Friday, October 19, 2012

Bengals Game Is "Must Win" For Steelers; Woodson Talks Defense

"This is a crazy season. Everybody has a couple of losses this early. We just have to pick it up and make some plays." - Mike Wallace

From your lips to God's ears.

It has been a crazy season so far. Just crazy enough to keep the playoff hopes of a 2-3 Pittsburgh Steelers squad alive. A squad that has yet to win a road game, meaning that those hopes can be elevated or dashed depending on the outcome Sunday at the Cincinnati Bengals.

So many things are needed Sunday night to overcome the team's road woes and to take advantage of there being only two AFC teams with a winning record through six weeks. And there things in all three phases of the game that need attention if the Steelers are to have a chance to win.

ALOHA, MAUALUGA:

Most all of the Bengals pressure and sacks this season have come from the front four of their defense. Those being defensive ends Michael Johnson (6'7" 270lbs) and Carlos Dunlap (6'6" 280lbs), and defensive tackles Geno Atkins (6'1" 300lbs) and Domata Peko (6'3" 307lbs).

They are all formidable and have the majority of the Bengals 20 sacks, with Atkins (six) and Johnson (five) leading the charge with 11 sacks between them...the exact number of sacks of the entire Steelers defense.

That being the case, the Steelers should look to keep middle linebacker Rey Maualuga, who isn't exactly off to a great start this season, closer to the box by running up the middle again on offense.

Being able to utilize an effective (not great, just effective) middle-run game will help keep Maualuga and the rest of the linebackers out of Cover-2 and it will keep them honest. That, then will also help to keep excess pressure from that defensive line off of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. In doing so, the Steelers might also look to employ some 12-personnel packages to help Max Starks and especially Mike Adams who'll have their hands full on the edges.

Exposing them down the seam can be accomplished as can getting Heath Miller singled up. I also like Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace against their defensive backs all day. When they're in the Nickel, Pacman Jones could have his power pellets gobbled up very easily by Emmanuel Sanders.

It all hinges, though, on being able to make the Bengals respect the running of Jonathan Dwyer, of whom Rashard Mendenhall said, "he's ready," and Baron Batch.

I said that they need to run it effectively up the middle, yes, but not on first down. They're running on first down has been less than stellar this season. Passing more on first downs would not only help against the Bengals, but also against whomever they play until Mendy is back and completely healthy.

One last thing to consider is that the Steelers have addressed the issue of dressing eight offensive linemen Sunday night.

If Pouncey, who's listed as questionable, dresses and John Malecki is activated from the practice squad and dresses, there are your eight. We'll know by Saturday. The O-Line, as well as the rest if the offense, was addressed by offensive coordinator Todd Haley on Thursday. - http://tinyurl.com/9r33wwb

UPDATE: Right after the Steelers got a two-week roster exemption for the suspension of rookie nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu, which will last past Ta'amu's Oct. 24 hearing, the Steelers signed G Jacques McClendon, a fourth-round draft pick in 2010 out of Tennessee by Colts, to the practice squad. They signed defensive end Corbin Bryant to roster and released tight end Jamie McCoy.

Now, just days later due to the Pouncey injury, the Steelers posted to their official Twitter sight that they've promoted center/guard John Malecki to the active roster and subsequently release Corbin Bryant. (Ed Bouchette surmises that it means Pouncey is likely out.) http://t.co/0l2DY3dJ

TREAT GINGER LIKE GILLIGAN:

Who's the best quarterback in the state of Ohio? Ben Roethlisberger. He's 14-2 in Ohio (Bengals and Browns) completing over 63% of his passes, while throwing 21 TDs with a 93.8 passer rating.

I point that out right here because of one of the things that defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau spoke of in the Coordinators Corner link provided. The fact that Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, as both LeBeau and James Harrison said, he's "accurate....can make every throw out there."

He can, though, can be confused and caused to force passes - he has thrown nine interceptions already this season. Causing the Bengals to become one-dimensional is paramount Sunday.

When Dalton throws over 35 passes and the running attempts drop, the Bengals have lost. Accept for the opening night Ravens game, when their running attempts are high, they've won. The difference in the Baltimore game was that they were in it until the Ed Reed pick six. Then the Bengals had to pass more which opened the floodgates.

Confusing him has not only led to nine interceptions this season, but also to 17 sacks. Throw in that Benjarvus Green-Ellis has also put the ball on the ground three times, forcing will be very important. Not to mention that those turnovers and sacks keeps the cornerbacks from being beaten too often.

The principal part of that equation is of course A.J. Green. Green will catch anything thrown anywhere in his radar. He is at least top three in absolutely every viable NFL wide receiver category. He's the real deal and Ike Taylor, despite his protestations otherwise, will need help over the top. If not, it will be a very long day.

As we've already written, the Steelers defense ranks 31st in 3rd down conversions allowed, but that might be balanced by the Bengals being last in the league at converting 3rd downs. Sort of the resistible force meets the moveable object.

So, that highlights Ike's and Harrison's candid statements this week, with Ike's being a touch more skewed, about the defense needing to step up make themselves accountable. That will be extremely necessary Sunday night. - http://ifitaintsteel.blogspot.com/2012/10/james-harrison-and-ike-taylor-talk.html

SPECIAL ED TEAMS:

Somewhere Al Everest is smiling...

In kickoff coverage, the Steelers rank 25th in the NFL with opponents starting at the 23-yard line on average. Stopping someone for a change would be a great help.

They themselves rank 16th, with an average start at the 21.6 yard-line. Chris Rainey's return average of 27.0 is tied for 12th.

Drew Butler has a net punting average of 37.3 which ranks 28th in the NFL and has suffered a blocked punt. But, the Steelers won a Super Bowl with Mitch Berger, so I won't kill Butler just yet.

Antonio Brown has had a couple of great returns called back, and so only ranks 17th in the league with an 8.0 average. Stop the penalties and he could turn that around in no time.

Putting this all together would be the recipe for finally getting into the win column on the road. According to the site http://makenflplayoffs.com/, the Steelers have a 27.2% chance of making the playoffs as of right now, meaning that losing again would be the beginning of the end. That makes this a must win game for the Steelers.

So, if they are able to bring all of this fruition, I could still see a higher scoring game. If the Steelers win, it'd be a 31-27 type of game.

TIDBITS: Speaking of the Ike Taylor vs. A.J. Green duel as I was earlier, Steelers legend Rod Woodson was on 93.7 The Fan last week and, among other things, had some advice for Ike on how he could help himself to rectify his problems this season by simply getting "back to basics." (Yo, Swag, he's one of the best all-time and is a Hall of Famer. I'd listen.) - http://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/2012/10/17/hall-of-famer-rod-woodson-examines-steelers-defensive-issues/

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Steelers Injury Report: Mendenhall, Redman, Carter, Gilbert, Troy all ruled out for Sunday. Pouncey is questionable. Johnson and Timmons are probable.

Bengals injury report: RB Leonard doubtful; WR Binns & CB Kirkpatrick questionable; WR Hawkins, LB Muckelroy, DT Still and G Zeitler all probable.

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If you think illegal steroids and HGH don't exist in the NFL, you're very naiv...aw, hell, you're just stupid. The Steelers aren't any better or worse regarding these things than anyone else. It's something that exists in the NFL. Period. I'll let you make any further decisions on your own: http://tinyurl.com/9f3xzzm

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Hines is a grown and single man and can do whatever...and whomever...he wants. Plus, the guy who tried this was just dumb. - http://tinyurl.com/976xv4s

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On the flip side...a feel good story of Chris Rainey and the Pounceys: "Football gave me a family." - http://video.today.msnbc.msn.com/today/49476108

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Curtain closing on Pittsburgh Steelers? - http://tinyurl.com/8tdbq8m

ESPN Video: Countdown Daily Prediction: Steelers-Bengals - http://tinyurl.com/9kledy7