Pregame Zone Blitz: Bengals at Steelers

Want to learn to be a sports writer? There's a secret they don't want you to know. You are able to write game previews ("advances") in the same way each week. Just look at the Steelers. You can very easily apply this formula to every divisional game they play. Here it is:

In Week X, the Steelers and the face off in a champions/challengers type of game. The play of has been outstanding, and these two teams hate each other, in particular the despise Steelers WR Hines Ward. You may remember the feud that broke out between the and Pittsburgh after one of the two Steelers victories last season. Now, Pittsburgh has beaten the in x of their last y meetings (x divided by y equals greater than 75 percent), but the are ready to knock the defending champs off their throne.

Here's what our opponents are saying.

Opponent Web Sites/Forums

It's a new Bengals team. They can get in car accidents and the word "intoxication" does not appear on the police report.

Cincy Jungle mentions a kid who was suspended for getting Bengals stripes shaved into his head. They, of course, accuse the school of being overrun by Steelers fans, which, I guess, is probably true.

Bill Cowher's from Carlynton, huh? Where is that, exactly? (for those who don't know, Carlynton High School is Cowher's alma mater, and it's made up of the boroughs of Carnegie, Crafton and Rosslyn Farms. Cowher is from Crafton.)

Chad Ochocinco in the UFC...yeah, I'd pay to watch that. Seriously.

Cincinnati.com's Chick Ludwig, a Pro Football Hall of Fame voter, uses Wikipedia to define the actions of former Steelers DE Kimo Von Oelhoffen. Let's hope he bases his HofF vote on something more than free encyclopedias anyone can edit.

Woodley's writing for Sports Illustrated again. And he's still proud to be a Steeler.

Last Game

I'm sure Broncos head cheerleader coach Josh McDaniels is offering his kingdom for a splash play. All credit in the Steelers' kingdom goes out to McDaniels and the Broncos, as that first half was about as well-planned and well-executed as it gets. It would have been a different game had they found a way to make a play of 20 yards or more. Pittsburgh had five plays of 20 yards or more. Denver had one, and their longest play in the second half went for 16 yards. They failed to score an offensive touchdown.

It's a mark of Denver's efficient but non-lethal offense, and Pittsburgh's ability to not allow QB Kyle Orton enough time on his deeper drops. DE Brett Keisel must have heard the disrespect Mike Tirico was giving him, consistently saying Aaron Smith and Travis Kirschke were the regular starters, as he was able to bust through for two sacks. Those were Pittsburgh's only two sacks of the game, but the pressure was constant, and the Ryan Clark-less secondary was opportune enough to snare two important turnovers, and one more in garbage time.

The fact of the matter is Pittsburgh has proved since Week 2 the strategy to dink and dunk is bunk. Cincinnati is going to have to find a way to make plays down the field and get the ball in the end zone if they want to continue as this year's token Team That Can Compete With Pittsburgh in the AFC North.

Opponent Spotlight: CBs Leon Hall and Jonathan Joseph

The first time PZB is going with a pair of spotlight players, and it's mostly because they'll both factor into one of Pittsburgh's key weapons in Week 10.

Joseph and Hall, Cincinnati's two former first-round selections, appear to be even in many statistics, and both generally rank in the upper echelon in the NFL in key areas for their position. The main thing, though, is average yards allowed per reception and yards after the catch. Hall is top 10 in the NFL, allowing 12 yards per catch. Joseph drops off quite a bit, landing at 14.5, and Joseph has allowed 150 yards after the catch, compared to Hall's 115.

Joseph's average would be a bit higher if Limas Sweed held onto the ball. Sweed fried Joseph on the play, but unfortunately, could not hang onto the ball in the end zone.

In Joseph's defense, he did have an interception return for a touchdown, but overall, Pittsburgh threw at Joseph nine times, completing seven passes for 114 yards and a touchdown. In particular, Joseph struggled greatly against rookie WR Mike Wallace, and as mentioned earlier, his numbers would have really been poor had Sweed caught the ball.

As the statement goes, if ifs and buts were candy and nuts, we'd all have a merry Christmas. Joseph made what ended up being the critical play of the game. Wallace may feel like it's Christmas Day in the re-match, especially with the production he's had out of Pittsburgh's Hurry-Up offense (more on that below).

Hall fared much better in his match-up against Wallace, along with Santonio Holmes and Hines Ward. Pittsburgh threw at him five times for just 32 yards.

Pittsburgh is likely to push this advantage again, with both Holmes (coming off his best game of the season at Denver) and Wallace (steadily improving). Joseph is going to need to play a more disciplined game, or Pittsburgh's passing offense will chew him up. Hall, on the other hand, has a strong performance in Week 3 to go off of in terms of preparation for the re-match.

Steelers Spotlight: WRs Mike Wallace and Santonio Holmes

Wallace's break-out game came against the Bengals in a losing effort in Week 3. It'd be pretty ignorant of Cincinnati to ignore the rookie this time around, considering his 102 receiving yards were the highest total in the game. Wallace methodically picked apart Joseph, but Hall handled Holmes fairly well; he finished with just one catch for 18 yards, and his mistake led to Joseph's interception which he returned for a touchdown.

Holmes has been held out of the end zone since Week 1, but has caught a pass for 35 yards or longer in the Steelers last three games - they won all three games. With the absence of S Roy Williams, the Steelers are going to look to get the ball deep down the field if QB Ben Roethlisberger sees either Wallace or Holmes with single coverage. Both receivers have shown they can make the big play, it's a matter of timing and protection.

Speaking of big plays against Cincinnati...

I See You

I see you, Tyrone Carter, a.k.a. AFC Defensive Player of the Week. You stepped in for Ryan Clark in true modern Steeler fashion, and elevated your game to his level. You were doghoused by a lot of people (including PZB to an extent) for what we perceived as lack of production earlier this year. Your interception and touchdown return were the only points the Steelers scored when Denver was controlling the game on both sides of the ball, and really gave your team the swagger to know, despite being on the bad end of a 11-4 TOP advantage through two quarters, it could still win.

Your performance was yet another example of the depth the Steelers possess. Going into the game, we knew it would be a tough match-up, playing a hot quarterback on the road with athletic receivers. The defense bent for the first half, then allowed just 49 yards the rest of the way. While we have to give the offense credit, you were a big part of a secondary that played perhaps its finest two quarters of the season.

Despite lacking size, you took an outstanding college resume and translated it into a successful NFL career, one in which you proved year in and year out our team is better with you than without you.

Key Stats

  • Pittsburgh held the ball for 22 minutes and 25 seconds of the second half in Week 9's win over Denver.
  • Cincinnati is 19-34-1 since losing to Pittsburgh in the AFC Divisional playoffs in January, 2006.
  • Rashard Mendenhall is second in the NFL, averaging 5.7 yards per carry.
  • Santonio Holmes leads the NFL in first down reception percentage at 94.4 (36 catches, 34 first downs).
  • This game is the first time since 2005 where both teams were above .500 going into their second meeting of the season.
  • Pittsburgh has scored three defensive touchdowns in the last five quarters.
  • Cincinnati RB Cedric Benson became the first player since Ricky Williams in 2002 to rush for 100 yards in consecutive games against Baltimore with his 117 yard performance in Week 9.

Quick Hitters

Must-Read: I recently came across Pro Football Focus, and it became a new key resource in my insatiable thirst for statistics. I don't possess a degree of higher education in anything numbers-related, but this site doesn't really require one. The information is presented in an understandable, and not pompous manner - statistics for all games and all players listed without the feeling that someone is trying to prove a point. For what the opinion of PZB is worth, check it out if you're into that kind of thing.

Far Too Much Attention: I used to write with Nick Signorelli back in our Steelers Fever days, and I usually enjoy his take on things. However,his article, like any other article I've read on the subject, failed to present any rational reason behind why we would need former Chiefs RB/full-time slanderer Larry Johnson. I mean, it's not like Mike Tomlin played professional football. Maybe more than anything, though, what's gotten lost in all the gay slurs and bitterness is the fact Johnson isn't any good. He hasn't scored a touchdown since Week 11 of 2008, and hasn't played 16 games since his monster 416-carry season of 2006. Let's just let him be surly and sullen somewhere else.

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