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Pregame Zone Blitz: Not Out Of The Woods Yet

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Ya think the Steelers are out of the woods yet? Not even close.

Week 13's win over Baltimore was one for the ages. While it ultimately will not cost Baltimore a spot in the playoffs, it does put them behind the 8-ball in terms of seeding and playing one extra game.

What it does mean to the Steelers, though, is they need to beat Cincinnati this week to maintain their current 1-game advantage in division record over the Ravens. While all wins are necessary, obviously, the division record is the tie-breaker with the Ravens. With the Bengals on tap this week, and Cleveland in Week 17 with the hapless Panthers and the hap-full Jets sandwiched in between, the Steelers' priority of winning is Cincinnati this week and the Browns in the season's final week.

This is assuming, of course, the Steelers have a team to put on the field. An ever-increasing laundry list of injured players forces coach Mike Tomlin into changing up personnel groupings on the fly, and tests the depth and resolve of this team. But PZB sees the catalyst of all of that, as well as challenges certain loser opponents' claims against the toughness of Pittsburgh's passer. Entombed in a Snow-Nami, PZB brings all you need for a pivotal AFC North divisional match-up.

Opponent Web Sites/Forums

Not only was a fan removed from Paul Brown Stadium for wearing a t-shirt that said "Mike Brown Sucks," but the guy who informed Cincy Jungle of the news refused to provide his last name.

Speaking of t-shirts, Bengals fans apparently think they're funny with this play-on-words about Roethlisberger's nose. Probably would have helped if they didn't hire an absent-minded meathead to model it.

Both Ben and Bengals QB Carson Palmer had huge second half efforts in their respective Week 13 games. If Palmer had a defense opposite him that didn't allow five 40+ yard plays, and didn't jump off-sides on a freeze play, maybe their 9-game losing streak would be over.

That nine-game losing streak seems to be forcing Mojokong of Cincy Jungle into evaluating what it was he was fed last season.

Has anyone seen Mike Brown and Monty Burns in the same place at the same time??

Last Game

A conversation broke out on the BTSC award-winning pre-game thread regarding who the biggest Ravens Killer is on the Steelers roster. It's been plain and obvious DE Terrell Suggs is the biggest Steelers Killer, so who do the Steelers have?

One reader asked if it was former Steelers WR Santonio Holmes. PZB said "yes, it is, someone's going to have to step up and take his place."

Naturally, PZB figured it'd be another receiver. Actually, the answer's a defensive player, and he's been on the roster the whole time.

Troy Polamalu produced perhaps the play of the season when he chopped Ravens QB Joe Flacco's arm like a lumberjack, forcing a fumble that was recovered by LaMarr Woodley.

As Suggs said after the game (could be quote of the year), "Everybody watching TV at home, everybody in the stadium, you all know it you see 43 at the line, four-minute offense, he's coming. It was just like, I hope we have a plan. It just didn't feel good when I saw that hair at the line."

Polamalu's play ignited two other Play of the Year nominees, including the saddest, yet most reflective of this season. As Roethlisberger was again under pressure from Suggs, and was clocked in the head for what must have been the 10th time that game, he managed to slither his way loose, just free enough to heave the ball out of bounds, saving what would have been Suggs' third sack of the game.

Roethlisberger was an animal all game. The second half he played in this game was two quarters for the history of the franchise, running for his life on a bum foot, scanning a blurry field because of a broken nose.

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.

Peter King

I'm not even sure this section needs to be written. The fact there was no penalty on the player who will forever be known as "Talentless Coward" is proof-positive the officiating in the NFL is shockingly poor.  

If they cannot properly officiate the game - for example, calling three penalties on special teams infractions, including one where apparently a gunner wasn't forced out of bounds and another where a tackle was lined up four inches off the line of scrimmage, all the while missing the dirtiest hit I've ever seen at any level - then they need to find people who can.

Roger Goodell should be humiliated. PZB is humiliated for him. Clearly, he is so far overwhelmed by the empire given to him by Paul Tagliabue, he's unable to manage a product that generates billions of dollars a year. This entire situation has gotten out of control, and it's squarely on his shoulders.

PZB recommends re-naming the famous Peter Principle to the Goodell Principle.

" time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out their duties" and adds that ‘work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence.'"

Rozelle...Tagliabue...Goodell? Scary how accurate that is.

As it is, PZB thanks God Miller doesn't seem to have been injured worse than the concussion he sustained.

Opponent Spotlight: WR Terrell Owens

As the Train Wreck Theory goes, people just naturally have to watch some things. If they drive past a train wreck, their natural curiosity will compel them to look at it.

T.O. is a train wreck, and we have to watch.

No other player in the league can cause so much damage each and every game - damage on his opponent, and damage within his own team. He has to be the most disliked player in the game, yet, very rarely is a player who is so disliked capable each game, each season, each decade, of leveling his competition.

Throughout his career, Pittsburgh has mostly kept T.O. in check (only two catches in a Steelers win over Dallas in 2008, an ineffective seven catches in a Steelers win over Philadelphia in 2004), but he blew up in Week 9 this year, shredding the secondary for 10 catches, 141 yards and two touchdowns.

He's put up two of the NFL's biggest games for wide receivers this year; Week 9 against Pittsburgh, and a 10-catch, 222 yard and one touchdown effort against Cleveland in Week 4. That's certainly enough for the Bengals to think he's got plenty left in the tank, physically.

It's never been a physical problem with T.O., has it? Between the ears, sometimes it's questionable what's going on. In Cincinnati's four games since he lit the Steelers up, he has 16 catches for 191 yards and two touchdowns - or, an average of four catches and 48 yards per game.

Quit much?

In the interest of full disclosure, QB Carson Palmer is probably the true spotlight player for this game. In a loss suffered in stupid circumstances, Palmer didn't throw an interception all game (the fourth time this year he's done that), and completed a season-high 69.7 percent of his passes. But T.O.'s the Train Wreck Theory. You have to watch him, because you don't know if he's going to catch 10 passes or two. Maybe he'll score four touchdowns, maybe he'll freak out and throw his helmet at Chad Ochocinco.

With the whipping he put on CB Bryant McFadden in their first meeting, the Steelers need to be wary of Owens, and the impact he can have on a dangerous offensive team like Cincinnati. 

Steelers Spotlight: RB Rashard Mendenhall

The Steelers will likely be without TE Heath Miller. Back-up TE Matt Spaeth is coming off a concussion of his own. Roethlisberger's nose resembled corn flakes (PZB assumes he means crushed corn flakes).

When in doubt, run the ball.

It also helps that the Bengals boast one of the worst run defenses in the league. The game plan has to be a steady dose of Mendenhall left, right, center, in the flats and in max protect.

Mendenhall's key has to be DT Domata Peko, Cincinnati's burly defensive left tackle has been the key in games where they've actually stopped the run. Peko earned Pro Bowl mentions last year, but has fallen off quite a bit this season. Stretch plays away from him can be effective, but his first step is deadly, and he has the ability to blow a 2nd-and-4 into a 3rd-and-6 very easily. Mendenhall's vision is improving, mostly out of necessity; Pittsburgh's offensive line has been beaten to a pulp for most of the season. C Maurkice Pouncey has been the stalwart, and the poor play from both guard positions has been dragging him down.

Mendenhall's gonna have to do a lot of this on his own.

How he'll fare is a toss-up. Mendenhall has three 100 yard games on this season, and also has averaged three yards or less for a game on four occasions. He has nine touchdowns, but has rushed for less than 70 yards in a game five times. He had a strong 99-yard performance against Cincinnati the last time these teams played, including a beautiful drive that should have sealed the win, if not for a (nother) missed field goal by former K Jeff Reed.

Mendenhall is going to have to strap on his big boy pads and bang for tough yards, not only because it's an area in which the Bengals can be beaten man-to-man, but because the offensive line needs to get used to dominating its competition again. After being abused by Baltimore, as well as fellow AFC foe New England in Week 10, the Steelers offense needs a confidence-building performance.

It will start and end with Mendenhall.

I See You

I see you, Ben Roethlisberger. A PZB record five players were nominated for this weekly award, including what would have been Isaac Redman's career-leading third win. Rookie WR Manny Sanders could easily have won it for his three big catches, as well as battery mate Mike Wallace; the Steelers saw a glimpse at their Hines Ward-less future, and have to be excited about the progress of these two. Typically Lobster-Clawed TE David Johnson had a huge fourth down conversion reception, filling in for Matt Spaeth as well as Heath Miller, who picked up a nomination for withstanding the dirtiest hit of the year from Talentless Coward.

When the rubber met the road, though, Ben, you were the guy putting all of these players in a position to be seen. And PZB isn't even sure how much you could see. After DT Haloti Ngata's wayward haymaker landed on the bridge of your nose (no flag), you stood tall, mobility be damned, and absorbed a furious Ravens pass rush for four quarters, only throwing one interception (your first in three games).

Your second half stat line was 13-for-19 for 161 and a touchdown, and you were wearing a Suggs suit so often, he can only be fairly credited with a share of your passing totals.

Just guts, Ben. Courage. Leadership. PZB sees it.

Key Stats

  • Baltimore's final four drives: Punt, Punt, Fumble, Downs
  • Rashard Mendenhall's 45 yards puts him over the 1,000 yard mark for the second time in his career (1,007)
  • Cincinnati is the only team since 1991 to have three 9-game losing streaks in season
  • Pittsburgh's magic number to clinch the AFC North is 3. Any combination of Steelers wins and Ravens losses will give Pittsburgh its sixth AFC North championship since the division was formed in 2002.


If The Playoffs Started Today: 1. New England; 2. Pittsburgh; 3. Kansas City; 4. Jacksonville; 5. New York Jets; 6. Baltimore. Ravens at Chiefs, Jets at Jaguars.

That's Nice of Them: We're into Week 14, and the only story of this season to this point has been the league's legislating from the bench stance on illegal hits. But it's ok, because NFL Head of Officiating Carl Johnson had a conference call with all game officials before this weekend's games. It's part of his "expanded communications" program.

What a visionary Johnson is. Turmoil, controversy, raging mad players, owners and fans, and his solution is a once-a-month conference call with the officials. Maybe it's just PZB, but I would think "expanded communications" became a requisite, not a program, when they slapped players with a quarter of a million dollars in fines in one week. It's further proof of the lack of managerial ability of the people currently in charge of this game.