As most of you know, at least those who have read my posts, I live in Pittsburgh, and as far as I can tell I am the only Bengal fan in the city. At least the only one that is "out" as they say. There may be more of us, perhaps as many as 1 in 10, but Pittsburgh society simply does not accommodate my alternative sports fan lifestyle. Yes, I eat runny chili over pasta and like it--and I will do it in public in spite of your glares. Do you think I enjoy watching your kind eat pierogies in your Polamalu jersey? And yes, I've always had the sneaking suspicion that those who are the most critical of the Bengals are really only questioning their love for the Steelers, but until the Bengals win a Super Bowl, my people will never be free....
Last night as the Pens got their lunch handed to them by the Bruins, I walked into my local sports bar, of course to welcomes of "Hey Cincinnati" (that's me)--looking forward to seeing yinz this weekend, its gonna be a helluva a game." Of course, last game, I brazenly donned my Bengals gear and cheered for my team as they pulled out last minute victory--earning my stripes in multiple ways. I do have a bit of swagger now when I walk into my local sports bar, I revel when I am asked "What no jersey today?" And, I get warm inside when, quietly,in a casual aside, a Steelers fan leans over and says--"Hey, I think your Bengals are pretty tough this year."
Mike Tomlin recently called this game "big"--thanks for the newsflash Mike. Yes, its big--big for the Bengals, for Bengaldom, and big for me. A Bengals win will earn me some serious Steeler fan hatred and more importantly respect. I need it, I want it. Yes, I started this season cautiously optimistic about the Bengals (as I usually do) think that we might win 9 and fight for wild card spot, now caution has gone to the wind--this team could seriously win 11-12 games and a title in the NFL's toughest division. By winning this game, the Bengals make it very difficult for anyone to catch them and secure themselves as an elite team, beating the Super Bowl champs twice. Yes, I want this...bad.
Having watched every Steeler game this year, I will give you my quick breakdown on the Steelers. Keys to victory to the Bengals
- Collapse the pocket. The Steelers have turned into a pass first offense but Ben Roethlisberger gets sacked, a lot. Why? Because he holds on the ball way too long trying to make a play. The bad news is, he is big and can move and often makes that play, which why the Bengals need to have a controlled pass rush that collapses the pocket and gives him now where to run.
- Keep your coverage. How does Ben make those plays? Because when he rolls out, DBs drop their coverage to stop him from scrambling and he'll chuck the ball 40 yards to a nifty Mike Wallace (who runs a scorching 4.28/40) and he's gone. Cannot let that happen. When he his scrambling, he is still throwing the ball, make him throw it into coverage and its interception city.
- Play tough and smart. Should go without saying, but the Steelers don't miss a chance to get physical (just ask Keith Rivers) and the Bengals shouldn't either. Make them earn every yard.
- Protect Palmer. The way the Steelers D controls a game is through blitzing and pass rush. Palmer is deadly when he has time. The fate of the Bengals offense hinges on our line vs. their blitz.
- No turnovers. The Bengals have had their share of turnover problems. Palmer has thrown some untimely pics, Chad getting stripped, etc. We might get away with those mistakes against lesser competition, but not the Steelers. They will make you pay.
- Ball control passing. The Bengals were super effective against the Ravens with quick slants and ball control passing. It should work against the Steelers as well. It will loosen up the blitz and set up Benson for another 100 yard game.