A wise man knows his weaknesses. A wise fan knows his team’s weaknesses. And because there are no wiser men than Mr. Adam Flango and myself, the two of us have decided to predict the worst for the sources of our respective fandom in this evening’s Bengals-Steelers matchup on Monday Night Football.
Flango—our venerable blog contributor and a producer for CBS Sports—is a diehard Steelers fan, despite his immense appreciation for Geno Atkins and Geno Atkins’ screen-caps. I—despite unbiased and impartial coverage of the team on this here blog—am a lifelong Bengals fan, my intense distaste for Rey Maualuga notwithstanding. After disappointing losses last week by each squad, tonight’s primetime rivalry is the only thing standing between one of our favorite teams suffering an 0-2 start to the season. So instead of throwing on a mini-skirt and shaking the pom-poms, we decided to preview why the other team will win tonight—Flango will give five reasons why the Bengals will win; I will give five reasons why the Steelers will win. Ya know, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander…or something like that.
Flango, on why the Bengals will win:
Steelers O-Line—The Steelers are, amazingly, hurting on the offensive line. Again. Since winning Super Bowl XLIII in 2009, the Steelers have yet to have a season where the offensive line stays healthy for an entire year. (Cue smallest violin played by all of Cincinnati.) But seriously, it’s really annoying. In 2009, guard Chris Kemoeatu missed four games. In 2010, would-be starting guard Willie Colon tore his achilles in June, knocking him out for the year. In 2011, it was Colon again, this time tearing his triceps in Week 1. In the third preseason game of 2012, David DeCastro went down with a knee injury and didn’t see the field until December. So when starting center and perennial Pro-Bowler Maurkice Pouncey tore his ACL and MCL eight plays into the year, it unfortunately wasn’t terribly unexpected. The shaky, untested offensive line gave up five sacks in Week 1 against Tennessee and generally looked lost without Pouncey, the unequivocal leader of the group. They plugged in Kelvin Beachum, who may have been an adequate replacement if it wasn’t his first snaps at center since pee-wee football. They now plug in Titans’ castoff Fernando Velasco this week to shore up the line. Maybe this would not be such an issue, if not for another reason why the Bengals will win…
Bengals D-Line—The Bengals have Geno Atkins. And the Steelers do not. (Though Steelers DT Steve McClendon actually played well in Week 1.) Atkins and his crew (the Bengals defensive line could really use a catchy nickname) were underwhelming against Chicago last week, failing to record a sack. But they are too talented to be shut out in back-to-back weeks. If they can stop the Steelers run game—okay—when they stop the Steelers run game, Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, and Michael Johnson will be able to rush the passer freely.
Running Backs Anonymous—The Steelers will trot out a running back by committee of Isaac Redman, Jonathan “Welcome back to the team after being cut a week earlier!” Dwyer, and (gulp) Felix Jones. If that doesn’t incite fear, well, I suppose you have very normal neurological fear receptors.
Todd Haley—The Steelers offensive coordinator does not seem to understand the advances that have been made in modern football. While his predecessor Bruce Arians, who had a mercurial relationship with the Pittsburgh fans, may have been too chummy with Ben Roethlisberger, he never lacked for new ideas. It seems like Haley has been pounding his head against a wall over and over again. It’s like he’s trying to treat an open wound by rubbing dirt on it when you have a cabinet full of Neosporin and other ointments that have proven to work better. His reluctance to move beyond bubble screens and 3rd-and-8 draws is maddeningly predictable.
James Harrison, beast of darkness—James Harrison is part werewolf. If Pro-Football-Reference.com had splits for day games vs. night games, I would imagine that Harrison’s primetime splits would be frightening. Now, he only rushed the passer five times in 40 defensive snaps last week according to Pro Football Focus, so Mike Zimmer might see the ex-Steeler as a run stopping specialist at this stage in his career. But if he decides to unleash Harrison on Roethlisberger, there will undoubtedly be some latent rage ready to burst through an offensive line.
Justin, on why the Steelers will win:
Ben Roethlisberger—The Steelers chubby, two-time-Super-Bowl-winning, once-accused-of-a-very-serious-crime-but-never-convicted quarterback has long been a problem for the Bengals. He’s poised in the pocket, a pain to bring down, a Houdini at the escaping the clutches of blitzing defenders, and a winner. That last designation—being a winner—is somewhat of an archaic expression in today’s sports culture. Qualities such as “being a winner” or “the clutch gene” or “wanting it more” have been replaced by statistics and other measurable quantifiers. Yet in 18 career games against the Bengals, Roethlisberger has a QB rating of 85, a completion percentage of 63 percent, and a TD-interception ratio of 22-18—good numbers, but certainly not great. He’s also 13-5 overall in those 18 games. Now Ben is certainly not winning those games all by himself, but historically, he’s been incredibly successful against the Men in Stripes. Until that win-loss record gets a little less lopsided, I’m hesitant to discount Ben’s impact on this rivalry.
Timeouts—In last week’s 16-9 loss to the Titans, the Steelers used their FIRST timeout of the entire game with 4:47 remaining in the fourth quarter. In the 24-21 loss to the Bears, the Bengals used their LAST timeout of the second half with 8:06 remaining in the game.
Troy Polamalu—Presented without comment:
All of the Lights—In fourteen games the Steelers have played at Paul Brown Stadium since it opened in 2000, Pittsburgh is 12-2 (including 1-0 in the playoffs). More importantly, with all the improvements and successes the Bengals have experienced since Marvin Lewis took over the head coaching position in 2003, the team has consistently wilted in the face of high expectations. (Go back and read some of the preseason predictions from the Ochocinco/TO debacle.) Never have those expectations been loftier than entering this season. Advantage Steelers.
James Harrison, double agent—Let’s review: Harrison plays for the Steelers for a decade, making five Pro Bowls and two All-Pro First Teams, and winning two Super Bowls and one Defensive Player of the Year Award, and long setting the tone for a vaunted and nasty defense. He then accepts less money than the Steelers were (reportedly) offering to sign with the division rival (and upward trending) Cincinnati Bengals. It’s a bit dubious, no? If AJ Green is reported missing a few minutes before kickoff, the trunk of Harrison’s car is the first place I’d check.