I’ll be honest. Following last week’s suffocation at the hands of Tennessee’s defense, things couldn’t look much bleaker for the Steelers going into Cincinnati. There just really aren’t many other ways to cut it right now.
Larry Foote, LaRod Stephens-Howling, and Maurkice Pouncey, of course, are done for the year following the injuries they suffered last week.
Cortez Allen is out for this game with and ankle injury, and — if that wasn’t hurting the secondary enough — Curtis Brown is also going to sit this one out with an undisclosed “illness”.
Heath Miller and Le’Veon Bell are also going to delay their season debuts at least another week.
I’d rather be beat up at the beginning of the year than the end, but this squad is in bad shape right now and has quite a few holes to fill in the meantime.
How do they plan on filling these holes? For starters, they signed old friend Jonathan Dwyer and center Fernando Velasco (who was released by the Titans during training camp).
There’s not much to be said about Dwyer, but Velasco has reportedly picked up the playbook faster than anyone could have anticipated and will start Monday. They apparently are quite confident in his abilities, but I’m not quite ready to buy it yet. He played well for the Titans last year and could eventually be a great pickup, but that leap is probably too big right now. This rush has more to do with being able to play Beachum at TE again like they originally planned. I just hope it’s not too much of a rush. Who knows, though — maybe he’s really smart guy and the week of practice with him making line calls vastly improves the play of the line as a whole. Let’s hope so.
Speaking of guys starting for the Steelers who you’ve never heard of prior to 7 days ago, Kion Wilson will get the start inside to replace Larry Foote. Wilson was signed to be a special teams player back in January and didn’t even play football all of last year. He only had 2 tackles last week, which explains why I had no idea who even replaced Foote after his injury until 2 days ago. So there’s that.
Meanwhile, Cincinnati was one of the media’s preseason darlings (as they have been so many times under Marvin Lewis). Last week in Chicago, however, they played well under those expectations (as they have so many times under Marvin Lewis) and turned the ball over 4 times in a game that they led by as many as 11 points at one point in the second half, but lost 24-21.
I still think the Bengals are vastly overrated, but they are a pretty good football team. They should be hungry as hell and ready to put on a nice show for Paul Brown Stadium, as well as the rest of the country on national TV, come Monday Night.
Steelers on Defense
I don’t think the Bengals running backs (BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard) are much of a threat in this one unless the defense gets worn out from being on the field for too long once again. More than likely, Dalton will have to try to beat the Steelers through the air.
Good news for the Steelers is Andy Dalton — in my opinion — is still a very average (maybe slightly above average) quarterback. The difficulty of getting him frustrated isn’t particularly high and the Steelers usually keep him in check pretty well.
The bad news for the Steelers, however, is that Andy Dalton has quite a few weapons now and none of them should be taken lightly. Everybody knows AJ Green is All-World. Ike Taylor is going to have his hands full with him as he usually does. The good thing is Ike has shown he can handle his own against Green. Obviously, that’s going to need to happen in this game, especially when you look at the rest of the matchups. Allen and Brown aren’t playing. This means there are only three actual cornerbacks healthy right now — Taylor, Willie Gay (ugh), and Antwan Blake, who didn’t even dress last week. Gay is going to have his hands full with Mohamad Sanu. Sanu isn’t exactly a Pro Bowler, but he’s a big, athletic dude and Gay is going to need his A-game. It would be a shame to see Ike play well against AJ but have Gay give up 130 yards and 2 TDs to Sanu.
Most importantly are the tight ends, Jermaine Gresham and rookie Tyler Eifert. You’re going to see them on the field together a lot, and Dalton likes to utilize both of them. They each had 5 receptions and about 40 yards a piece last week (47 for Eifert and 35 for Gresham). Due to the CB situation, rookie Shamarko Thomas will probably get quite a bit of playing time this week (which I’m excited for). The defensive performance is likely going to come down to how he and the linebackers handle these tight ends.
Jarvis Jones is going to “start” this week, though it’s likely we see him essentially split his time with Worilds like they have been. Jones just probably gets more now. I’d imagine he’ll be full time once October starts, barring some kind of setback. The pass rush actually getting to Dalton and keeping him on his toes will only help the secondary’s tough challenge that much easier. The Bengals offensive line is talented and played extremely well against a good Bears defense last week, so this could prove to be tough as well.
Steelers on Offense
Just thinking about them last week makes me nauseous. It doesn’t get any easier this week.
The Bengals front seven in particular is very good and will give this offensive line (and Fernando Velasco) all they can handle. This is far and away the most important aspect of this game. James Harrison, Carlos Dunlap, Vontaze Burfict, Geno Atkins can all make plays, to name a few. If the offensive line is as bad as it was last week against these guys, they’re going to find themselves losing by a lot more than 7 points when the 4th quarter comes around.
The good news is FB Will Johnson is back and so is Jonathan Dwyer. 3.5 of the 5 sacks given up last week weren’t by the offensive linemen, but rather the running backs. Will Johnson provides a nice boost in that department (as well as much needed run-blocking), as does Dwyer (who is definitely the best pass-blocker of Felix Jones, Redman, and himself).
Jones, Redman, and Dwyer are all expected to get carries this week as well. Jones didn’t carry the ball a single time last week and Dwyer was of course on his couch, so it should be interesting to see if they can provide any type of boost to the offense.
The Bengals secondary looks good on paper — CBs Leon Hall, Terence Newman, the Adam formerly known as Pacman Jones, FS Reggie Nelson — but they can still be beaten.
If this offensive line can handle their own/Geno Atkins isn’t living in the Steelers backfield, the running game thrives even just a little bit, and Ben can get some time to throw the ball, it could be just enough to get to 1-1 and send the Bengals to an extremely disappointing 0-2 start. Easier said than done.
– I’m not commenting on the Todd Haley situation that came about this week because it’s absolutely ridiculous and completely irrelevant to any amount of success this team has or doesn’t have this season. I award you no points and may God have mercy on your soul.
– The Steelers are 12-2 all-time at Paul Brown Stadium (though it should be noted most if not all of those games probably had the stadium half filled with Steelers fans, I doubt this one will)
– Imagining the look James Harrison will have in his eyes before the game starts is disturbing. He claims this doesn’t mean anything to him. He’s lying.
The only way I can see the Steelers winning this game is by basically catching the Bengals off guard and not letting up. Shamarko Thomas, Fernando Velasco, Kion Wilson, and William Gay need to step up big time. Dwyer or Felix Jones need to make a big play or two. Jarvis Jones showing the world that the Harrison guy on the sideline across from him won’t be missed would be useful. The defense needs to force turnovers and the offense needs to minimize them, as well as sacks.
But when you’re counting on a bunch of rookies and guys who weren’t on rosters last season to step up in a huge divisional game on MNF, you’re in trouble. I just don’t see it happening.
I’m not ready to concede that the season is essentially over, nor am I ready to concede that the Bengals are going to win the division. I’m not even ready to concede that the 2013 Bengals will ultimately be a better team than the 2013 Steelers. The AFC is extremely weak this year and we all know anything can happen in the playoffs. I also still have faith in this team’s ability if they were able to get healthy at some point.
But right now, the Bengals are clearly the better team. They will also probably have Paul Brown Stadium on their side for a Steelers game for the first time in a long, long time. The Steelers may fight and hang on for a while, but I just don’t think they’ll be able to do it for the whole game. I hope I’m wrong.