The Cincinnati Bengals gear up for their most important game of the regular season, playing the Steelers in Pittsburgh for at least a wild card berth in the 2012 NFL postseason.
There's something to be gained asking opposing websites five questions, gaining insight on a team that the Bengals are tasked with that weekend. There's nothing wrong with those that do it and we've done it several times this year, and the years before that.
At the same time I'm a little bored with them and 16 weeks deep into the season, I feel the impression is a little more than agreeable. So we indirectly (and somewhat unintentionally, did something different). While talking with Neal Coolong, who runs the great Steelers site Behind The Steel Curtain, who oddly grew up in the same small town outside of Minneapolis that I did 30 years ago (talk about a small world), about one of our favorite sports memories (the 1991 World Series), we shifted towards the Bengals game this weekend and talked Steelers.
Josh Kirkendall: Was at work today, walking down the hallway. Most of the people at my day job know that I do Cincy Jungle, so they stop me to give me their impressions on the Bengals. There's this older lady who is a fantastic Steelers fan. She walks up to me, puts her arms on my shoulders and says, "are you ready for this weekend." Of course based on our history against the Steelers, I find myself trepid, but she went into (what I think was planned) 20 minute speech about the Steelers, what's wrong with them and how their season has been.
Neal Coolong: Yeah, things are a tad negative around SteelerNation nowadays.
Josh: Don't get me wrong, I'm a little anxious about our chances, largely because of my experiences and recent history (aka, my life on Earth), but here she is trying to convince me that the Bengals will probably win.
Neal: This is the game you decide to not let Dalton be the deciding factor. Throw out all long passing, short, crossing stuff in space, three-step and release and run the football
I'm no Todd Haley, but I can draw up an offense that would succeed against the Steelers' defense. P.S., now Keenan Lewis is out, or close to being out. That's THREE starting cornerbacks in four weeks
Josh: I know he's had a hip problem, but did he hurt it again?
Neal: He hurt it again Sunday against Dallas. That's what forced the Steelers to put TWO undrafted rookie defensive backs in the 4th quarter. I mean...what the hell do you DO?? If Lewis can't go, those two, along with a free agent signed this week are going for the whole game
Josh: Ouch. We have Jason Allen if you want him. Played like three games. Has a fantastic beard though. Tomlin would be impressed.
Josh: What about Troy? Hasn't practiced this week.
Neal: He doesn't practice anymore. He just shows up at game time
Josh: So that's the norm.
Neal: Yeah, that's a non-story. Watch Keenan Lewis and Mike Adams. Two most important names on there
Josh: Adams went full today, so that's good.
Neal: Yeah, right in time. With Willie Colon at left guard and Mike Adams at right tackle, 4.72 yards per carry. Without, 3.18 yards per carry.
Josh: Steelers lovin' those Ohio boys.
Neal: Yeah, just not the defensive players. Well, except Harrison. He's from Akron.
Josh: Heyward too. Any good this year or just not making his way up the chart?
Neal: Nah. He's slow and seems to fight after the whistle more than before it. They're moving him around a bit more, tried him inside a little bit, but he's gonna have to start next year and I'm terrified.
Josh: Have to be a youth movement soon in Pittsburgh soon, right? ESPN's AFC North blog said 16 players are 30 years or older.
Neal: Yeah, but everyone else on defense is 26 and younger. They're in the process of it. Next year it'll really be noticeable. Harrison and Keisel are very likely cap cuts; they've invested a lot in those positions, and need to start freeing some money up for the offensive line - which they've also invested heavily in.
Problem is, spoils in the draft equals cap problems very quickly, and their receiving corps is going to be in shambles next year. Wallace is gone by day two of free agency, they'll have three receivers on the roster - Antonio Brown, who's fumbled away two games this season and has fallen far under expectations and Emmanuel Sanders, who's fumbled and dropped his way out of favor, and has also fallen far under expectations. And Jerricho Cotchery, who...doesn't really contribute anything
Josh: Last year it seemed so much more promising at wide receiver for you guys. What about the future at running back? Is Dwyer the guy? Has Mendenhall rebuilt that bridge that he firebombed?
Neal: The Steelers tried rebuilding the bridge for Mendenhall...and he decided to burn it again the other day.
Josh: Idiot. What happened?
Neal: Media asked him why he decided to skip the Chargers game, he said he wasn't going to talk about it. They told him Tomlin said he was just frustrated. Mendenhall said "I wouldn't say I was frustrated. I think a lot about the actions I take" or something to that effect. In other words, I willfully chose to skip the game. He'll test the market, probably stay unsigned until training camp. Wouldn't be surprised if someone gives him a go, he's talented, if not spectacular.
Josh: If not for the Jets, would think it would have gotten more play on the national scene.
Neal: I could just see his agent drinking straight from a bottle of Maalox after that came out.
Not everyone is Adrian Peterson and capable of running at a higher level than ever less than a year after ACL surgery, it's understandable why he wasn't all that great this year
But going out of his way to be a distraction on a team that doesn't have distractions - and have seen plenty of running backs far more productive than Rashard Mendenhall - is not exactly something to entice potential free agent suitor.
As for Dwyer, well, he's cheap. I think he's overrated, but in Pittsburgh, since there isn't an issue with the quarterback (another story altogether), the old "Back Up QB is the Most Popular Player On The Team" theory turns into "Back Up Running Back". He's a piss poor technical runner, which is why he subs out every two plays, he has a history of weight problems and is getting bigger each game he plays. They need like six picks in the first three rounds to make me feel really good about the immediate future of this team
Josh: I know the feeling. We're getting a little more comfortable with BenJarvus Green-Ellis, but running back has to be addressed during the offseason this year. What about Ben? How's his injuries holding up? Seemed alright after Dallas, despite frustrations on Haley's play-calling.
Neal: Physically, he looks pretty good, but that decisiveness and ease of those decisions seems well behind where he was early in the year. Seems like Haley's giving into Ben's desire to pass more - possibly out of concerns over an offensive line that's working on I think it's ninth different permutation this season alone, but it's not like he's getting good pass protection either.
ugh... Did I mention the elimination of any cornerback with experience? We're in deep shit. Could be the first losing season since 2003.
Josh: You think the Steelers lose to the Bengals and Browns?
Neal: Yeah, I do.
Josh: Win this weekend, beat the Browns, and there's postseason. But it's interesting. As a Bengals fan, we're giddy for postseason berths, though we're slowly adapting to the broader "win a postseason game" that other fans are at. Steeler fans on the other hand have a much different perspective.
Neal: It's the Browns Super Bowl. It's also possibly the first meaningless Week 17 game that didn't have a playoff game after it since we beat you guys in OT in 2006.
Josh: God that sucked. Thanks for that memory.
Neal: One of my favorite football memories.
Josh: Shayne fuggin' Graham. Makes the fourth quarter field goal, and there's no overtime.
Neal: Bandwagon was empty for the last time in more than a few years. Just the hardcore fans wanting to see Cowher win one last time.
Josh: That was New Years Eve too, game played at PBS. I was in downtown and there were a lot of Steelers fans celebrating with us within ears reach. That sucked with a capital SUCK.
Neal: An ice storm went through the area in Minneapolis; rare when Minneapolis is pretty much shut down but that's what it was that night, except for the thousands of people downtown. We were going to go down there but threw an impromptu party instead.
Josh: Going back to that Sam Wyche speech, "You don't live in Cleveland", we'll never have that anymore. Wyche got on a mic, spoke to the entire crowd and it's a memory that will never be forgotten.
Neal: Yeah, no coach would even dare do that now. They purposefully disconnect themselves from the city because they know loyalty is non-existent and people will only love them if they win. No one dares become part of the city anymore. Eagles fans are perfectly happy with shipping Andy Reid out. That dude never went more than a year without going to the playoffs, but he's garbage because he finally suffered a major losing season.
Josh: Do you know how many people really want Marvin Lewis gone?
Neal: Find another coach who would have put together literally three different versions of the Bengals under Mike Brown who would have had success.
Josh: There's some sort of elixir out there apparently that I haven't found that somehow firing a head coach will automatically generate postseason wins. It's happened with the Harbaughs and Tomlin, but that's far more the exception than the rule.
Josh: Defense. Steelers No.1 vs Bengals No. 6.
Neal: The Steelers at least just tried to eek out one more year before probably having to spend a little stretch in the back of the line. Almost worked, Tomlin did a great job, but the amount of injuries, the pressure of installing a new offense with a new coordinator with the strict non-blessing of his star player and a defense that mostly had to play its way back into shape this year caught up to him at the end. And the Steelers still have a chance to make the playoffs. Baltimore is blowing a THREE GAME divisional lead with five to play. Steelers D is trending downward though. Ike Taylor went down, and the defense followed.
They didn't get sacks and turnovers, and still don't. With Taylor and Lewis, they can cover receivers well, but Green can feast in the 3-8 yard range in this game. Get him on mid crosses and stuff... gonna have a game.