Into The Jungle
Some sports pundits and analysts have picked the Cincinnati Bengals to be the AFC representatives in Super Bowl 48, which I find on one hand to be absurd, then on the other hand probable as anything can happen in this current NFL. The absurdity of it is that Marvin Lewis has been the Head Coach of the Bengals for over 13 years now, though he has indeed soundly won the AFC North division title on a couple of occasions, he has little on his resume with respect to winning playoffs games. He has also had a roster full of talented athletes and marquee players, starting with Heisman Trophy winning USC Quarterback Carson Palmer who he drafted in the first round at the beginning of his tenure there. Marv has also had a batch of knuckle heads and goof-offs throughout his time in Cincy, many of whom have had their careers end due to imprisonment, illicit drug use, alcohol related problems, and a variety of bad behavior outside of the organization. Issues other teams have little tolerance for, however Marv has maintained his position at the top amid the turmoil. He’s also found ways to loose games in miserable fashion, bad coaching decisions late in games and simply an inability to take his team over the top. Lewis has enjoined Head Coaching immunity while wallowing in abject mediocrity, yet he is somehow seen as someone who can take his team to the big dance.
The other thing that seems a tad overblown, is the view that Andy Dalton will be a Super Bowl quarterback. As I’ve stated earlier, anything is possible in this current era of football and certainly there have been many other sub-par QB’s that have lead their teams to championships, but based on his previous playoff appearances, it would be a stretch to think Dalton will be the spark behind their success. There is however, no argument where the Bengals defense is concerned, and it is with the arrival of Defensive Coordinator Mike Zimmer who turned around a undisciplined team and subsequently saved Marv Lewis’ job. The Bengals D is sound from front to back, and it is their pro bowl tackle Geno Atkins who leads the way. It is however the addition of former Steelers MVP linebacker James Harrison, that bring the most concern in this Monday Night match-up. Harrison is a competitor, he will say the right things in the media, but when he takes the field against his old team he will be out for blood. And you can best believe this man can still play football, any talk from the Steelers camp that his injuries were a concern moving forward, or he was in the twilight of his career is simply poppycock. Look for Harrison to be a dominating force in this game, the same way he reveled in prime time match-ups throughout his time with the Black and Gold, he will embody the same passion and ferocity, if not more in week 2.
Now to our beloved Steelers, if there was ever a must win game in week two of any season for any team, it’s this 2013 version of Pittsburgh’s offense. I’ve been trying to figure out how they will possibly be able to put up points against the Bengals defense, and though it would be unfair to base a week one lose to a completely wasteful remainder of the season, it certainly doesn’t paint a rosy picture of a dynamic productive offense that can strike at any time and dominate a game. You’ll have to envision Big Ben scrambling around and doing his magic act to realistically think there will be a chance to get within’ scoring range. Problem is, there may not be many more rabbits left in Ben’s top hat. Even after the organization put a concerted efforts towards re-structuring the offense, drafting young upstart lineman and flat out saying that keeping their franchise quarterback healthy as being the key to their success moving forward, there’s little evidence that this current level of thinking is unfolding in the manner everyone had hoped. It doesn’t as much point to the individual personnel itself, as much as it does the entire roster itself. It doesn’t look as if the organization has put much credence in depth for this 2013 team, and position depth is something that is a must for every team in the NFL.
Let’s take a look at the some of the changes this team has gone through this off season. By the looks of how first round pick Jarvis Jones has performed thus far, it may be safe to say the outside linebacker position will be stable going forward. But, and I have been saying this for many years now, the middle of the defense has no bodies behind it that can come in on a moments notice and perform. To their credit, they did draft Florida linebacker Sean Spence, however the wait for him to rehab doesn’t do much for the current need at that position. After James Farrior retired that left veteran buck linebacker Larry Foote as the only viable starting option, now that he is out for the season with an injury, what is his replacements name? Veteran safety Ryan Clark is quoted as saying he’s never even heard of this guy, however no effort was made to either draft a stout middle linebacker or acquire one in a trade. But it isn’t the Steelers defense that has me worried going into this crucial game, other than the fact they stand to be spending a lot of time on the field, it is the offense that may have fans ruing an 0 – 2 start. In the same way they left the back up middle linebacker position vacant of talent, they put zero thought into what would happen if pro-bowl center Marquise Pouncey was unable to play. Where is Doug Legursky when you need him? Granted Doug was not going to make anyone forget about Dermontti Dawson or Mike Webster, but when called upon to play center he stood his ground and at least had experience playing with this team and Big Ben. Now we have another what’s his name player at the most crucial position on the entire 0-line. It wasn’t even until late in camp that they decided to try out Kelvin Beachum at center, and thankfully due to his athleticism he was at least able to get through a game without any serious foul ups, other than the usual missteps a back up center would make.
Steeler Nation will not like the negative outlook I’m portraying here, the old faithful yinzers always have hope and can always somehow think of a way the team can win. I’m actually one of the fans that stays confident in each weeks match up, and also someone who knows a team doesn’t really settle in until around week four or five of the season. However Big Ben and crew went win-less in the preseason, were unprepared for the regular season, and don’t show they have much moxie to compete not only against good teams, but the loss to the Titans implies they’ll struggle against to lower tier teams in the NFL as well. The offensive line is getting pushed around and bullied, the running game has no downhill momentum, and the passing game is inconsistent. Believe me, I hope I’m completely wrong. I’ll hope that in one weeks time the coaching staff can somehow miraculously motivate the team and have them ready to hunt bear, drive the ball down the throat of the Bengals, and win in grand style. But if you look at the current competitive state of this Steelers team, the likelihood of a victory against a sound division rival, doesn’t seem all that realistic. I hope I’m wrong…