September 25, 2009
By Donald Starver
This is an important week in the AFC North. All four AFC North teams will be facing opponents from within the division. The Steelers play the Bengals, and the B******* R***** play the Cleveland Browns. So this weekend will have an important impact on the final outcome of the season. After all, the most important games are division games.
Following last week’s loss to the Chicago Bears, I heard many Steelers fans say things like “The Steelers will turn it around next week with an easy win over the Bengals”. My response to that is that the team needs to be very careful. Anytime you take an opponent for granted, it can become a trap game.
Sure, the Steelers have beaten the Bengals 5 consecutive times, and swept the season series against them in both 2007 and 2008. However, this is 2009, and the Bengals look like a team on the rise.
The Bengals are 1-1, and are tied with the Steelers for 2nd place in the AFC North (1st place is held by that purple team that shall not be named).
Last week, the Bengals lit up the scoreboard in a 31-24 win over the Green Bay Packers. Carson Palmer tossed 3 touchdown passes, and Cedrick Benson rushed for 141 yards (Yeah, THAT Cedrick Benson. I couldn’t believe it either).
Both the Steelers and the Bengals seem to be playing in a bizarro universe where everything is reversed.
In most years, if I were to tell you that one of these two teams ran the ball 34 times for 151 yards while the quarterback only threw 23 times for 185 yards, you would likely assume that I was talking about the Steelers. Similarly, if I were to tell you that one of the teams has shown a pass-happy offense and has struggled to establish their running game, you would generally think I was talking about Carson Palmer and the Bengals. However, that would be in most years, but not in this strange bizarro 2009 season.
This season, the Steelers are ranked #7 in the NFL in passing while the formerly pass-happy Bengals are ranked #23 in passing. Contrarily, the historically run-oriented Steelers are ranked 28th in the league in rushing while the Bengals are ranked 12th.
Things are just as abnormal on the defensive side of the ball. The Bengals lead the NFL in sacks, while the Blitzburgh defense has only 3 sacks. The Steelers sack tandem of James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley have a grand total of zero sacks between them. That’s right, zero. Meanwhile, the Bengals’ Antwan Odom had 5 sacks last week against the Packers, and he leads the NFL with 7 sacks for the season.
Are you starting to see why I am baffled, and feel like I am living in an alternate reality where everything is reversed?
Despite their success over the Bengals for the last few years, the Steelers have to remember that Carson Palmer has battled injuries over the last few years and is finally back at full health. When he was healthy, Palmer led the Bengals to their first AFC North championship ever. So their offense should not be taken lightly.
Their once porous defense has also been upgraded. The Bengals drafted former USC linebacker Rey Maualuga, and he is already having an impact. Maualuga had a sack and forced 2 fumbles in last week’s game. The Bengals also get back another USC linebacker, Keith Rivers, who missed most of last season when he suffered a broken jaw at the hands of Hines Ward. Rumor has it that Rivers is looking for some payback on Ward.
Sunday’s game will be played in Cincinnati at Paul Brown Stadium, so the Bengals will have the home field advantage. Fortunately, Steeler Nation always infiltrates the Bengals home and transforms Cincinnati to Pittsburgh, Ohio. Once the Steelers take the lead, Bengals fans usual go completely silent, and the game sounds more like a home game for the Steelers.
Since the world as we know it seems to be turned upside down, perhaps the Cleveland Browns will defeat that Purple team that we choose not to mention, and the Steelers might emerge from this weekend tied for first place in the AFC North. But of course, the Steelers have to beat the Bengals. And that won’t be as easy as it’s been in the past.
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