CINCINNATI, OH - OCTOBER 02: Andy Dalton #14 of the Cincinnati Bengals runs for a touchdown during the NFL game against the Buffalo Bills at Paul Brown Stadium on October 2, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Backs against the wall? Not really, especially with a sagging level of competition in the AFC. The Jets are charging the Ravens, who sit on top. But, the game of the week is between these two teams; Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.
The Best Cooler in the Business takes his home field to smack the defending champs in the mouth, and establish his team as legit contenders in the AFC North. The Steelers look to avoid an 0-3 start in the division they won last year, and knock the upstart Bengals back down to earth.
It's a great match-up, as mid-November football brings us closer to the last leg of the regular season, when contenders crank it to 11, and pretenders shrink. Which do each of these teams fit into? Let's find out.
Opponent Web Sites/Forums
Cincinnati Enquirer reporter Joe Reedy went to Steelers FS Ryan Clark to get his thoughts on Bengals QB Andy Dalton.
Cincy Jungle is worried about the injuries along the tight end position.
That may just have been the worst regular season loss the Steelers have dealt with in the Roethlisberger Era. There, we said it. It's out in the open. But it's only that, a regular season loss.
On one hand, many other teams would be perfectly happy with being 6-3 before a winnable game and a bye week, with a winnable schedule the rest of the way. On the other, the Steelers have started 6-2 each season under coach Mike Tomlin since 2007, and have finished with records of 10-6, 12-4, 9-7 and 12-4.
Past success is no indication of future performance.
But maybe past success can be a foundation for improved future performance. It's not as if the Steelers played poorly in the loss. There were two passes that could have been picked off on that last drive, a few incompletions, a few missed sack opportunities. The Steelers offense still handled the Ravens better than any other team has all year.
None of that makes up for a loss, but that's not the point. Pittsburgh played much better in Week 9 than they did against Tennessee in 2008 - an equally tough loss to a quality opponent - and managed to rebound.
All of that begins at Cincinnati against a very tough, young Bengals team.
Us Against The World
How utterly ridiculous is it that James Harrison makes a football act and gets fined $75,000, and Richard Seymour, despite whatever happened to provoke him, slugs a player on national TV in full view of the cameras and knocks him to the ground -- and gets fined $25,000. Weak. Very weak.
The hallowed lead quote for this section nearly changed this week when FS Ryan Clark was fined $40,000 for a glancing blow to Ed Dickson's chest went a bit further north than Clark expected. Peter King, the author of the quote of "Us Against The World," in response to some chowderhead who suggested Clark should be "...fined until he stops," Tweeted Wednesday, "Stops what? Lowering his head and aiming for a guy's sternum? Bury a guy when he AIMS for head. Clark didn't."
It's always seemed strange to me how everyone can hate King (for the record, I didn't see a problem with this comment this week that SS Troy Polamalu's body language was negative after Baltimore's game-winning touchdown. He's right. It was. It's not a shot at the Steelers or Polamalu, he's just reporting what happened). But the fact is, he's the only writer in the national media who's outwardly and vociferously against the sheer ridiculousness of these policies.
I've written on here I felt the play, according to the rules, deserved a penalty - or at least a penalty wasn't a surprise - and I'm not surprised by a fine. I've also written about my disdain for those rules, and the act of fining in lieu of any other method of punishment will ultimately lead to a decline in quality of defensive play.
Treating Clark as a "repeat offender" based on the hit on Dickson is utterly preposterous. He clearly aimed with his shoulder, and after he hit Dickson's chest, the force of the hit drew Dickson's head inward toward Clark's, and it was only then did their helmets make contact.
That is not the same as a helmet-to-helmet hit; or, the same thing as Ravens LBs Ray Lewis or Jameel McClain did. It's hard to say why neither Lewis nor McClain were penalized, and while Lewis has been fined for his kill shot on WR Hines Ward, as of the time of publication, McClain was not fined.
As angry as Clark is (and understandably should be), the real crime here is the fact Antonio Brown gets no retribution for a cheap shot that cost the Steelers a first down. It's classic old-school football to say he should have held onto the ball, but he was knocked unconscious for cripessake.
An absolutely ridiculous fine, possibly the worst of all time.
Opponent Spotlight: QB Andy Dalton
"His name...is Dalton."
"I kinda thought he'd be bigger."
It'd be easy to force a comparison between the Bengals rookie QB and the legendary character played by Patrick Swayze in "Roadhouse." It may not be too far off, either.
Dalton isn't the biggest player at his position. He's not the best either ("Wade Garrett's the best"). But what he lacks on the surface he's making up for by rising to the challenge of the situation.
He's better on third downs than he is on first and second. Even more impressive, he has four 4th quarter come-from-behind wins - a stat owned in the AFC North by Roethlisberger.
By all accounts, he's quiet but a strong silent leader. He's very even-keeled, a trait that will benefit him against a fierce Steelers defense. Both of these are traits unlike former Bengals QB Carson Palmer.
That could indicate Cincinnati's success is addition by subtraction. Not taking anything away from Dalton, but Palmer was one of the worst quarterbacks in the game last season. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis was quoted earlier this season as saying Palmer had decided well before last season was over that he wanted out.
Cincinnati wisely honored his request. Who wants a quarterback who doesn't want to be there? Who wants a leader who doesn't want to lead?
The hyperbole surrounding the Bengals' intangibles and non-statistical talent they have is trite. The fact is they have a tough-as-nails defense (led by emerging superstar DE Carlos Dunlap), overachieving performances from WRs like Jerome Simpson complimenting physical freaks like WR A.J. Green and TE Jermaine Gresham and a Pro Bowl level OT in Andrew Whitworth.
Dalton is the straw that stirs the drink. Even if he's not the best cooler in the business, he's good enough to win the game Sunday.
Steelers Spotlight: OLB James Harrison
After being snubbed for the otherwise-worthless AFC Defensive Player of the Week, Harrison re-groups for a battle with outstanding Bengals LT Andrew Whitworth.
Whitworth has taken over the locker room leadership of the young-but-talented Bengals in wake of Carson Palmer's departure. Whitworth, combined with Dalton's borderline disinterested calm, establishes a strong sense of confidence, and that kind of consistency mirrors in his pass protection.
It's the kind of trait a tackle needs to block the unrelenting Harrison. Ravens LT Bryant McKinnie broke down early in the second half, and Harrison ate him alive for the remaining two quarters. Harrison's conditioning was not at its peak, and probably won't be 100 percent for his showdown with Whitworth either, but what Whitworth has in savvy and presence, he doesn't quite have in athleticism. Harrison's ability comes from his conditioning and his flexibility. He plays lower to the ground than any other defensive player in the league, and is one of the few pass rushers who can not only boast going around or through a blocker, but under him as well.
Getting in Dalton's head will be critical in this game, and that rush will likely come from Harrison.
I See You
I see you, Larry Foote. You've filled in wonderfully in James Farrior's absence, and this defense hasn't missed a beat. Baltimore has an outstanding offense, particularly their running game, but your ability to smash their protection schemes and defend Rice in the flats made a huge difference, right up to the end.
You'll see Baltimore again. There's no doubt. But Cincinnati is first. They play the way you like; straight ahead, bashing heads and talking trash. It looks as if Farrior will be back, and you'll return to your head-bashing Buck LB position. I've got nothing but confidence in your ability to hammer the gaps and don't let Cedric Benson breathe.
- Cincinnati is 11-1 when Cedric Benson has 25 or more carries
- If the season ended after Week 9, Cincinnati would be the No. 1 seed in the AFC
- The combined records of the Bengals first eight opponents is 16-33
- The combined records of the Bengals remaining eight opponents is 36-31