Starkey: Give the Bengals credit

| Monday, Nov. 16, 2009

Ten quick takes on Steelers-Bengals ...

10. When the Steelers lose, it's tempting to look only at what they did wrong — and we will — but how about giving the Bengals some credit• This is clearly a different breed of Bengal, one that isn't tamed easily. Without linebacker Keith Rivers, veteran safety Roy Williams and left guard Evan Mathis, the Bengals came out playing a physical, brawling brand of football. Tailback Cedric Benson left with an injured hip, and the team already was without star pass rusher Antwan Odom.

"We're trying to flip the script a little bit," coach Marvin Lewis said, "and not be a finesse football team." Consider it flipped.

9. In the first quarter, the Bengals' special teams hit the right upright on a field-goal attempt, botched a hold on an extra-point and failed to line up correctly on a kickoff — and they were by far the more competent unit on the field.

8. That's because the Steelers' kick-coverage team has become a bad joke again, allowing a return for a touchdown for the third time in four games. That unit went a long way toward torpedoing the 2007 season (there goes Maurice Jones-Drew!) and looked horrible again yesterday when Bernard Scott, on the third return of his career, took a first-quarter kick 96 yards. It was the Bengals' first kick return for a TD in 33 games. Scott's take: "Coach said going into this game that the kickoff return would make a big play."

7. James Harrison has to go back on the kick coverage team. He's willing and able and desperately needed. I asked Mike Tomlin if that might be a consideration.

"I'm open to all considerations at this point," Tomlin said. "I mean, let's be honest, we've had, what, three returned on us• I'd put myself out there if I thought I could do the job."

Tomlin on kick coverage• Not a bad idea if it gets Stefan Logan off the unit.

6. Ben Roethlisberger's 51.5 passer rating was his lowest in a full game since a 38.5 against the Giants last season. Cincinnati knocked down 10 passes, including several at the line. Linebacker Brandon Johnson talked about the game plan: "Just collapsing the pocket. Keep him contained, not give him alleys to escape and make him make reads." Everybody says it; few execute it.

5. Late in the first half, Mike Wallace came down with a case of Limas Disease. Wallace dropped passes on consecutive plays, though he quickly made up for it by drawing a 46-yard interference penalty.

4. Never thought I'd see Pitt and the Steelers play back-to-back games at Heinz Field with Pitt having by far the livelier crowd. Not that I'd blame anyone if they passed out from boredom during the field-goal kicking contest between Jeff Reed and Shayne Graham.

3. Speaking of Reed, his kickoffs are not good enough and his tackle attempts are worse. As Scott said of his TD return, "It was a bad kick." Reed isn't paid to make tackles, but he could at least make it look like he's trying. His weak efforts against the Vikings' Percy Harvin and Scott were inexcusable.

2. The guys who actually get paid to tackle made some inexcusable mistakes, as well. James Harrison lost his cool and took a personal foul for hitting Andrew Whitworth on the Bengals' late, clock-killing field-goal drive. Lawrence Timmons jumped the snap on the same drive. William Gay dropped two interceptions in the game.

1. Before you write off the season, consider a little history: Back in December 2005, the Steelers had a short week after losing a Monday-nighter at Indianapolis and dropped a critical home game to Cincinnati, which took control of the AFC North and went on to win the division.

The Steelers went on to win the Super Bowl.

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