MEMORABLE SERIES MOMENT
Steelers 33, Bengals 20
Dec. 13, 2015 at Paul Brown Stadium
The national media wagged its collective finger at these teams for their comportment during the Steelers' controversial playoff win, but this game set it up in terms of attitude and fierceness. Vontaze Burfict had injured Le'Veon Bell in the first meeting, the second year in a row the Bengals had ended Bell's season. Afterwards, Vince Williams threatened bodily harm on Bufict through social media. So Burfict walked through the Steelers' warm-ups to incite a brief skirmish prior to this game. Mike Mitchell knocked out Tyler Eifert on the first series and the Steelers committed three early personal fouls and had a fourth offset. They went on to win and after the game Marcus Gilbert tweeted, "All I want for Christmas is the Bengals. Would love to see them in the playoffs where they choke." He got what he wanted, and they did.
TALE OF THE TAPE
"The thing I noticed with the Bengals offensively is without Mohamed Sanu, Marvin Jones and Tyler Eifert, they are no longer a balanced passing attack. They're a one-man show, and that's A.J. Green. I'm going to take away Green and make the other guys beat me. Brandon LaFell's not a bad wide receiver but I don't believe there's a comfort level yet between him and Andy Dalton to make up for all those passing yards that are going to be missed. The other thing, I never thought much of Andre Smith, their former right tackle, but he was a guy who could play well at times. (Cedric) Ogbuehi struggled last week. It almost looked like the stage was overwhelming him at times. And (center Russell) Bodine is kind of soft. When two out of your five offensive linemen are soft, that makes it tough to stop twists and that's what the Jets did and they got penetration and the Bengals really struggled. Dalton was sacked seven times but, man, he still held on to the ball and he still was looking to go deep with A.J. Green. He took a lot of shots and it did not affect his confidence or frustrate him or keep him from running that game-winning drive." -- Steelers Radio analyst Tunch Ilkin.
Can the Steelers keep their composure?
The Bengals are no doubt looking to avenge last season's improbable playoff loss, when a late hit by Burfict on Antonio Brown was compounded by a personal foul on Pacman Jones for a 30-yard penalty to give the Steelers the game-winning field goal. Burfict is suspended for this game, but the Steelers should prepare for feelings of revenge. That's why the Steelers need to keep their poise, and, judging by comments from leadership early in the week, they will. "That would insinuate retaliation and that’s not who we are," was how Ben Roethlisberger answered one question. "I think it’s a physical football game, it's a physical division, and that’s what we expect, a physical football game. Clean."
THREE QUESTIONS: With FS MIKE MITCHELL
Q: What's important to keep in mind when facing A.J. Green?
MM: "He's a problem, man. You can make your arguments he's No. 2 right behind Antonio. He's a guy I have a lot of respect for. He's a guy I really like to go up against. I think he's the second-best in the business, man. He's tall, he's fast, he's got great hands, he's really combative with the way he can go up and catch the ball, he's tough. I just have a lot of respect for the guy and it's going to be a great challenge for us. Obviously we have to be alert for where he is in formation and in every situation."
Q: Does he give you pause about coming up to play the run?
MM: "Oh, I'm not even playing the run because I know he's out there. I'm going to play pass first and when run happens then I'll react to run. When you've got a legitimate, legitimate star at wide receiver, every guy who's supposed to be playing pass plays pass first."
Q: Why did you guys prepare for Tyler Eifert? He's not playing.
MM: "I thought he was supposed to play. We want to prepare for them as if they're going to be 100 percent because that's how we would want them to be anyway. If they don't have their pieces, then people are going to make excuses. We want people to be at 100 percent so that way when we're victorious there's nothing anyone can say."
What to look for from the Steelers this afternoon at Heinz Field:
The Bengals didn't want to get beat deep in their last two games against the Steelers, so the Steelers were able to use their tight end and screen game to full advantage. Expect much of the same today, particularly since the Bengals have a new free safety, Shawn Williams, in place of the departed Reggie Nelson. The Steelers should also be able to run inside on the Bengals against the aging, slowing Domata Peko and without Burfict at linebacker.
The Steelers are upset about not getting any sacks last week and the Bengals are upset about allowing seven. Let's split the different and say the Steelers will get three or four today. The guess here is that Jarvis Jones will break out with multiple sacks. And look for them to come from a variety of places, since he's playing on both sides as well as in the middle on third downs. Ryan Shazier is also expected to play.
The Steelers have done so well in home openers at Heinz Field and I see no reason why they won't today. The Bengals are one-dimensional without their Nos. 2-3 receivers and their tight end. As long as the Steelers keep two sets of eyes on Green, make sure rookie Tyler Boyd doesn't have a homecoming, and put pressure on Dalton, Roethlisberger and Co. should score enough to win this key AFC North opener. Steelers, 27-20.
BY THE NUMBERS
4: Number of catches needed by Brown to pass John Stallworth into third place on the Steelers' all-time list.
5: Number of consecutive seasons Green has made the Pro Bowl. The last player to open his career with five Pro Bowls was Mike Ditka (1961-65).
12: Number of catches made by Green in the opening week to lead the league.
13: Number of catches made by Carl Pickens against the Steelers in 1998 to hold the Bengals team record.
14: Number of wins by the Steelers in 16 home openers at Heinz Field, if they beat the Bengals.
143: Number of rushing yards gained by DeAngelo Williams last week to lead the league. "I think it’s a testament to how he takes care of his body from the time he came into the league," said offensive coordinator Todd Haley. "He has been able to keep his quickness and speed."
* The Steelers held Geno Atkins to one tackle in the second meeting last year, but he made three tackles with a sack in the playoff game. Last week he made four tackles against the Jets with a sack and two other tackles-for-loss. He's primarily David DeCastro's assignment. "He's running to the ball better. He's quicker," said Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. "In practice I've seen a spin move he never used to have. He plays the run well, and to me he's the best inside pass rusher in the league. Just when you think he can't get any better, he has."
* Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley was asked about Brown's numbers "not being as good against Cincinnati." Well, in 10 starts against the Bengals, Brown has averaged 6.4 catches for 90 yards. In his 51 other starts, he's averaged 7.4 catches for 105 yards. So, yes, he's had a slight decrease. Said Haley: "I think they know us, number-one. There is great familiarity both ways. They’ve been one of the top defenses. You have to give them credit for being a talented group that understands how they are being coached, whether it was Coach (Mike) Zimmer or now with Coach Guenther. They are very clear on what they are supposed to do. They don’t have a lot of smoke and mirrors, but they have a lot of talented guys that do it the way they are supposed to do it."
* Green has averaged 8.3 catches for 117 yards in his last six games against the Steelers. But in his first five games against the Steelers, when Ike Taylor was playing AND healthy, Green averaged 5 catches for 82 yards.
* Markus Wheaton is listed as questionable, but the Steelers would welcome the return of their more reliable No. 2 receiver. But while he's more consistent, Wheaton isn't as explosive as Sammie Coates. Veteran deep threat Darrius Heyward-Bey is also in the mix. Here's how Haley sees that spot: "With Eli (Rogers) being inside predominantly now, I think we have three players that are all good players. Sammie is looking to become a really good player. But they all have different strengths. They all can run, obviously, but we have some size, different quickness levels, even different speed levels. I think it’s a nice thing for coaches, because here, as I have said a number of times, I try to put guys into position to do what they do best. So you will see us moving guys in and out, on and off the field, to try to put them in position to make plays."
* Mike Tomlin said the Bengals "got a steal" when they signed outside linebacker Karlos Dansby in free agency. In fact, the soon-to-be 35-year-old might be one of the most underrated players in league history. With one more interception, he'll join Ray Lewis, Seth Joyner, Wilber Marshall and Brian Urlacher as the only linebackers with 40 sacks and 20 interceptions. Dansby has 41-19, but he has never been named to a Pro Bowl. The aforementioned quartet have combined to make 27 Pro Bowls. Last year, Dansby led the Cleveland Browns with 108 tackles and three interceptions. He returned two of those interceptions for touchdowns.
"I've got a lot of respect for the Steelers, but I'm still going to try and punch them in the mouth." -- Bengals WR Tyler Boyd.
The Pittsburgh Steelers begin AFC North play today
MEMORABLE SERIES MOMENT