Robinson: Steelers, Bengals seemingly headed in opposite directions
By Alan Robinson
Published: Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013, 10:06 p.m.
Some NFL stereotypes never seem to go away.
The Bengals are the Bungles, a badly managed franchise that can't get out of its own way. Total Super Bowl wins: 0. Overall record since 1970: 298-366-1.
The Steelers are a model franchise for all pro sports, a well-run machine that drafts well, spends its money wisely, rarely makes a coaching change or gets it wrong. Total Super Bowl wins: 6. Overall record since 1970: 404-259-2.
All of which makes this recent revelation all the more surprising: Since the Steelers went to the Super Bowl and the Bengals were 4-12 in 2010, guess which team has the advantage?
It's the team in tiger stripes.
The Bengals are undergoing a seismic transformation in which they draft well, make shrewd personnel moves and successfully manage the cap. They're trying to reach the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons.
The Steelers, by contrast, appear to be caught in a falloff as they draft unevenly and struggle yearly to manage the big salaries they're paying to aging players.
Asked why the two rivals suddenly appear to be going in opposite directions as they play Monday night in Cincinnati, NFL Network analyst Jamie Dukes said: “Drafting. Free agency. Having (cap) money.”
Specifically, Dukes pointed to two positions — wide receiver and running back — to illustrate why the Bengals are being regarded nationally as a possible Super Bowl team, while the Steelers appear to be in the midst of a transformative overhaul.
A.J. Green is one of the NFL's elite receivers and is coming off a nine-catch, 162-yard game against the Bears. The Steelers, on the other hand, lack a playmaking receiver, Dukes said, and calls their receivers “a bunch of 21⁄2s and 3s” — i.e. Antonio Brown would be a No. 2 or No. 3 receiver on another team.
ESPN analyst Merril Hoge points to the now Maurkice Pouncey-less offensive line as a reason for the Steelers' slippage.
“I don't think the Steelers' philosophy and approach have changed. … They're young in areas that are evident,” Hoge said. “I don't know if there's another quarterback in the history of football who's gone to Super Bowls with as many makeshift offensive lines as (Ben Roethlisberger has) had.”
The Bengals went through a philosophical change in which they cast off big-talk receivers Chad Johnson and Terrell Owens and cornerback Pacman Jones, and traded unhappy quarterback Carson Palmer, among others.
They've also drafted seven starters, plus undrafted free agent Vontaze Burfict, hired Jay Gruden as offensive coordinator, added running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis and taken on a tougher persona.
“They're getting guys that are maturing at the right time,” Dukes said. “(Defensive end) Michael Johnson (111⁄2 sacks) was a soft player, now he's an animal out there.”
Should the Bengals win Monday, their record since 2010 will be 20-14 with two playoff appearances. The Steelers' record since they barely missed winning a seventh Super Bowl would be … 20-14.
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.
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