Some pundits and experts think, just because the past few contests between the Steelers and Bengals have been rather tame, the two teams have improved their relationship and are ultimately “cool” with each other.
Let me make a quick suggestion — Nope.
These two teams and anyone who was on the team during the 2015 AFC Wild Card game in Cincinnati, still can’t stand one another. Sure, they’ll say the right things in front of media, but don’t think for a second these two teams don’t still despise one another in every way possible.
It’s time to take a look at the news surrounding the Black-and-gold from outside the walls of BTSC:
The music played as background noise during an NFL team's practice is rarely newsworthy. So when several Cincinnati media members reported the Bengals' acoustic selection on Thursday, there was an unambiguous reason.
“Oh, they played ‘Renegade' today at practice?” Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier said, when told. “Oh, man.”
“Renegade,” of course, has been the Steelers' Heinz Field rally song for almost two decades.
Said center Maurkice Pouncey: “No way. They're playing our song? Aww, that's cute.”
Must be Steelers-Bengals week.
As if the veteran players needed any refresher, rookie receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin showed film of past meetings between the rivals in an attempt to show how physical Cincinnati's defense is.
Longtime Steelers guard Ramon Foster took something a little different from the session, though.
“I see their film when they play against other people, and other (teams' players) get away with stuff that we don't get away with,” Foster said. “You see a little extra shoving from the (other Bengals) opposing teams, (but) if we did that or tried to get the last shove, it becomes a ‘thing' with them.
“I don't know why. For whatever reason it is. For whatever reason …”
A big reason why the Bengals take the Steelers so seriously, of course, is because it’s been a big game in terms of winning the AFC North title in recent years.
One of these two teams has won the division each of the past four seasons, as well as in 10 of the past 13 seasons.
The Steelers don't always get the best of the Bengals, it just sometimes might seem that way. But the Steelers have a four-game winning streak in the series (including the wild playoff game in January 2016) and have compiled an overall 60-35 advantage since the teams first met in 1970.
Along with the Ravens and Browns, there’s no shortage of bubbling contempt among the AFC North family. But, as Foster said, “for whatever reason” it's Pittsburgh that seems to conjure up the most negativity in Cincinnati.
“They're not brothers,” Bengals safety George Iloka said of the Steelers to ESPN.com. “It's that cousin that your parents invite over that you're not really cool with, that's what that is. They're there for Thanksgiving dinner, and you're like, ‘Man, why did you all invite them this year?' That type of thing.”
Few football fans know and fewer care what the players are feeling from week to week. Should those feelings manifest in a crippling penalty or an assault on a Gatorade cooler or metastasize into an anthem protest, citing contemporary examples, athletes are loudly reminded to manage their thoughts in ways that do not impede victory and decorum.
“Just win baby,” was not just the imprimatur of the late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis; it’s pretty much the implicit long-term contract between big time sports and its audience.
Thus thoughtfulness, compassion, accountability, generosity, patience, sincerity and similar hallmarks of fully formed character do not typically adorn the broadcasts from the annual NFL Scouting Combine. There’s no 4-cone drill for empathy. Teams are blueprinted primarily on measurables despite the inescapable reality that players are more than the sum of those measurables, and they often come together from eclectic backgrounds.
A week ago, a Steelers’ secondary depicted as promising-yet-untested after having faced a gaggle of suspect quarterbacks, brought the best offense in the NFL to its knees, helping to limit the Kansas City Chiefs to six comic yards in the first half on the way to a 19-13 Steelers victory.
Many know the Pittsburgh pass defenders by number and some would surely recognize them if they turned up in the 12-items-or-less line at the grocery, but who exactly are they?
One speaks three languages.
One lost his mother to three bullets when he was 8.
One is a walking dichotomy, compelled to draw fines (two this week totaling nearly $58,000) for hurting people unnecessarily on Sundays, even as he’s driven to help urban kids unrelentingly through a North Side mission.
One is the legal guardian of his two younger brothers, has a son of his own, communicates with his father who’s imprisoned on a drug rap, and this week marks the second anniversary of losing his mother to heart attack at 44. He’s 22.
Another walked into the defensive backs room just 10 days before the season started and has won as many games in six weeks as he had in his final 37 performances as a Cleveland Brown.
As Todd Haley stepped in front of a backdrop to speak to reporters following Thursday’s practice at Rooney Sports Complex, Ramon Foster playfully shouted, “Tell ’em about the red-zone, Todd.”
Yes, the Steelers have made it clear they are tired of hearing about the topic. It’s no secret they have to score more points within an opponent’s 20-yard line, especially when facing a Bengals defense that ranks second in the NFL in yards allowed per game. However, a solution isn’t as simple as cleaning up one mistake such as a missed block here, a dropped pass there or even a play call.
Their 19-13 victory over the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium last Sunday was an example of that.
“As the field gets tight down there, the little, small, fine details, coaching points become very, very critical because there’s very little margin for error,” Haley said. “There’s less margin for error down there, so you need to be on point.”