Shellacking of Cincinnati

<p> CINCINNATI - While the play of the defense was huge in Sunday's 34-7 shellacking of Cincinnati, perhaps the biggest thing to come out of the game was the re-establishment of wide receiver Plaxico Burress as a big-play threat. The Steelers got Burress involved in the game early and often Sunday as he caught four passes for 89 yards - including a 36-yarder - in the first quarter en route to an eight-catch, 149-yard day. </p>

"We knew they were going to blitz us a lot and they came with a lot of blitzes early," said Steelers quarterback Tommy Maddox. "They were blitzing to (Burress') side and he did a great job of getting off his guy and going and getting the ball. . . We're probably going to see a lot of that. We've got to be good picking it up. And today, especially early on, we were good at doing that and I was able to get the ball to him."


Maddox threw to Hines Ward for a 5-yard gain on the Steelers first play from scrimmage and then hit a streaking Burress for a 36-yard gain to the Cincinnati 22 on their second play. The ball was actually underthrown or Burress may have scored on the play. It did not matter, however, as five straight Jerome Bettis runs went for positive yardage, including a 1-yard TD run that gave the Steelers a 7-0 lead.


Burress was happy to get into the offense early. "I always want the ball," Burress said. "I know it can't always be that way. There are going to be some games when I get it a lot and Hines doesn't. There are going to be games when he gets it and I don't. As long as we're winning and moving the ball, it doesn't matter."


But it was necessary that the Steelers establish Burress down the field as something more than a decoy, which is what they did against the Bengals. Though he lacks true breakaway speed, at 6-5, 230 pounds, he is too much to handle one-on-one for most cornerbacks. Getting Burress the ball downfield pulls the safety back from the line of scrimmage and opens lanes for the running game, something that was evidenced in the Steelers' season-high 211 yard rushing Sunday.


Second-year defensive end Rodney Bailey had 2 1/2 sacks Sunday after having just two in his entire rookie season. Like linebacker Clark Haggans, who shared a sack with Bailey and now has 3 1/2 this season, Bailey may have earned more playing time. By the way, the last time Bailey had that many sacks in one game? "Probably high school, I don't remember," he said.


I've been covering the NFL for 10 years now and have seen my share of bad teams. This year's version of the Cincinnati Bengals ranks right up there on the pathetic scale. There really isn't anything they do particularly well and there are a lot of things they do particularly bad. Hey, when your field goal kicker is 3-for-10 in his career from 40 yards and out, you know you're in for a lot of long games. Running back Corey Dillon may go down in history as the best player to have never played on a winning team. Forget about the playoffs, this Bengals' team is on the 10th year of a 25-year plan.


The good thing about Cincinnati's putrid play is that it means there are plenty of good seats available on game day at Paul Brown Stadium. That gives the Steelers and their fans nine home games every season.


Despite the team's struggles defensively this season, Joey Porter is establishing himself as a front-runner for the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year award. Porter had seven tackles, two sacks, and a forced fumble Sunday, bringing his season totals to 35 tackles, six sacks, three interceptions, and one forced fumble. It's a good thing the Steelers signed him to a contract extension before this season began because the price tag likely would have been a few million higher after it.


The Steelers have a very good shot of being 8-4 after 12 games. Look at the schedule.


Casey Hampton was chased down from behind and tackled by Cincinnati guard Matt O'Dwyer on his 36-yard fumble recovery and run. Said defensive end Aaron Smith a smile, "I would have scored. You can't get caught from behind by an O-lineman. We're supposed to be faster than them." At least big Casey had the good sense to switch hands as he closed on the goal line, moving the ball from his right to left arm.


The Steelers have now scored a touchdown on a kickoff return and given one up. They've blocked a punt and had one blocked. They've blocked a field goal and had one blocked. Who said things weren't better on special teams this season? Last season, they had all of the negative plays with none of the positives.



--Dale Lolley


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