To say the rivalry between the Bengals and the Steelers reached a new level last year would be a massive understatement. Whether it was Cincinnati stealing a victory at Heinz Field in Week 8, Andy Dalton breaking his thumb the Week 14 rematch, or the brutal Bengals Wild Card loss at home at Paul Brown Stadium, emotions hit an all-time high with what transpired in the three head-to-head matchups last season.
It wasn't all on-field instances that contributed to the growing animosity, though. Social media barbs were exchanged by players from both teams, who publicly expressed their respective sour grapes from the results of each 2015 contest, furthering the divide between each squad and their fan bases. Shortly after their season ended, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis placed the blame on himself for not taking a more assertive role when things began spiraling out of control.
"Unfortunately, the social media stuff let things get out of hand," ESPN's Coley Harvey recently relayed while re-visiting some of Lewis' comments from back in January. "I was negligent in not understanding all of that until it was too late. I apologized to our players for that after the first time around. I didn't realize it was going on like that. I thought it was chatter, no big deal. But some people think it's more significant than others."
While Harvey relayed many of the important facets in how the rivalry has arrived at the state it's in today, one chronological oversight back in 2008 contributed to the hatred. Then-rookie linebacker Keith Rivers was clocked by Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward on a questionable play, subsequently breaking his jaw, ending his season and sending his career into a tailspin.
Regardless, Harvey properly outlined the major instances of how the rivalry got to where it is today. And while Lewis taking culpability is something most Bengals fans can get behind, is he a primary reason for the issues?
On one hand, a head coach should not only have control of his team, but also should take public responsibility for locker room issues, as Lewis did back in January. If you watched the two instances the Bengals were on HBO's "Hard Knocks" documentary, you would have noticed Lewis preaching social media responsibility to his teams during training camp meetings. Why then, would Lewis brush off player concerns that Harvey relayed in his recent post?
However, many of these actions are from NFL veterans and not teenagers just entering college. The players have gone through seminars warning them of the pitfalls of actions on social media, and two of the public enemies, Vontaze Burfict and Adam Jones, are familiar with suspensions from on-field actions (well, Burfict will be this season as he sits out Weeks 1-3).
It also takes two to tango, right? The Steelers have engaged the Bengals on multiple fronts, whether it's from inexplicable actions by their coaches, or players publicly calling out guys like Jones and Burfict. Mike Tomlin is a fiery guy himself, and he has had some questionable antics of his own (tripping Jacoby Jones, anyone?), so he might be up there with Lewis in the blame department.
Where do you place the blame for the current state of the Bengals-Steelers rivalry?