Saturday, December 03, 2011

Saturday Preview: The Bengals, Again

A.J. Green hauling in a touchdown reception.
Just three weeks ago, Joey Porter's Pit Bulls offered a Saturday Preview of the Cincinnati Bengals, and here we are again. Since that Nov. 13 game vs. the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium, the Steelers have played one game and the Bengals two.

The Steelers enjoyed a week off before Thanksgiving and more or less took the next week off, too, narrowly squeaking by the woefully inept and injury-depleted Kansas City Chiefs last Sunday night.  The Bengals played two tough games, a narrow loss at Baltimore and a narrow win at home over Cleveland.

The Bengals are gaining confidence and will be a tough game for the Steelers tomorrow.

Following their loss to the Steelers at home on Nov. 13, the Bengals were crowing about how their defense adjusted to what the Steelers were doing on offense, and how defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer's front seven rotation kept their defense fresh and their pass rush stoked.

Antonio Brown vs. Cincinnati, Nov. 13.
Think the Steelers might use more no-huddle at Heinz Field?  It would make sense. Going no-huddle or hurry-up would limit defensive replacements in the Bengals defensive rotation. Last time, the Steelers waited until the third quarter before going no-huddle. When they finally did, the no-huddle gave them a shot of energy and led to the decisive touchdown.

Looking back, it is understandable, perhaps, that Mike Tomlin and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians were reluctant to go no-huddle on the road last Sunday at noisy Arrowhead Stadium and the week before at Paul Brown Stadium, even with its healthy contingent of fans in Black 'n Gold. This time? This time the Steelers are at home. We would like to see the no-huddle early and often.

The Bengals' Offense
In the first game, running back Cedric Benson had only 15 carries. Maybe Marvin Lewis and offensive coordinator Jay Gruden outsmarted themselves by not running the ball more. Coaches do that.

Yes, the Steelers jumped to an early 14-0 lead, which forced the Bengals had to play catch-up, but they had plenty of time. Big Ben threw a first-half iinterception that helped the Bengals stay in the game, and Cincinnati tied the score with their first drive of the third quarter, so there was indeed plenty of time for them to operate.

We might see more emphasis on the run tomorrow. As noted on this blog before the first match-up, the Bengals have three very good running backs, each of whom has had success against the Steelers.  Cedric Benson, Bernard Scott and Brian Leonard can play, and Marvin Lewis would be foolish to not use them.

On the other hand, the Bengals also have some excellent receivers, starting with first-round draft choice Adriel Jeremiah Green -- A.J. Green -- who is merely awesome. With his height, wingspan, reach, hands, speed and body control, Green evokes comparisons to Detroit's Calvin Johnson, Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald and Houston's Andre Johnson. Green already is Cincinnati's best receiver, and he's only getting better, but the Bengals have several other cats who can play, too.

Andrew Hawkins
In his Tuesday news conference, Mike Tomlin singled out 25-year-old rookie Andrew Hawkins, who had a coming-out party of sorts against the Steelers, with five catches for 56 yards. Hawkins is very quick-fast, which makes him ideal for the slot receiver position he now plays. Hawkins, a native of Johnstown , Pa., played four years at the University of Toledo and two years in the Canadian Football League. He has found a home in Cincinnati, and the Steelers will have to account for him. Too bad.

Apparently, Andrew Hawkins could have been a Steeler, at least according to his older brother, Artrell Hawkins, who played defensive back for the Steelers briefly a few years ago and helped coach the Steelers secondary this past training camp as an intern.  Artrell says the Steelers had no interest in his little (5'7") brother. They'd better take an interest in him tomorrow, and Tomlin's comments in Tuesday's news conference indicate that he has their attention.

According to, after that first game, "The Steelers told Artrell that Troy Polamalu went to defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and urged him, "Get us out of this fire zone (blitz) and give me something I can sit on," because of Hawkins’s speed. Then when Green went down, that package was gone because Hawkins had to go to the slot while Caldwell went to the outside."

Other Bengals receivers pose problems, too, particularly deep threat Jerome Simpson and tight end Jermaine Grisham. Possession receiver Andre Caldwell, whom we wanted the Steelers to draft a couple years ago out of the University of Florida, has hurt the Steelers before. He has good hands, a knack for getting open and is a good blocker.

So, yes, with Andy Dalton leading the way, the Bengals have plenty of firepower on offense, and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is excellent at getting the most out of his squad, particularly his talented and deep front seven. The Steelers had trouble handling Cincinnati's pass rush last time, when the Bengals notched five sacks. The Steelers are going to have to do better tomorrow, but they should know what to expect. 

This game is no gimme, and make no mistake: This is a must-win game.