Some More Random Thoughts on Steelers v. Bengals
Photo via Steelers.com/Karl Rosen
By Ivan Cole
Unlike Rebecca I saw the game in real time. These are the things that impressed me about this performance:
Rebecca and some others might have not have understood my comments in a previous post about Pittsburgh lacking a certain quality of meanness. I think this is because we often conflate ‘mean’ with ‘dirty’. This is, I believe, the Bengal’s fatal flaw. Cincinnati, as usual, was the dirtier team. Pittsburgh was the meaner team. What the highlights did not adequately convey was, despite the closeness of the score, how thoroughly the Steelers beat the Bengals up. The difference could be most clearly seen when comparing the play and effectiveness of Vance McDonald, who connects with Ben Roethlisberger through Bible studies and cancer survivor James Connor with that of Vontaze Burfict. Burfict played dirty. McDonald and Connor played mean. The result was a parade of Bengal players forced to the sideline, the locker room, and concussion protocol without roughness or unsportsmanlike penalties, while, despite threats and Cincinnati’s best efforts, the Steelers came through relatively unscathed.
The briar patch.
The Bengals, like so many other teams hate the Steelers because they want to be the Steelers and don’t know how. Nonetheless, they continue to try, vowing that this will be the day that we administer the beating that Pittsburgh so richly deserves. In classic Br’er Rabbit fashion the Steelers protest: ‘The Bengals are so chippy! Please, please don’t throw us into the briar patch!’ Cincy, chumps that they are, fall for this every time. They drag the Steelers kicking and screaming into that briar patch, where Pittsburgh then proceeds to beat the hell out of them. And this is how you build an 18-3 record at Paul Brown Stadium. There is currently only one team in the league that can take on the Steelers in the briar patch—the Ravens.
In a league that seems to be trending more to rewarding the trickster (Br’er Rabbit or Bugs Bunny), Burfict is some combination of Wile e. Coyote and Yosemite Sam. I have come to the sad conclusion that Vontaze was permanently traumatized by Willie Colon and is raging against that humiliation and contusion to his ego. Besides him being throttled by McDonald and Connor and an unsuccessful attempt at of reprising his maiming of Antonio Brown, Vontaze uttered naked threats at JuJu Smith-Schuster vowing revenge for being punked by him (and embellishing the incident by stating that JuJu spat on him) in front of the whole nation last season. Want to know the difference between the Steelers and other teams? Name another team where the wide receivers constitute an existential threat to linebackers and defensive backs. Burfict is getting worked up over a 21-year-old kid whose idea of fun is doing pantomimes of hide and go seek and birthing footballs during his touchdown celebrations. Vontaze is still dangerous (there are bullets in Yosemite Sam’s gun, I would presume), but there is also something profoundly pathetic and anachronistic about him as well. He can’t survive the current league environment. If I were running things for the Steelers, when Cincy comes to Pittsburgh I would play Renegade with Colon on Burfict playing on a continuous loop, with snippets of his encounters with JuJu, McDonald and Connor included, and watch him meltdown.
Vance and Joe Haden.
Speaking of continuous loops, much of the afternoon was spent listening to diehard Steelers fans dismiss Tomlin, Ben and others as being ‘idiots’, among other complements. A couple of things may indicate that such sentiments might be somewhat misplaced. Vance McDonald and Joe Haden were procured via trades just as the season was beginning last year. The value of those moves has become glaringly apparent now. Any question as to whether the team has been helped by the additions?
T.J., JuJu, James and Cam.
Watt has been named Defensive Player of the Week twice this season and is in competition with his brother for the lead in sacks. JuJu is an emerging star and fan favorite. Connor is playing far too well to be taken off the field now, posing a creative challenge if Le’Veon Bell does, in fact, return this week. Keep in mind that Cam Sutton is closer to being a rookie than a second-year player given his injury last season, so he may be lagging developmentally behind the others at this point. Pretty good draft class, don’t you think?
So far, the Steelers have played the second quarter of their season as well as could be expected. They have won games against a team (Falcons) who was expected to go far this season, and another (Bengals) who was one of the early season success stories. They enter the Bye on the high side of a .500 record and only a half game out of first place. They are as close to being healthy as can be reasonably hoped for in this game. And they are likely to come out in good shape no matter how the Bell situation is resolved.