Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Steelers-Bengals Preview

Okay folks, with the Steelers and Bengals playing Tomorrow (Thursday) in Pittsburgh, naturally, I am headed to Cincinnati for the weekend. Doesn't sound quite as dumb as it seems, though, as I am off to see my beloved Pitt Panthers in that great all-time college football matchup known only as The River City Rivalry. With that in mind, I am traveling most of the day tomorrow, and likely won't get into Cincy until just before the game, so here is my preview for tomorrow night's game. Obviously, any info that breaks tomorrow will not be in here, so forgive the lapse in info. I will have a preview of the Panthers huge game Saturday evening up sometime Thursday night of Friday morning. For now, enjoy this little preview, and wish me luck in coming home victorious.

Thursday the Steelers and Bengals become the latest installment in the continued efforts of the NFL to shove their NFL Network down our throats. Look guys, our cable bills are high enough, we don't want the NFL Network year round, and even then, if not having your Network means we miss a few Thursday night games, I think you are grossly overplaying your hand. The NFL is the most ridiculously over-analyzed league to ever exist. Every Sunday morning three different networks put together pre-game shows for us with about 15 analysts a pop, and every Sunday night two networks put together recap shows following games while two others put on all-out highlight shows. If we miss out on the NFL Network, I think we can survive. And for the real sickos who want to see the results of the NFL Combine and unbelievably pointless pre-draft coverage, mini-camp coverage, and training camp coverage, I have this message: Get a life! If you can't get all the information you require regarding this league over the internet then you just aren't trying hard enough and there's no two ways about it.

Anywho, on to our preview of this evening's little matchup on the North Shore.

Random Thoughts
-Willie Parker wants to get back to "Steeler Football" meaning, of course, an overly steady dose of the ground game. Frankly, I wouldn't mind seeing this myself. I'm not saying I want the old days back where our Franchise QB would throw the ball 11 times in a game while the offense controlled the clock for 40 minutes with 20 consecutive run plays in the second half. We don't have that kind of team anymore, and with Roethlisberger, there is no need for it either. Still, if Willie shows early on in games that he can produce like he did against San Diego a few days ago, I would be all for giving them a steady dose of Willie and mixing in the promising power back Gary Russell and the shockingly productive Mewelde Moore.

-I think everyone is going to be keeping a close eye on Hines Ward and the Bengals defenders early on in this game. Ward is not one to be too worried about this type of thing, and he is also not going to be the least bit intimidated by the Bengals openly pining to get a piece of him, so you can be sure he will look to deliver a thunderous hit or two early on in the game. The Bengals defenders, for their part will certainly have their heads on a swivel, and if Hines is out in front on a run play or goes across the middle, there could certainly be some extra-curricular activity in the works. These teams haven't liked each other for some time and with the Bungles having nothing to lose, this thing could get chippy if the refs don't do their jobs.

-For all the great things James Harrison has done and the impressive statistics he has posted, I just recently re-watched Sunday's Chargers game and there were some egregious non-holding calls that hurt Harrison. I'll be looking at this game with a watchful eye to see if the refs keep a closer eye on it, because hopefully these moments have been pointed out to them pre-game.

-While William Gay certainly was no Champ Bailey in his first NFL start, he hardly embarassed himself out there. This may not sound like a big deal, but it signifies just how deep this Steeler secondary really is, that there 4th corner can go out and put together a solid stint in his first career start is truly remarkable, and shows that corner, and not linebacker or running back, is probably the deepest position on the roster.

-Two key matchups for the game:
TJ Houshmandzadeh vs. Ike Taylor/ William Gay: In years past, it was Taylor matching up exclusively with Chad Eight Five, but this season Housh has been undoubtedly the Bengals top receiver, and really their only consistent weapon. While I don't expect that to mean that Taylor will be matched up exclusively against the Rat Tail, he certainly will see some time. Factor in that Gay is still a relative newbie at playing every snap and that Housh has been a Steeler killer all his career, and Housh is the key to any monster upset the Bungles may try to pull.

LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison vs. The Bungles excuse for an O-Line: Cincy has given up a downright shocking 38 sacks this season. They make the Steelers O-Line look like a fortress by comparison. And of course, Woodley and Harrison are the ultimate dynamic duo of sack mastery. This game could well end up with the family members of Bengals QBs Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jordan Palmer being called in to identify the disfigured remains.

-It has been speculated from numerous Steeler sources that the strategy from last week's game against the Chargers, tons of short, safe, underneath passes and almost zero downfield activity, was a result of Ben Roethlisberger's lack of arm strength due to his injury. Certainly, this makes sense, as Big Ben showed a bit of difficulty in putting serious zip on the ball, but I think there could be more to it. If you watched that game in person, as this was not as evident on TV I don't think, the safeties for the Chargers spent all night playing deep, almost like a prevent type D. As always happens, this left the area across the middle and short very wide open. I think that this was every bit as much a factor in the game plan as anything. It will be interesting to see if this is how the Steelers offense works early in the Bengal game, as I highly doubt that the Bengals will even remotely be as strangely passive as the Chargers were.

-With all this said, this game has all of the makings of an old-school division rival embarassment. The Steelers linebackers are going to be feasting on Ryan Fitzpatrick all night, the Bengals have possibly the worst running game in football, and their receivers are definitely talented but have underachieved. For the Steelers offense, they have had only one real weakness all season, and that has been the continued struggle of the offensive line to keep Ben Roethlisberger on his feet. This doesn't figure to be nearly as difficult Thursday night, though, as the Bengals lowly pass rush has generated just 11 sacks all season long. The matchup just looks too heavily one-sided in our beloved Black and Gold's favor, and so while I don't usually pick games to be cakewalks, I'm going to take the risk and go for it here: Steelers 35 Bengals 7

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