2011 Preview By The Numbers: Steelers against the Cincinnati Bengals


The trouble with the Bengals is that you are never really sure which team you are going to see. Are you going to see the “Who Dey” Bengals of the one-and-done playoff teams from 2005 or 2009; or are you going to see the Bungles of 2010, who found a way to finish last in a division that includes the Cleveland Browns? This team has seen more peaks and valleys than a second-year trig student. (Who’s doing trigonometry humor? This guy, that’s who!)

In that way, the Bengals are the anti-Steelers. In the last ten years, the Steelers have won their division six times, finished second once and third three times. The Bengals, on the other hand, have finished atop the division twice, second twice, third three times, fourth twice, and sixth once (when there were still six teams in the division).

In other words, they are all over the place.

In Pittsburgh, rebuilding lasts a year, maybe two. In Cincinnati, rebuilding is a way of life.

And now, there is trouble afoot at the quarterback position as well as a number of high profile free agents who, I’m sure, would love to have a one-way ticket out of the Queen City. (As an aside, who came up with these nicknames? Baltimore is Charm City? Only if your idea of charming is a double murder while selling crack to a 10-year-old. Queen City? I would be embarrassed. I love Pittsburgh’s nicknames: The Steel City. City of Champions. Those are strong. It sounds like if you bust your hump, you might make it. Otherwise, Pittsburgh is going to grind you to a pulp. I don’t know what Pittsburgh’s motto is, but if it isn’t “Put up or shut up” it damn well should be)

Mired in the miserable season that they were, it would have been amazing if the Cats would have found a way to beat the Steelers last year. Pittsburgh took both games; 27-21 in the first game and a 23-7 blow-out in the second meeting. The first game shouldn’t have been as close as it was, but the refs tried to let the Bengals come back. Two consecutive penalties, which the NFL later declared were incorrect calls (Bad calls against the Steelers? *Sarcasm on* That never happens. *Sarcasm off*), led to a late Cedric Benson touchdown.

In the year before, however, the Bengals took advantage of the Steelers’ hangover from a dramatic Super Bowl win over the Cardinals. Cincinnati went undefeated in the division en route to a first-round beating at the hands of the New York Jets.

The Steelers have historically owned the Bengals. They have a 50-32 mark over the Cats all time, including a win in their only playoff meeting five years ago. Since 2001, the Steelers are 15-6 against the Bengals.

Let’s see what the upcoming year has in store for the hapless Bungles against the Mighty Black and Gold.

Cincinnati’s offense vs. Pittsburgh’s defense

Carson Palmer is the leader of the Bengals 13th ranked passing offense, at least for now. He has made it very clear that he will not play another game in a Bengals’ uniform, threatening to retire if he isn’t traded. It is not exaggeration to say the man is an elite quarterback, but he has been given almost no support during his six-plus years as a starter. A very durable QB, in those six years he has played every game of the season five times. He missed most of the 2008 campaign with an elbow injury. Big Ben, by way of comparison, has played in every game of a season only once in seven seasons.

In two games against the Steelers last year, Palmer was not very effective. He had 395 yards with three touchdowns, four picks, seven sacks. His average of 197.5 yards against the Steelers was well below his season average of 248.1 yards per game.

To be fair, Palmer still did not have the best weapons to throw to, despite the Bengals trying to upgrade by bringing in Terrell “Team Killer” Owens. Owens led the team with 983 yards receiving, 18th in the league, and nine touchdowns. Chad “Bigmouth” Johnson (I’m sorry, I refuse to call him Ochocinco. It’s just ridiculous) was second on the team with 831 (31st in the league) and four TDs. Those two men, however, did lead the league in talking, especially on their show, “The T-Ocho Show.” I can’t imagine any of the Steeler Faithful watching that show, but if you did, post a comment or drop me a line and let me know how terrible it was. (Twitter @PittsburghTodd)

Owens did have a nice game in the first matchup with the Steelers, going for 141 yards and two TDs. The second game was another story. He was held to 22 yards and zero touchdowns.

Johnson, who if he played anywhere near as well as he says he does would be a perrenial pro bowler, managed 86 yards in both games combined. I didn’t see the post game interviews, but I can’t imagine he had much to say after either of those games. As my father used to say, he needs to learn not to let his alligator mouth overload his squirrel ass.

The Bungles were 27th in the league in rushing. Their primary threat to run was Cedric Benson. If you have read any of these articles, or watched any of the Steelers’ games, you know that nobody ran on the Steelers last year. Benson was no exception. The Chicago cast-off probably would not be the Steelers’ backup running back, and it showed. He amassed a whopping 73 yards and one touchdown in two games against the Steel Curtain.

The Steelers defense was instrumental in the second game against the Bengals. The D outscored the Steelers’ offense in that game, 14-9, as Ben and company could not manage a touchdown against the Cats.

Cincinnati’s Defense vs. Pittsburgh’s Offense

The Cats’ defense ranked 14th against the pass and 19th against the run.

In truth, the Bengals did a pretty good job against the Steelers 14th ranked offense (by total yards per game).

Big Ben had 421 yards with one touchdown, one pick, and five sacks in those two games. The big play in the first game was Antwaan Randle El’s touchdown pass to Mike Wallace in the fourth quarter. That pass made the score 27-7, putting the game out of reach, despite the assistance the refs gave the Bengals at the end of the game.

Mike Wallace had 110 yards and a TD in the first game, with 39 of those yards coming on the pass from Randle El. Hines Ward contributed a TD in the first game and 115 yards in the second game.

The league’s 8th leading rusher, Rashard Mendenhall, played well enough for the Steelers against the Bengals. He had 165 yards and a touchdown on 40 carries in two games. That is good for 4.1 yards per carry in those two games. It is hard to argue with that kind of production, but one would like to see him getting in the end zone more often.

Plus, and this is just my opinion, 40 carries in two games doesn’t seem like enough. I would like to see ‘Shard getting more like 50 carries in two games against the Bengals. It might not sound like much, but five more carries a game at four yards per carry is another twenty yards and time off the clock.

Location, Location, Location

Before 2009, when the Bengals ran the table on the division, the last time they beat the Steelers in Cincinnati was 2001. The combined score for games between these two teams in Cincy in the last ten season is 255-171 in favor of Pittsburgh. That equates to the Black and Gold being more than a better the Bengals per game when the game is in Cincinnati.

Interestingly, when the game is played in Pittsburgh, it is a little tighter. The combined score for the same time frame for games in the ‘Burgh is 237-180, Steelers. The Bengals have four wins on the Steelers’ field since 2001.

What does this tell us? Maybe it says the Steelers take the game a little more seriously when they are on the road and the Bengals do likewise. One thing is for sure, regardless of where the game is played, the Steelers need to play their best, and not look past this team, to beat them.

My Take

The Carson Palmer situation is going to effect this matchup dramatically. While he has not been the Steelers-killer Tom Brady has been, he is still a very good quarterback and it would be a shame if he hung them up because he could not escape from the football hell known as Cincinnati.

As of this writing, it is seems very likely that the Steelers will be facing a rookie quarterback next season when they play the Bengals. Palmer has stated he will not play for the Bengals and the team is saying they will not trade him.

This is all very good news for the Steelers. If there is one thing the Steelers’ defense loves, it is playing a rookie QB.

The Bengals have a number of decisions to make about their list of free agents. Their starting running back (Benson) and their number one receiver (Owens) are both unrestricted free agents and the Bengals are notorious for not signing high priced free agents. If these two leave, along with Palmer’s retirement, this entire offense could look completely different next season.

On the defense, the Bengals have a number of important free agents as well, such as LB Dhani Jones and CB Jonathan Joseph. If the Bungles do not sign some of these guys, their defense will not even be the mediocre version it was in 2010.

What does all this mean to the Steelers? It means that no matter what happens, they must not take this team lightly. In Cincinnati, the two games against the Steelers each year are equivalent to the Super Bowl. They are always up for games against the Steelers and will play as well as they can to win. They have a passionate, if misguided, fanbase who love nothing more than to see their Cats beat the Steelers.

The numbers say you can take the Steelers in these games, but where division games are concerned, you can throw the numbers out. It all comes down to heart and who wants it more.

The Steelers always have plenty of heart and desire.