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Pregame Zone Blitz: Steelers at Bengals

Still smarting from a tough road loss, the Steelers regroup, but find themselves in a strange situation. Yes, the Bengals are a viable team, with a viable defense. I watched their first two games, and they actually don't look like the old Bengals; ya know, the ones where we gave them credit, because at least they didn't spike themselves?

That's not the last "Major League" reference in this week's PZB, and we've also got face-plants, stories of resurgence and a whole lot of "Swaggin'."

Here's what our opponents are saying.

Opponent Web Sites/Forums

This week's plea from home fans not to sell tickets to Steelers fans.

Fans on Bengals Zone Message Board are feeling some confidence from Joe Theismann's prediction of a Cincinnati win.

Cincinnati Enquirer's Paul Daugherty says the Bengals need to bully the Steelers.

Steelers WR Hines Ward would do it again, says the Associated Press via the Dayton News.

It's funny how a 1-1 start makes Ohio-based media proclaim bold statements - a Bengals win, a 10-6 season and a playoff berth.

Last Game

The thin margin between success and failure in the NFL is a pain. Pittsburgh, with a 17-14 loss at Chicago, has gone from Super Bowl champions and odds-on favorites to repeat, to a game behind rival Baltimore facing a must-win game at upstart Cincinnati in just two weeks.

In this case, that margin is defined by a few feet to the left of the left upright at Soldier Field.

Damn, Skippy.

K Jeff "Skippy" Reed hasn't earned exile treatment; he's been steady and reliable his whole career. But he really isn't helping things, either. If the Steelers go up by two-possessions of points, the Bears would have had a real difficult time climbing back into that game. Give them credit, they wagered all their chips on the idea of controlling the ball with a short, rhythm passing game, not allowing Pittsburgh's monster pass rushers to get a hold of QB Jay Cutler (note to fans: get ready for a lot more of that strategy). Chicago figured they could get enough out of their defense to keep it close, then, with precision and a little luck, they could pull it out at the end.

It worked, and Pittsburgh is forced to continue an 8-game winning streak at Paul Brown Stadium to keep pace with the charging Ravens (and Bengals) in the AFC North.

Opponent Spotlight: DE Antwan Odom

What? Cincinnati has a pass rusher?

Seriously, Odom, likely September's Defensive Player of the Month, has racked up seven sacks in the team's first two games, a last-second loss to Denver and a big road win over Green Bay.

Five of those seven sacks came at the hands of Green Bay last week, but despite his performance, the Bengals needed every last defensive play to get past a streaky Packers team. For Cincinnati, heading into Week 3, Odom represents something the franchise hasn't had in God-only-knows-when; hope on defense.

The question then becomes (well, the question after "the NFL has a drug-testing policy, right?") how much of an impact can Odom have, now that he'll be a focus of the protection scheme? With all due respect to him, the Packers have struggled mightily in pass protection through two games. It's tough to sweep aside a stat like five sacks in one game, but unless the player's name is Harrison, or Allen or Umeniyora, it's tough to take an eye off that player's opponent.

The more revealing picture I gleaned from watching the Bengals' gutty win over the Packers was how many of those sacks should be at least half-attributed to a much-improved secondary. It's always seemed former first-round picks Jonathan Joseph and Leon Hall played well - against everyone but Pittsburgh. The addition of the leaner, sleeker Roy Williams at safety has given Cincinnati a well-balanced coverage defensive backfield, and one that makes it a bit easier on the front seven to get to the passer.

With that being said, Odom did wreak enough havoc against Denver suggesting this really is a combination of outstanding efforts from all three positional units on Cincinnati's defense.

I know, weird to hear, right?

Steelers Spotlight: CB Ike Taylor

Just a random guess...the coaching staff of the Bengals peeked at the film from the Bears victory over the Steelers last week. In that, they're going to see a few mismatch opportunities if they are able to spread Pittsburgh's secondary out. With a group of talented receivers, lead by the moronic Chad Ochocinco, Cincinnati is going to try to employ as much 4-WR sets as possible, in the hopes of isolating either Ochocinco or WR Chris Henry on one of Pittsburgh's smaller safeties.

The spotlight falls on the veteran Taylor (Swaggin') for the sake of his ability to lock down Ochocinco over the years (and mix it up with Henry). The Steelers can't hide a weakness in 1-on-1 coverage because they have to play both of their back-up safeties in some specialty packages. But Taylor can be counted on to take out the opponent's most athletic receiver (Ochocinco), and perhaps be able to use more of what Tyrone Carter and Ryan Clark excel in - a Cover 2 look.

Ochocinco's frustrations are usually pretty obvious by the second half, if the ball isn't going in his direction. Using his own fatal flaw against him is something Taylor's been doing for several years now. The Chad Johnson version of Ochocinco has scored once against the Steelers in their previous six meetings, dating back to 2006. He was also at the mercy of a few beatings by Pittsburgh's secondary over the years. Or, maybe he just bounces his face off the turf.

He's carrying something of a hot hand going into Week 3, having snared nine catches for 180 yards and a touchdown in Cincinnati's first two games this year. Look for the Bengals to pass and run out of 3 and 4 WR sets. Taylor will have to do what he can to make up for a team disadvantage in those situations.


I See You

I see you, Chris Kemoeatu. The Bears saw you, too, usually in a "there's a freight truck bearing down on me, and there's nothing I can do" kind of way. Your crushing hits on the unfortunate defender in the hole during the second half last week sparked hope in a dimming light of a run game, and you did it so consistently well, it inspired the offense. It inspired your offensive coordinator to continue to call 22-Blast over and over. Pulling from your left guard position, your assignment is simple; destroy the linebacker or safety, and knock him out of the play. Effort, technique and confidence fixes more problems than anything, and because of your ability to show those characteristics, the Steelers can say, again, they have a bread-and-butter running play.

Key Stats

  • Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is 11-1 against the AFC North since 2007 - the only loss being a Week 17 throwaway against Baltimore in 2007.
  • Since 2007, the Steelers are 7-2 in games following a loss
  • Since 2005, the Steelers are 7-3 in games without SS Troy Polamalu
  • Cincinnati has not recorded a sack against Pittsburgh in three straight meetings

Quick Hitters

"Shut up, Dorn. Save all that energy for the field" If this story doesn't show the complete level of dysfunction currently engulfing the Cleveland Browns, nothing will. It seems more fit for another show of Cleveland's joke status, the movie "Major League," when third-baseman Roger Dorn taped a red tag on rookie Ricky Vaughn's locker, indicating Vaughn had been cut. Vaughn tackled Dorn, and engaged in a yelling match highlighted by the most F-bombs dropped since "Scarface." In the Browns' case, perhaps the most telling sign was WR Braylon Edwards yelling "Welcome to the Browns locker room!" with the media present. That's a shocking sign of intentional disrespect, and one guaranteed to get Edwards jettisoned out of town next season, if not earlier.

In the end, though, doesn't the mug shot of Francies look like a character drawing from "The Simpsons?" Sort of like Apu Meets Tyra Banks?