.

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