My thoughts, for what they're worth

Same old Bengals, same old Steelers, same old result. Ian Whetstone believes it says something about Pittsburgh's domination in Paul Brown stadium when a 24-13 win doesn't quite feel convincing enough.

- Allen Rossum has done well as a kick returner for Pittsburgh, and his 27.5 yard average slips just inside the top ten in the league. He has fared much poorer on punts, though; his 4.9 yard average falls close to dead last. If Daniel Sepulveda weren't punting so well—and so rarely—Pittsburgh's field position might suffer significantly in the punt exchange game.

- The kick return coverage isn't all that thrilling, either.

- What a great performance by Anthony Smith. He has made the most of his two starting opportunities, and put together a really nice run over the last three games. Smith and Ryan Clark pushing each other back and forth should do nothing but benefit the team throughout this season, and maybe for the next couple. The key to closing down Chad Johnson, as Pittsburgh has been so successful in doing, is to get physical with him early. He gets tentative about catching the ball when he fears contact, and no defender did more to instill that fear this time around than the hard-hitting Smith.

- Still, I'd rather not see Smith running deep down the field in single coverage against Johnson. Luck had as much to do with him not giving up the big passing play early in Cincinnati's only touchdown drive as did the beating he'd put on Ocho through three quarters.

- Troy Polamalu got in on the safety hit parade, making a great move to close and strip a sure catch from T.J. Houshmandzadeh later on that same drive. Those couple of plays, along with the failed early bomb to Johnson in the end zone covered tightly by Smith and Ike Taylor, made all the difference in the game. The Bengals have beaten Pittsburgh in the past by hitting big plays downfield. Though the defense gave up an 88-yard scoring drive following the Ben Roethlisberger interception, they made Cincy chew half a quarter to accomplish it when what they needed was a quick strike to get back in the game.

- Those fans who fret about individual Steelers defenders not racking up statistics should bear something in mind: because of solid ball control and its own strong play, Pittsburgh's defense has faced just 366 opponent plays. That's the fewest in the league per game played, and 66 plays fewer than the league average of 432. That's 66 fewer tackles, sacks, interceptions, and passes defensed to go around than the average defense has seen.

- The drop-off from Aaron Smith to Nick Eason is every bit as precipitous as that from Marvel Smith to Trai Essex on the other side of the line. The moral of that story? Don't back up linemen named Smith with guys whose last names start with the letter E. Or, maybe it's that you risk trouble if your backups at key positions are marginal pro-caliber players. Or, possibly it's that good line depth is just hard to find.

- No Smith, lots of nickel defensive, and a Casey Hampton who looks to me like he might still be a little gimpy made for a better running day than I like to see out of Pittsburgh's opponents, especially by a career backup like Kenny Watson. It did seem to lull Carson Palmer and the Bengals into continuing to run in the second half, though, when what they needed were quick strikes downfield.

- On the other side of the running game, Willie Parker posted much more consistent positive runs than he did a week ago in Denver. Against the Broncos, Parker totaled just 13 yards total on 16 of his 21 carries; against the Bengals, subtracting the 74 yards from his four longest runs, he managed a much better 52 yards on 18 tries, with no carries resulting in lost yardage.

- Wow, does Cincinnati miss Chris Henry. That big target who could get deep made a ton of impact with all the attention on the starting two, and Glenn Holt is surely no substitute. Houshmandzadeh enters the final year of his bargain contract in 2008, and Johnson doesn't sound like the happiest camper. It'll be interesting to watch what happens at what has been Cincinnati's position of greatest strength in recent years.

- Justin Smith hits the open market after this season, and I expect that someone will pony up big dollars for his famous "high motor." I also expect that they'll eventually realize disappointment in his limited pass rush moves and chronic over-pursuit, just like the team that drafted him.

- It'll be really nice for the Steelers to get Bryant McFadden back, whenever that happens, in light of some of the success teams have had throwing intermediate routes to second and third receivers the last couple of weeks. Hopefully, the extra playing time for William Gay in the meanwhile will pay dividends down the road.

- Carey Davis made a nice move to turn a five-yard loss into a five-yard gain on that screen pass gone awry. Complete inability of the Bengals defense to tackle helped some.

- Mike Tomlin seems to pick his challenges by the timing of the play more so than the chance of success. A less-questionable call with a more impactful result draws his interest over a surer bet of lesser consequence.

- Beautiful play by James Harrison to seal the win. He's just so strong, I expect that won't be the last big fumble he forces in his Steelers career. Something about the way he tackles… he just looks like he's got ill intentions every time, like he's always weighing the option to literally kill or cripple the ball-carrier. Good for Pittsburgh, bad for opponents.

- Is it me, or do all of the receivers seem to pick up their run-blocking a little with Hines Ward in the lineup?

- Ward looks back to form, running routes with the kind of authority that can blow a rookie corner like Leon Hall all the way out of the television picture. Ben Roethlisberger should enjoy his full compliment of weapons against Baltimore, which could be a big deal against a secondary with questionable depth.

- It wasn't the best-looking win of the season, and some of the same deficiencies that showed in Denver continued to plague Pittsburgh, but it's always good to win division games on the road, and most teams won't hold that Cincinnati offense to 13 points. Baltimore offers a stiffer challenge, even at Heinz Field, but there's no doubt that the Steelers have looked like the better team through seven games. That doesn't mean that the matchups won't favor the Ravens, or that they can't simply be the better team by Monday night, but it makes it a game the Steelers should win if they're going to really compete with the big boys this year. A little revenge for last season wouldn't hurt, either.

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