My thoughts for what they're worth ...

Well … the Steelers did everything you're supposed to do to beat a team like Cincinnati: they ran the ball, they pressured the passer, they shut down Johnson & Johnson, and they didn't allow long drives. They just forgot not to give the other team the ball inside either ten yard line.

- Bill Cowher stated after the game that he saw things about which to be positive, and so did I. That was as well as the line has protected Ben Roethlisberger and blown open holes for Willie Parker in quite a while. Yeah, it was only the Bengals' defensive line, but it's a start.

- Not only does Aaron Smith play both the run and the pass at an exceptional level, not only does he play with a high motor at all times, and not only is he the best 3-4 defensive end in football, he also has a real knack for batting down balls at opportune times. There aren't a lot of ways to prevent Carson Palmer from completing a 3rd-and-3 pass without a blitzer coming free, but getting a big hand up at just the right moment will do it.

- Does Heath Miller ever get less than a body length of extra yards after contact?

- The fake inside handoff to Dan Kreider followed by the pitch to Parker worked beautifully in short yardage. Roethlisberger sold the fake really well.

- After the Bengals' offensive sequence that went sack/fumble, sack/fumble, interception, I had to check that it really was Palmer suited up and not a freshly-shorn Jake Plummer. Not many defenses will harass Palmer that effectively this season behind that offensive line.

- I keep waiting for Rudi Johnson to get his due recognition as one of the league's very best backs. He gets that big body up to speed in a hurry; he's close to what Jamal Lewis used to be, minus the coke connections.

- On Pittsburgh's first run of the second half, Parker could have lay down and rolled through the hole that opened before him. So much for Sam Adams.

- Among the aspects of Jerome Bettis's game that Parker has picked up is, apparently, the head shake after a moderate gain.

- Letting up two touchdowns immediately following interceptions is bad; letting up a touchdown after a missed field goal with a minute to go in the half is atrocious.

- So how ‘bout that Ryan Clark? I've liked his speed, I've liked his angles, I've mostly liked his tackling, and he's now made a bigger play three games into his Steelers career than Chris Hope made in four seasons. If Bryant McFadden can get back to playing like he did toward the end of last season and Troy Polamalu can get healthy, Pittsburgh's secondary looks golden.

- It's Steelers versus Bengals, and Pittsburgh drew an excessive celebration flag. I don't know whether to laugh or cry. It makes my forearm hurt watching Parker and Verron Haynes perform that little mating ritual, anyway.

- The pass rush found its way to Palmer every which way: from a four-man rush, from the blitz, because of tight coverage, from the inside, from the outside. If the Steelers rushed the passer like that every game … I dunno what would happen, exactly, but it would have to be good.

- Phil Simms noted that Pittsburgh's pass rush showed Palmer what most quarterbacks feel like, since none outside of Peyton Manning typically enjoy such hermetically-sealed protection in the pocket. And without that level of protection, Palmer looked ordinary. On the other hand, Roethlisberger got excellent protection—much moreso than he typically receives behind Pittsburgh's line—and looked considerably less than ordinary. He may just be rusty; he may also be the world's first quarterback who plays better with crappy pass protection. Seriously … that "passer rating after contact" thing may have more to it than meets the eye.

- The difference between Roethlisberger now and Good Roethlisberger (a.k.a. Goodberger), apart from the bad interceptions, is that he's not hitting his receivers after scrambling out of the pocket like he used to do consistently. That's what bumps him from a decent quarterback to an excellent quarterback, and he needs to recapture that part of his game.

- Okay, seeing Chad Johnson sulk on the sideline with his team in the lead has pushed me back over to the "I don't like that guy" side of the fence. Hey Chad … the Steelers own you. You might as well just get used to it.

- If I don't like Johnson, I might actually hate T.J. Houshmandzadeh. He's a fine football player … but I hate that guy.

- For the love of all that's holy, may I never see Ricardo Colclough field another punt.

- I'm less impressed by Cincinnati now than I expected to be going into the game. That defense just can't stop anything, and they're not going to survive on turnovers all year … particularly not in the playoffs against teams that ought to know how to hang on to the football.

- Nate Washington must make that catch.

- Madieu Williams can play. He might be the best player on that defense, and a tremendous upgrade over what they trotted out at safety last year. He had a big game against the Steelers, although if they'd pulled off the comeback he might have been the goat for roughing the passer on the last drive.

- Pittsburgh's defense played a lot better than 28 points allowed.

- The worst part about that last drive was not the interception. It was the fact that the interception came at the hands of Johnny Mnemonic, a.k.a. Kevin Kaesviharn. Seriously, look at this guy. If he didn't at least win runner-up at the Ted ‘Theodore' Logan Look-a-like Contest, someone should investigate the judges.

- Okay, so the Steelers find themselves two games behind both Cincy and Baltimore (since Cleveland "pulled a Cleveland," stopping just short of simply direct-snapping the ball to a Baltimore defender). Just as they did early last season, they must reclaim control of their season with a fruitful trip to San Diego. The Chargers look good, but I feel that the Steelers match up pretty well with that bunch on both sides of the ball. A healthy(er) Hines Ward might make all the difference in the world. Calamity James Harrison is due for another Super Mario leap, anyway …


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