All of the AFCN is tied right now, but this weekend, that all changes as the Ravens face the Browns and the Steelers travel to Cincinnati. Who will survive the battle? Hard to say since none of the teams showed many bright spots opening week.
But let’s take a look at the Steelers - Bengals matchup.
Yesterday on “Mike and Mike,” former Ravens linebacker turned ESPN NFL analyst Ray Lewis said he doesn’t recognize the Steelers right now.
Lewis said that the Steelers have gotten away from what has traditionally defined them: hard-nosed football. “They are a totally different team,” said Lewis.
Lewis claims the offensive side of the ball is where there has been pronounced change as the Steelers have targeted “smaller, quicker” wide receivers in recent years.
I’m not sure if Ray noticed, but that same thing can be said about the whole League. The game has changed. The read option, the passing game and mobile quarterbacks are the focus across the entire NFL right now. There are few teams that play the same kind of hard-nosed football on offense that the Steelers had been known for.
However, don’t sleep on the defense which is still physical and will continue to play tough.
While the defense has an opportunity to shine Monday night - especially since Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton is 1-3 against the Steelers - let’s hope the offense steps up to play their role as well.
When asked about facing the Steelers Monday night, Dalton said, "This is the first division game. You kind of want to set the tone for how we're going to play and what type of team we're going to be.
"And this is a great week to do that," he added.
But if the Steelers shut down A.J Green and take him out of the offense, the Bengals don’t have much. It will be a difficult game for Dalton if Green is covered well. Big night and opportunity for Ike Taylor to step up and do his job well.
In other defensive news, Jarvis Jones and Jason Worilds are splitting snaps in practice, expect to see both of them on the field Monday night. The defense really kept the Steelers alive (if you want to call it that) last week. This week the offense needs to really show leadership.
Let’s start with what I have dubbed the Steelers Woe Line. Can the Steelers win without Pouncey? Yes. But it won’t be easy. Kevin Beachum is listed as starting center for Monday, but don’t be surprised if Velasco lines up instead. The Steelers really need Beachum in that TE blocking spot, where he was prior to Pouncey’s injury, to make up for losing Heath Miller.
Velasco, signed just this week, said there’s not a lot of difference in how the Steelers operate the line compared to the Titans.
"There's a little bit difference in terminology," Velasco said. "The coaches are doing a real good job catching me up, even the players. Ramon Foster is doing an awesome job helping me."
Ramon Foster, who lines up at left guard, helps make the calls on the line of scrimmage, along with the center.
The O-Line performance will determine the game in my opinion. They really need to step in order to set up the run game, which so far doesn’t really exist.
Prior to the season, I had an opportunity to talk to Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk about the Steelers running game. He said, “Dwyer and redman are both guys you can plug in, but not guys to carry the load.”
He said that the Steelers really shouldn’t even be looking for anyone to carry the load, they paid Ben $100 million and hired who he referred to as “passing game guru” Todd Haley. Faulk went on to say that the running game is not the Steelers identity anymore, but they are struggling with that transition.
Faulk said, “I used to look at the steelers as that team that lined up and ran the ball down your throat, but they have an elite quarterback in Ben and they need to throw the ball.”
“When you look at elite quarterbacks like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers - we know they are going to throw the ball, and it doesn’t matter, they get it done.” That’s what he thinks Ben needs to do, throw the ball and get it done.
He added “Yyou are what you practice against and the Steelers don’t practice smashmouth football anymore - so when you see Ray Rice run down the gut play after play it is because the defense doesn’t practice against that.”
Faulk said, “Mike Tomlin is a master motivator but I do not buy that Ben and Haley are on the same page, I am just not buying it.”
Let’s take a quick look at who Ben is throwing the ball to - Emmanuel Sanders led the Steelers with seven catches, but the deep one that got away could have made a difference in what led to the Titans victory. On the first series and holding a 2-0 lead, Roethlisberger dropped back from the 41 and threw deep down the right side. The ball glanced off Sanders' outstretched hands at the Titans 15 yard line. Steeler Nation has not been forgiving for that error. This week, Sanders has called it “Redemption Monday” and I hope that statement is true.
Cotchery made some key catches and Antonio Brown was somewhat quiet. The key is giving Ben enough time to throw the ball. It all leads back to the O-line.
This week, the Steelers will also see former team mate James Harrison. Harrison told the Post-Gazette "It's really not hard to switch allegiances," Harrison said. "It's about where I'm making my money. Y'all can't seem to understand that concept. It's a job. Yeah, I enjoyed the guys I worked with. I'm thankful for everything they did for me and what the Rooneys did for me.
"But, right now, I'm with the Bengals and I'm going to put everything I have into helping the Bengals win just like I did when I was with the Steelers."
And with that, Harrison is right. as much as I hate to throw out this prediction, I think the Bengals win 20-14.
The Steelers could really start the season 0-2.
In the past, teams that have dropped the first two games of the season rarely make it to playoffs and beyond.
Doesn’t bode well for us Steeler Nation.