Pittsburgh Steelers QB Tommy Maddox hardly lit up the field today, though he did find WR Plaxico Burress early and often, to the tune of 149 receiving yards. But Maddox was not the story, Bengals QB Jon Kitna was. For as serviceable as Maddox was, Kitna was downright horrid. Kitna misfired on multiple occasions bringing a listless Steelers defense back to life.
The Bengals opened the game with the spread, mostly ignoring RB Corey Dillon. But dropped passes would stall the drive and Cincinnati capped it off with a missed field goal (S Lee Flowers may have gotten a hand on it). The Bengals could move the ball against Pittsburgh's still reeling defense, but Kitna could not see Cincinnati into the end zone. Spreading out the Steelers 3-4 only works if you have a quarterback who can execute.
The story of the day for Pittsburgh was really RB Jerome Bettis, 21 rushes for 109 yards, and the resurgent Steeler ground game. Cowher and Mularkey went back to the run in the red zone and enjoyed some success. The Steelers steamrolled a Bengal defense that looked like the fight had gone out of them. To their credit, the Steelers got up early and did not let up.
While signs of life from the running game are encouraging, the Steelers continue to look atrocious on special teams. K Todd Peterson might as well kick the ball out of bounds given the poor coverage and the weak kickoffs. There was also a missed field goal and a Bengal onsides kick that almost was. More starters are finding their way onto the special teams unit, but the glaring weakness is clearly Peterson. Time is well past nigh for the Steelers to cut bait and bring in a kickoff specialist. The Kansas City Chiefs could not be happier with life without Peterson and lead the NFL in kicking.
The Steelers defense got the exact medicine they needed, Jon Kitna and the hapless Bungles. LB Joey Porter had another big game with 2 sacks and a forced fumble. He also led the team in tackles. DE Rodney Bailey chipped in with 2.5 sacks as the defensive line had an excellent game. The linebackers stayed at home, most notably James Farrior, and RB Corey Dillon failed to break a long run all day. Two interceptions by S Lee Flowers deserve mention, but that was more Kitna than Flowers. Overall, this game should help restore the shattered confidence of the defense, which might get a boost next Monday night against Indianapolis with the return of LB Kendrell Bell.
A few asides... the bad center-quarterback exchange continues. The problem must be C Jeff Hartings. No matter which QB is in there, botched snaps seem to crop up at the most inopportune times. Maddox just seems to be luckier than Stewart with the ball bouncing right back to Tommy on both occasions in this game. ...The Steelers blitz still looks a second too slow. ...FB Verron Haynes looked pretty flashy on his touchdown run that was nullified thanks to a suspect holding call on LG Alan Faneca. …I didn't see Antwaan Randle El's 99-yard kickoff return, partly thanks to horrible TV coverage by CBS. I hope to catch a replay tonight. ...As far as I could tell, the Steelers got through the game without any big injuries. ...The game was downright boring and at one point the announcers started talking about a Bengals fan wearing body paint that picked up a pretzel off the ground and began eating it. Bengals fans will have to be a bit more creative to find excitement at the game.