Well I feel pretty dumb from last week’s numbing loss against the Ravens. The Steelers did exactly what they needed to do to win the game except for winning the game. They stopped Ray Rice and made him rather ineffective (except for that opening snap) for most of the game. I said that all they needed to do was stop Ray Rice and the rest would take care of itself. Guess I assumed that the coaching staff and the thus far dependable secondary wouldn’t really blow it in the final 2:37 of the game.
The Steelers will be looking to rebound in what has now become an ‘interesting’ part of their schedule – Cincy, then the bye, then KC, then Cincy again. So what is the key to victory against the far from Cincinnati Bungles.
Where do we begin? Since when do we need to worry about the Cincinnati Bengals? As Dom pointed out, since the early part of the 90’s the Steelers have enjoyed the spoils of success over the Bengals. The Bengals have resided in the dredges of the NFL due to poor management from the top down, while the Steelers have been to four Super Bowls and winning two of them during that time. There indeed have been times where the Bengals have been a threatening little bunch – and I don’t just mean with their guns and knives packed under their pads – but they generally are a harmless bunch of football misfits. And the Steelers have time and time again had their number. But the times, they are a changin’, and the Steelers need to pay attention to what’s happening around them in the AFC North.
So what’s the key? Well to put things in true perspective, the Bengals have had a weaker schedule thus far than the Steelers and Ravens. They lost back to back weeks to the then Orten led Broncos and the surging and surprising 49’ers. The Bengals rank 21st in passing and rushing yards. They rank 14th in points. Not great numbers, yet they find ways to win games – the biggest one being against the Bills back in week 4. Their defense has been their saving grace – they rank in the top 5 on numerous categories. Somehow they are power ranked in the top 10 on most of the sports sites – ESPN, NFL.com, etc. etc. Why? How? If this were the BCS, the Bengals would be barely breaking the top 25 based on ‘strength of schedule’ (By the way, this is why I f’ing hate the BCS). This team is a tough nut to crack. What’s so special about them?
They don’t have great talent. They don’t have great coaching. But yet they have found ways to win games. Usually this team is 1-7 or 2-6 at this point. Yet they are a scary bunch to play. Why? Team chemistry. It’s true. For the first time in I don’t know how many years, the Cincinnati Bengals have cleaned house and stayed out of trouble on and off the field. OK ok… there were THREE Bengals arrested back in week 1. But a year before that and up to this point, they’ve stayed out of trouble. The locker room is a healthy one, and it seems like the inbred fighting – usually compounded by Ocho opening his mouth week in and week out. It seems like ‘The Attitude’ has left this team, and they are for once in a long time, focused.
So what do the Steelers need to accomplish this Sunday? Two things: 1) Mix up the offense with this ragtag bunch of defensive linemen and linebackers (seriously, have you heard of any of these guys?). If the offensive line from the Steelers can rule the trenches, the running game should be good enough to establish a strong passing attack from Ben and the Youngins’. Look for more short slants and passes across the middle as the Bengals will probably need to commit an extra linebacker for their blitzing packages. The Bengals have one more interception than the Steelers (3-2) and are on the lower end for defended passes. I’m sure Wallace and Brown will get some good looks downfield over the course of the game. 2) The Steelers need to somehow find a way to shake things up for the Bengals personel – either before the game or during. Something needs to happen that will unsettle the Bengals’ players. Suggestions? Eh maybe a pre-game scuffle. Or maybe some good ol’ fashion trash talk to get the thug blood pumping in the orange and black locker room.
Alright so I’m having fun at their expense… but why not after all these years of them being embarrassingly awful? In all seriousness, the Steelers need to take this game seriously and play up to their competition. The Bengals have been finding ways to win, and don’t be surprised that if the Steelers don’t put the Bengals away early and in a big way, we’ll see a craftily orchestrated game tying/winning drive from a surprising Dalton.