Here at Steelers Gab, we try to get to know the enemy of who we are playing Monday night. So with that, we present 5 questions with BengalsGab.com editor Eric McMackin.
1. This team has not gotten off to the fast start like a season ago – why?
That’s what the entire Bengal community is trying to figure out right now. “Who is to blame?” has been a recurring theme throughout Bengal nation these past few weeks. Some say Palmer just doesn’t have it anymore. Others say it’s the running game, or penalties, or that the defense has underperformed. Then there’s the predictable blame placed on the arrival of T.O., and as always, Mike Brown, who gets blame from some rabid fans for everything. The fact is that all of these may have particular merit, but the real reason the Bengals have struggled has been simply a lack of heart. They were overconfident in losing to New England in week one, then gutted out solid wins against Baltimore and Carolina before getting overconfident and undisciplined in losses to Cleveland and Tampa Bay. They had both of those games in hand but gave them away late. They had opportunities to win at Atlanta and versus Miami, but again failed to deliver at crunch time. When the game is on the line, they just don’t make the plays. The team lacks heart, discipline, and killer instinct—things that Pittsburgh always has in abundance.
2. At 2-5, is this truly a “do or die” game for the Bengals, or even with a loss do you think they can rebound?
This is definitely a “do or die” game for Cincinnati. At 2-5, they have to hope for 3-5 at the turn, and then will need to finish 6-2 down the home stretch just to secure a winning record at 9-7—which many not even get them into the playoffs. They still must face Pittsburgh twice, Baltimore once, Indy, New Orleans, and the Jets during that stretch. Seems like too tough mountain to climb—especially when lacking those essential qualities I mentioned earlier.
3. Do you think the team is running the ball enough? Ced Benson’s rushing per game is down from 96.2 to 77.9, and they don’t seem to have the same success rushing in 2010
I think they are committing to the run, but they aren’t getting enough out of it. The offensive line, which was the biggest surprise in 2009’s success, has faltered mightily. They are having difficulty maintaining blocks, which has absolutely killed the run game. They’ve tried to go more no-huddle, and in my mind at least, the run game is more effective in that environment where the defense is on their heels and has to play base schemes due to lack of time for substitutions and play calling.
4. Is Marvin Lewis a coach on the hot seat? If the team finishes say 3rd or last in the North, will he be back in 2011?
Lewis is unsigned for 2011, so in essence he’s a lame duck coach. Owner Mike Brown has apparently approached him about an extension, and Lewis has rebuffed those efforts to date. Speculation is that he’s either ready to hang it up, or he’s vying for more control over personnel decisions. Either way, Lewis was certainly in a better negotiating position in July than now. It might be easy enough now for Brown to just let Lewis walk. Marvin Lewis will always hold a special place in my heart for helping the Bengals become competitive after almost two decades of non-stop failure under the likes of David Shula, Bruce Coslet, and Dick Lebeau. He brought in a fresh perspective and challenged the old-school establishment in Cincinnati in a positive way. Having said that, his overall record is now under .500, and in seven years there have only been 2 playoff appearances with no playoff victories. It might be best for both the team and the man to move on at this point.
5. Final score prediction and why
The Bengals can beat Pittsburgh, and being at home, with their backs against the wall on Monday Night Football will help them a lot. They’ve found their greatest offensive success using the 3-wide receiver sets and the no-huddle offense, which has always been their most effective way of attacking the Steelers. However, for the upset to happen the offensive line will need to play its best game of the year in containing the Steeler pass rush, and the defense must get better pressure on the quarterback. Big Ben will slice them up without a consistent rush. While I think the Bengals can win this game, and could breathe some life into their season, I wouldn’t bet on it. I’d say the Steelers win this one by ten to fourteen points, pulling away in the fourth quarter after a competitive first half. Call it 31-20 for the black and gold.