It was to date unmistakably the low point of this Steelers season - Pittsburgh went into Paul Brown Stadium and, thanks to a second half chock full of careless errors, handed a Bengals team the legitimacy it craved to establish with the rest of the NFL.
Granted, the Bengals made all the huge plays that had to be made late to squeak out that win, including an incredibly clutch 4th down catch and run by Brian Leonard deep in Steelers territory. But the Steelers should not have lost that game, nor even let the Bengals get close. And as a team that has appreciably improved its play since that game, Pittsburgh should not lose this Sunday either.
The are several reasons to be optimistic for this game. It's at home. Unlike the first Bengals game, Troy Polamalu is playing. Limas Sweed won't have a chance to drop touchdown passes, because Mike Wallace has more than ably assumed his spot on the depth chart. And Willie Parker, who put up easily his best game of the season against Cincy with 93 yards rushing and a TD catch, has given way to a back capable of inflicting much more damage on a defense. And while Aaron Smith is gone from the Steelers for the season, the Bengals have since lost Antwan Odom, Roy Williams and Chris Henry. Not to mention that vengeful linebacker Keith Rivers is likely to be out for this game as well. Meanwhile, Lawrence Timmons returns for the Steelers, though Travis Kirschke is looking to miss his second straight.
While Cedric Benson didn't get to the 100 plateau in the first game in Paul Brown, he certainly didn't have a bad game either, averaging 4.8 yards over 16 carries. Even though they won, the Bengals are playing into the Steelers hands in most circumstances if they're holding Benson under 20 carries when he's that effective. I wouldn't expect them to duplicate that mistake on Sunday.
Though the Bengals rush D is statistically ranked second only to the Steelers through nine weeks, their pass defense remains among the bottom eight in the NFL. Jonathan Joseph had an outstanding game against the Ravens, but he's still isn't a guy you have to be terrified of when running your passing game. That and the Steelers receivers are bit more difficult to defend than Derrick Mason and his purple-clad band of scrubs. Yes, he was the one who recorded the pick-six in the first game, though that was more the result of Santonio running the wrong route and the ball coming directly to him. By and large, he and Leon Hall have been exploited by these receivers handily in the past.
As I mentioned in the recap of the Broncos game, I thought the Steelers were way too vanilla on offense early last week, perhaps reasoning that they would have to counteract an attacking Broncos defense. And while more of the hurry-up would be nice to see, at least trying to play action sometime before midway through the 2nd quarter is probably an advisable tactic.
The O-line played well in Week 3, allowing only one sack. The Steelers pass rush, meanwhile, had only two to its credit, though Palmer is typically not one to take a great many of them.
And, of course, coming off a big week against the Ravens (despite carelessly fumbling twice - though one was negated by penalty) Ocho is doing his thing. He wanted to send the Steelers mustard because HARF HARF HARF they play in the ketchup stadium. A lapidary wit, that Ocho. As I cited before the Week 3 game, Ocho has three career TDs in 17 career games against the Steelers. it'll likely be three in 18 games after Sunday. He can make as many cheeky little signs about it being illegal to cover him one-on-one as he wants, but Ike Taylor finds a way to consistently shut him down. If William Gay can deal with Coles and Troy does his thing with Andre Caldwell, it'll be another game that's the Steelers to win.