There has been a war of words this week between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals players, but the truth is, the bigger news is found on the football field. As they face-off in The Queen City this Sunday for an important game in both the division and the conference standings, both teams are using injuries to fuel their bad blood.
Recently, the good folks over at The Keystone Sports Beat radio program had me on their radio broadcast to talk about the game, including analysis on some of the storylines behind all the player chatter. We discussed this all-important game for both teams, as each they have the playoffs in focus.
"I said, during the week, that this, right now, probably has the two teams, in my opinion, that have the fewest questions. Do you think that's fair?," Tripp asked me to start off the interview.
"Yeah, I guess I'd say so. I think, and I'm sure I'll be labeled as being a little bit biased, I think more so for the Bengals. I think on their roster one through 53, in terms of players, they're the most solid. They might be the most solid roster in the NFL. I mean, you heard Rodney Harrison and Tony Dungy from NBC last Sunday night, actually make that statement that they are the most complete team in the league. But, we all know their January issues and now the Bengals are facing a few injuries in the secondary--it's really the first time this season they have faced the injury bug. The Steelers obviously have a very potent offense, though I think there are some questions on the back end of their defense and obviously Le'Veon Bell being hurt, but they're a very good team as well."
"Alright, you said it: the Bengals are banged up in the secondary and they're playing arguably the best receiving corps in football, is that the big story going into this game?"
"I think so. Aside from the trash-talking and chatter that's starting to ensue this week, and really since the Bell injury a few weeks back when the teams faced off the first time, that's a story of its own. But, yeah, you've got Adam Jones, probably their best cornerback on the roster, he's battling a foot injury. He initially said he was out, had a cast on the foot, then randomly had it removed this week. Starting safety George Iloka, who has been playing pretty well this year, didn't practice Wednesday or Thursday because of a groin issue. You've got Darqueze Dennard, the first round pick from last year, who started to flash some good things this year, he's now on Injured Reserve, and now you've got some rookies and other guys like Josh Shaw, the fourth round pick this year, and undrafted rookie free agent Troy Hill now on the active roster. The Bengals might be forced to use them often this Sunday against that formidable receiving group Pittsburgh throws out there."
"No matter how the Bengals finish the season, there is always going to be that black cloud hanging over their heads heading into the postseason and that is Andy Dalton," Tripp continued. "Are you seeing a guy continuing to develop and that hopefully something different in the postseason this year, or do we have to wait and find out?"
"I think it's both," I replied. "He's progressed incredibly well this season. You're seeing throws, him make throws and be the most comfortable he's been in his five years as a professional quarterback. And part of that is due to the offensive line play and the full plethora of weapons he has back healthy to throw to. But, part of that is he's scrambling around when plays break down and instead of forcing a throw back across the middle or into coverage, he's either tucking and running the ball or he's throwing it away and living to play another down. I think that's something you didn't see too often from Dalton in previous years. Even in this team's losses this year against the Texans and Cardinals, he's still played pretty well. It wasn't so great against Houston, but on the road against Arizona, he still put up some stats and that's a game they lost by just three points on the road against a good Cardinals team. So, I think he's playing markedly better this year than he has been in other seasons, but those two losses were in primetime, so that's going to be the stage when the playoffs are coming around here. Will Dalton and the team play like they have the past few years? Or, will they play like they have throughout much of this regular season and be that different team that we have seemed to have seen so far?"
Listen to the full interview below.