Stillers - Bungles: Heinz Field Opener
Sunday is the opener at Heinz field. It's the first time in what seems like almost forever that the Bungles (2-1) march into town with a better record than the Stillers (1-1). Bettis needs 54 yards to reach 10,000 career rushing yards. The Bungles with Dillan, Scott, Warrick and Kitna will try to flex their muscles against Holmes, Porter, Scott and Washington. This should make for an interesting game.
As will often be the case this year, the game will come down to the opposing offense against the Stillers' defense and a battle for turnovers. The formula is simple, week 1 Pittsburgh committed more turnovers (-4) and lost while in week 2 they won the turnover battle (+2) and won the game. When you're offense is as sluggish as Pittsburgh's, turnover ratios become greatly magnified since a quick strike capability does not exist....getting behind by two TDs is a death wish unless the defense or special teams finds ways to carry the offensive burden. That's no way to make your livelihood.
Pittsburgh's Offense vs. Cinci's Defense:
You can look for Cinci to crowd the line of scrimmage and bait Kordell to throw the deep ball (what's new here???). Despite a suspect secondary that is giving up 234 yards/game, we are all aware that Pittsburgh's passing game can make an even the worst secondary look All-Pro. This week, though, that may not matter....it's the home opener, they aren't coming off of a 3 week layoff and the Bus will be revved and ready to rumble to crack the 10,000 yard plateau. The issue for the passing game will not be total yardage, but whether or not it is able to avoid critical turnovers.
In addition to avoiding turnovers, the offensive line will need to build off last week's effort. This time, though, the foe is real. The Bungles have 8 sacks in 3 games and have solid speed. Takeo Spikes can be as good as any linebacker and has great athleticism (did any of you see his highlight reel, all-in-one pass block, interception and return against the Ravens -- WOW). In addition to Spikes, keep and eye on Gibson and Williams -- both are solid in the middle and must be pushed off the line for Bettis and the offense to move the ball.
Pittsburgh's Defense vs. Cinci's Offense:
Defensively, the team will need to try and contain Corey Dillan -- though they don't necessarily need to shut him down. Darnay Scott and Peter Warrick, on the other hand, need to be controlled since either could provide Cinci with the offensive fire power that could wreak havoc at Heinz field. Scott has the ability to put up big numbers (he's averaging 22 yards/catch in his last 5 games against the Stillers) and Warrick, while not a deep threat, has the ability to make defenders miss. Washington needs to be strong against Scott and the secondary needs to be sure-handed when tackling.
In order to disrupt the offense, the Stillers need to pester Kitna. Porter, Bailey, Smith, et.al. need to continue their disruptive work from last week. This won't be an easy task as Kitna has only been sacked 5 times in 3 games but it can and should be done. Kitna is has only 3 TDs to matchup with 8 INTs against the Stillers in their last 5 matchups -- this trend needs to be continued and exposed on Sunday. This can only be done with pressure though. How can this be done? As was done (brilliantly) against the Buf-Bills, Porter lined up all over the field and as a result (according to my personal tallies), he had 6 pressures and 1 sack in the first half. That is huge production which didn't allow Johnson to find any rhythm -- especially when combined with additional pressure from Smith, Bailey and K. Bell. Tim Lewis needs to bring this mixed game plan against the Bungles as well. You're not going to disrupt a solid Bungles line with vanilla schemes and infrequent blitzing. Look for Lewis to take a page or two from last week's game plan and bring the game to Kitna.
Cinci is tied for second in football with a 29.4 yard/return average on kickoffs. Pittsburgh is fifth in punt returns at 13.1 yards/return. Both are respectable numbers and both teams can explode on any return. While it would be great to have Poteat (a.k.a. The Game) bring one to the house during the home opener, there is another threat to do this as well. Namely Bungles 2nd year man, Curtis Keaton. Pittsburgh has shown a knack for breaking down on special teams and Keaton has shown a 64 yard KO return this year. Coverage teams cannot afford to give the Cinci offense any excuses. Handing out field position like grocery store sausage samples is one way the Stillers could shoot themselves in the foot and must be avoided at all costs. Luckily, last week's debacle could be a blessing in disguise...with all of the special teams penalties, look for Pittsburgh to clean up its act at home and take care of business.
The three week layoff was a killer last weekend but Pittsburgh still found a way to win. Look for fewer penalties and better offensive play. While the passing game will still be painful to watch, the offense will manage just enough points and the defense will again be solid. Result: Stillers over Bungles 17-16.