NFL Preview - Pittsburgh (0-1) at Cincinnati (0-1)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - A key AFC North clash caps off Week 2 of the NFL season
when the Pittsburgh Steelers pay a visit to the Cincinnati Bengals on "Monday
Perhaps no team had a more difficult start to the season than the Steelers.
Accustomed to kicking off a new campaign in style, especially at home in Heinz
Field, Pittsburgh lost far more than a game in Week 1 when Pro Bowl center
Maurkice Pouncey, linebacker Larry Foote and running back LaRod Stephens-
Howling all went down with season-ending injuries during an ugly 16-9 setback
Things don't figure to get much easier this week for the Steelers when they
run into their old friend James Harrison and a strong Bengals front seven.
The Titans scored 16 straight points in Week 1 after return man Darius
Reynaud's mental mistake on the opening kickoff resulted in a safety and a 2-0
edge for the Steelers just seconds into the contest. Pittsburgh never
capitalized on the early momentum, however.
Ben Roethlisberger completed 21-of-33 passes for 191 yards, one touchdown and
an interception for the Steelers, who came in with 10 straight victories in
home openers, the longest active streak in the NFL.
Pittsburgh, which was held to 32 yards rushing, lost Pouncey and Stephens-
Howling to torn ACLs while Foote ruptured his biceps.
"We've got a lot of work to do," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "Nobody
cares about our problems. They're glad we've got them. We need to understand
that. We need to stick together and persevere."
The Bengals, meanwhile, suffered a tough loss of their own but at least came
out of it relatively unscathed, because their main AFC North rivals -- the
Steelers and Baltimore Ravens -- also suffered setbacks in Week 1.
In fact the AFC North as a whole went 0-4 on Kickoff Weekend, a stark contrast
for a group which produced five playoff teams over the prior two seasons.
Baltimore was unimpressive again Sunday but beat the Cleveland Browns, making
the division a bowling shoe-ugly 1-5 early on.
Chicago's Jay Cutler hooked up with Brandon Marshall for a go-ahead 19-yard
touchdown late in the fourth quarter in Week a, as the Bears began the Marc
Trestman era with a 24-21 victory over Cincinnati at Soldier Field.
The Bengals squandered an 11-point third-quarter lead, turned the ball over
three times and committed eight penalties -- with linebacker Rey Maualuga's
personal foul the most costly as it allowed the Bears to run out the clock.
"We didn't deserve to win because we had too many penalties and mistakes,"
Cincinnati nose tackle Domata Peko said. "But I also think we got a feel for
what kind of team we have here, or at least what kind of team we can be.
Really, we dominated them for three quarters, in my opinion. We've just got to
Cincinnati signal caller Andy Dalton completed 26-of-33 passes for 282 yards,
two touchdowns and two interceptions, while A.J. Green grabbed a game-high
nine passes for 162 yards and both of Dalton's touchdowns.
"They didn't stop us one time," Green said. "They didn't really stop us on
offense. We were doing whatever we wanted. The biggest thing we had was
BenJarvus Green-Ellis added a rushing score for the Bengals, who entered
the postseason as a wild card club last season.
The Steelers will be looking to avoid their first 0-2 start since 2002 and
have certainly fared well in Cincinnati over the years. Pittsburgh has won 11
of its last 12 at Paul Brown Stadium, including last season's 24-17 victory
there on Oct. 21 behind Jonathan Dwyer's 122 rushing yards.
The Steelers also lead the all-time series by a substantial 52-33 margin.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Harrison, the five-time Pro Bowl linebacker and 2008 Defensive Player of the
Year with the Steelers, was released in March when he and Pittsburgh couldn't
agree on a restructured deal. He brings a physical presence to an already
highly-regarded Bengals front seven.
"We all know how James plays," Tomlin said. "He brings physicality to the
table, he's a guy who brings great passion and he can inspire his teammates."
The group, which features All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins, a player who
just inked a big money extension before the season started, may have gone into
Chicago a little too haughty because the Bears' offensive line lacks any kind
of reputation. That kind of thing isn't going to happen again against a
division foe like the Steelers, though, especially with Harrison playing his
old mates for the first time.
"I don't have a chip on my shoulder against the Steelers," Harrison said. "I
don't hate the Steelers. Am I disappointed? Yeah, I'm disappointed."
Pittsburgh brought in some help last week, signing former Titans center
Fernando Velasco to replace Pouncey and bringing back Dwyer to take over for
Stephens-Howling. In addition, veteran kicker Shayne Graham, a former Bengal,
was signed after Shaun Suisham injured his hamstring against Tennessee.
Velasco is certainly not in Pouncey's league but he should be a significant
upgrade over stop-gap Kelvin Beachum eventually, although it will be tough for
the University of Georgia product to get up to speed in just one week.
When the Steelers succeed against Cincinnati it's generally due to the running
game. Pittsburgh has run for at least 100 yards in all 29 of its wins over the
Bengals over the last 20 years.
That could be tough formula this week with the injury problems in the
backfield and on an already shaky offensive line. Isaac Redman remains the
starter at running back for now but his ineffectiveness in Week 1 could give
Dwyer some early looks. Rookie Le'Veon Bell, meanwhile, remains out for at
least another month or so with a foot injury.
"I think a consistent running game is really important, not only to be good
offensively, but to strike a balance," Tomlin said. "We haven't been able to
do that to this point."
For the Bengals, Green is one of the game's elite playmakers and will be a
tough test for Steelers cornerbacks Ike Taylor and William Gay, particularly
Taylor, who will likely be given the task to shadow Green no matter where he
Green is playing at a high level early in the season and had 17 catches for
203 yards in his two meetings with Pittsburgh last season, including 10
catches in Cincinnati's 13-10 win in the Steel City in December, a game which
eliminated the Steelers from the playoff hunt.
That contest, coincidentally, was also when star Steelers tight end Heath
Miller tore his ACL. Miller, Roethlisberger's favorite target, has returned to
practice and there was some hope he could make his season debut in this one
but he's been officially ruled out.
Expecting Pittsburgh to continue its recent dominance over Cincinnati could be
too much to ask. The Steelers have won 10 of their past 11 in Cincy and Tomlin
is 7-1 on Monday nights, but Dalton has nine TD passes versus just one pick
over his previous four home starts.
That's all white noise when talking about this one, however. Cincinnati is the
more talented team and perhaps more importantly, the healthier one.