Steelers, Bengals Feeling a Little Desperation
By JOE KAY
AP Sports Writer
CINCINNATI – Ben Roethlisberger watched a little bit of HBO’s “Hard Knocks” show last month just to get used to the biggest move in the AFC North.
The boom mikes and ever-present cameras caught Bengals linebacker James Harrison doing his best to avoid having anything to do with them. Roethlisberger found it disorienting to see Harrison in orange-and-black tiger stripes rather than Pittsburgh’s colors.
“It’s definitely different seeing him in anything other than black and gold, and it’s going to be different lining up across from him,” the Steelers quarterback said. “I’m just thankful that I’ve had so many years of him on my team so I didn’t have to face him for 10-12 years.”
The first time will be interesting enough.
The Steelers (0-1) come to Cincinnati (0-1) for a Monday night game that has both teams feeling a little desperate to get into a winning mode in their first AFC North game.
“It’s what you want to do,” Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton said. “This is the first division game. You kind of want to set the tone for how we’re going to play and what type of team we’re going to be.
“And this is a great week to do that.”
The Steelers are coming off one of their most stunning openers, a 16-9 loss to the Titans at Heinz Field. The Bengals are trying to recover from a different kind of loss, one that ended with old-fashioned bungling that set up a 24-21 loss at Chicago. Both teams want to get themselves straightened out right away.
Five things to watch in their Monday night game:
PITTSBURGH’S POUNCEY-LESS LINE: Without their most indispensable blocker, the Steelers have to pull together to get their running game going and give Roethlisberger a little more time to create plays on the fly. Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey tore ligaments in his right knee Sunday. Kelvin Beachum, who has played various spots on the line and at tight end, will have a week to get ready for his second time out as the starting center.
“We’ll expect him to perform better this week given the opportunity to prepare,” Tomlin said.
RUNNING ON EMPTY: The AFC North was once a place where teams won by running the ball consistently and playing defense. As with the rest of the league, the emphasis on running has diminished in recent years. During the Bengals’ breakthrough 13-10 win at Pittsburgh last December, they managed only 14 yards on 16 carries, a stunning statistic. The Steelers put a lot of emphasis on upgrading their running game in the offseason, but running back Le’Veon Bell got hurt during camp and Pittsburgh managed only 32 yards on 15 carries in the opener.
HARRISON IN STRIPES: When he signed with the Bengals as a free agent, Harrison noted he’d undoubtedly have some extra emotions when he played against the Steelers for the first time. He left Pittsburgh after the two sides reached an impasse while renegotiating his contract. Harrison had three tackles against the Bears, a very modest start.
He doesn’t plan to spend much time chatting with his former teammates on Monday: “I was never a talker to begin with.”
STOPPING A.J.: All-Pro receiver A.J. Green had only one catch for 8 yards in a 24-17 loss to the Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium in a Sunday night game last season. But he had 10 catches for 116 yards in the rematch at Heinz Field with cornerback Ike Taylor hurt. Green had an impressive opener in Chicago, catching nine passes for 162 yards with two touchdowns.
“We expect (Taylor) to follow A.J. around,” Dalton said. “It’s a good matchup out there. But we expect A.J. to win and we expect A.J. to make plays.”
BUILDING ON LAST SEASON: The Bengals’ win at Heinz Field knocked the Steelers out of the playoffs and reordered things in the AFC North, putting Cincinnati ahead of Pittsburgh for the time being. Another win Monday would show it wasn’t a one-time thing.
“I think we took a step,” Green said. “I feel this whole Steeler-and-Bengals rivalry was all about the Steelers winning it. Last year we took a step.”