If it weren't for Jordan Shipley's hands of stone, the Steelers would have suffered a loss to the Bengals in Cincinnati earlier this season that was eerily similar to the one that lost in Paul Brown Stadium the year before.
That wouldn't have been possible were it not for Terrell Owens going off for a 10-catch, 141-yard, two-touchdown performance to make what seemed like a salted away win into a near-defeat. Owens accounted for more than half of Carson Palmer's passing yards and routinely torched William Gay.
While Gay has played far, far better in the games since, he really has no business guarding Owens for the better part of a game. It wasn't until late - almost too late - that Ike Taylor was moved to cover Owens in the first contest.
Hold T.O. in check and the rest falls into place. The Bengals can't run on the Steelers. Ocho never does anything against Pittsburgh. And Carson Palmer isn't good enough to make teams pay in any other way. Somehow I doubt him going to Jermaine Gresham is going to be a force enough to swing a game in their favor.
Remember when Mike Zimmer was hailed all throughout last season and this past offseason as the latest emergent defensive guru in the league? He even had a sympathetic personal story to draw more admiration his way. Too bad, then, that the Bengals are 28th in points allowed and 20th in overall yardage.
Of course, the offensive line problems being what they are, it doesn't necessarily even require a good defense to hold the Steelers offense in check. The Buffalo game with its myriad penalties and Kyle Williams domination should be evidence enough of that. Thankfully Flozell is expected to start on Sunday, which didn't seem likely in the immediate aftermath of the win over the Ravens. So no Trai Essex adventure, thankfully.
Cincinnati gave the Saints a scare at home last week, but the Bungles are riding a nine-game slide, which is bad enough even to force Ocho to momentarily go into silent mode. That might also have to do with his dreadful one-catch performance in the first meeting in Paul Brown Stadium.
For all the aggravation caused by Bruce Arians' red zone playcalling last week, I was encouraged by some of the quick throws to Mike Wallace at the line. It's basically what the team used to often use with Santonio and is almost always good for at least 10 yards or so when the defense is playing back to protect against the deep pass. Far preferable to constant bubble screens to Hines. It will be interesting to see whether they continue to go to that to set up the long pass. Wallace had a good stat line against the Bengals in Week 9, though that looks that much better with him making a great play on an iffy gadget touchdown pass by Antwaan Randle El.
The Steelers were doing a serviceable job running the ball against the Ravens until Flozell and Heath went down and the ground game completely went to shit. Hopefully having Flozell back (though somewhat hampered) and Spaeth back in to block will get it back going against a Bengals team ranked 24th against the run.
The immediate discussion from players following last week's win turned to getting their business done. Even in the immediate postgame interview, James Harrison said if the team failed to close out, then the big win over Baltimore would have meant nothing. That's the usual self-effacing thing players are taught to say to the media, so now it's time to show that it's not just hollow means to assure the fan base and writers ready to spring on any comment that goes against accepted convention.