The list of potential unrestricted free agents on the Steelers’ roster is a long one:
Will Allen, Charlie Batch, Plaxico Burress, Larry Foote, Ramon Foster, Casey Hampton, Brandon Johnson, Byron Leftwich, Doug Legursky, Keenan Lewis, Rashard Mendenhall, Ryan Mundy, Leonard Pope, Max Starks, Mike Wallace and Greg Warren can all hit the open market next March.
The one the Steelers probably deem most worth keeping is Lewis, the hobbled cornerback who doesn’t really believe that today’s game will have much influence on his future earnings.
“Why base it on one game?” he said. “It’s the whole season.”
Lewis leads the league in passes defensed this season, but the 26-year-old should make a case for big money if he contains the Bengals’ A.J. Green.
“I don’t take it like that,” Lewis said. “I take it one game at a time and see where I go from there.”
RUSH OR COVER
If the Steelers are going up against Green, Jermaine Gresham and Andrew Hawkins without Ike Taylor and with a hurting Lewis, they had better rush the passer.
But that’s not a given anymore.
The Steelers are 23rd in the NFL with 27 sacks this season. The only game in which they didn’t sack the opposing quarterback was the previous game against the Bengals.
That’s odd because Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has been sacked 38 times, second most in the AFC to Philip Rivers, whom, of course, the Steelers sacked only once for zero yards.
How are slow-moving quarterbacks such as Dalton and Rivers getting away unscathed against the pressure-oriented Steelers?
“There’s a lot of quick game, quick passing anymore,” said Hampton. “Teams learn how to play us and they play us a little bit different. We get a different look than other teams. When we watch film, guys do certain things, and then when they play us it’s entirely different. We just have to adjust to it and play our game.”
FIRST WITHOUT IKE
Even with so few sacks and only 7 interceptions, the Steelers still rank first in fewest overall yards allowed and fewest overall passing yards allowed.
The injury to Taylor hasn’t had an effect on the statistics behind those yardage rankings, either.
In the three games without Taylor, the Steelers have allowed an 89.2 passer rating. In the 11 games (plus an incompletion in a 12th game) with Taylor, the opponents’ passer rating was actually a bit better at 89.8.
MORE THAN A.J.
The Bengals are more than Green. Just ask BenJarvus Green-Ellis about his gaudy rushing numbers the last five weeks.
They also have receiving threats Jermaine Gresham and Andrew Hawkins. The two combined for only 5 catches for 36 yards in the previous game against the Steelers, but since then have averaged a combined 7 catches for 73 yards per game, and that’s without Hawkins in two games.
The Steelers had trouble with a similar slot receiver two weeks ago when Chargers fifth-year vet Michael Spurlock caught a career-high 7 passes for 64 yards.
“Andrew, number one, is such a hardworking guy and makes everybody around him better,” said Bengals coach Marvin Lewis. “He’s got such great quickness and speed. He provides separation and so forth, and he’s a difficult matchup for some players.”
Undrafted free agent Robert Golden played his first defensive snaps the last two weeks because of the injuries in the Steelers’ secondary.
A college cornerback who made the team as a safety, Golden had to cover slot receivers the last two games.
“I thought he did a good job of going in there and actually playing a corner position,” said Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.
“Coach [Mike] Tomlin’s judgment was definitely reinforced in that game, and he gave us great depth, particularly at the end of the game when we had a couple of other defensive backs go out. It’s good to have a guy who can play both positions like Robert. I’m looking forward to his growth.”
ODDS ‘N’ ENDS
* The Bengals can clinch a wild-card berth with a win and set up a division showdown with the Baltimore Ravens the following week if the Ravens lose today to the New York Giants.
* Dalton is one of three players in NFL history with 20+ touchdown passes in each of his first two seasons. Peyton Manning and Dan Marino are the other two. Cam Newton needs two this season to do the same.
* Vontaze Burfict leads the Bengals with 139 tackles and could become the fifth Bengals rookie to lead the team in tackles. Burfict is the only undrafted player of the bunch. His 12 starts are the most by an undrafted rookie in team history.
* The Steelers have won their last three at home against the Bengals in December. But then again, Ben Roethlisberger is 0-2 this December after previously going 23-9.
* James Harrison has 8 sacks in his last 9 games against the Bengals and LaMarr Woodley has 8 sacks, 2 interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), 2 forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery in 10 career games against the Bengals.
* In 11 games this season, Woodley has 4 sacks, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble and 1 fumble recovery.
* The Steelers have won the final two games each of the last three seasons. If they do it this season, they’ll make the playoffs with 600 all-time wins (including postseason), the fourth most in NFL history behind the Bears 737, Packers 718, and Giants 677.