Posted: 11:40 p.m.
The NFL's reigning Defensive Player of the Week, Bengals right end Antwan Odom, goes against the defending NFL Defensive Player of the Year Sunday in Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison.
The soft-spoken Odom admits, "What goes on in my head nobody knows," but everyone knows what he and the Bengals defense is thinking. The problem for Odom and friends is that Harrison weighs the same as the man they must bring down, 6-5, 241-pound quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Odom tied a club record in Green Bay last Sunday when he rung up five sacks on the Packers' Aaron Rodgers, like Roethlisberger a mobile sort who can get out of pocket and keep plays alive.
Unlike Roethlisberger, though, Rogers is a mere 6-2, 220 pounds.
"He's just like Ben, but Ben is a little bigger and a little heavier," Odom said Wednesday, shortly after it was announced he became the first Bengals defensive lineman to win the award since nose tackle Tim Krumrie 24 years ago.
"You have to hang on and try to drag him down as much as you can," Odom said. "You have to get him on the ground, hit him as much as you can, wrap him up and hold on. Hold your will on him and make him fall."
Odom has a better shot this year than last year at doing that. He ended last year only 10 pounds heavier than Harrison and Roethlisberger. And when he arrived from the Titans in the weight room in March 2008 as the richest free agent in Bengals history, there was a lot of head scratching when he could bench press 225 pounds about only six times.
Now he's literally twice as strong. He says he can now do 15 and maybe as many as 18 reps.
"It's helping me stay healthy," said Odom, who last year ripped up his shoulder just as he was getting over a broken foot and now answers to the title NFL sack leader.
"At the end of the year if I can stay the sack leader that would mean something," he said. "We still have a lot of football to play."
Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and line coach Jay Hayes were anxious this spring to see if Odom could keep his speed at his new weight. He looked good in shorts but they got a lot of their answers at Lambeau Field last Sunday when Odom not only beat both the Packers starting and backup left tackles off the edge, he also beat a guard inside for a sack.
"Other guys allowed him to get some of those things, too," Zimmer said. "One time we got him five across and he got one on that one and we had a couple on play-action pass. Those are big. We've got four now on first and second down. Second-and-15 or something, that's a big down."
Zimmer wants to avoid what Rogers did in the first half last week: Scramble and make guys miss as he got out of pocket, and waited out the secondary for his receivers to come back to the ball. Zimmer is telling his guys to stay in their rush lanes, but he knows it's all for naught if they don't finish off tackles of Roethlisberger.
Everyone knows Roethlisberger is at his best when he sloughs off tackles and has broken countless of hearts with broken plays. Here's a guy that holds on to the ball so long that no quarterback has been sacked more in the three previous seasons at 139.
It would seem to be a nice matchup, then, with the Bengals suddenly leading the league in sacks with nine. Except that last week the Bears only sacked Roethlisberger twice (one was a coverage sack) and he has not been sacked in the past three games against the Bengals and just twice in the past five.
"When you get a hold of him you have to make sure you get him in the right place," Zimmer said. "If you get him up high a lot of times he'll shrug you off. You have to tackle him. You can emphasize it, I don't know if you can practice it. You get the middle section. Put a target on him."
So now that Odom can bench press 225 consistently, he'll be asked to heave a little more to haul down Roethlisberger. He'd rather do that than go through the last 72 hours, an uncomfortable interval for guy that likes to stay to himself and stay low profile. When he came of the field Sunday, there were 35 texts and missed calls.
"If this ever happens to me again I'll just go home, lock the door and cut my phone off," Odom said. "I'm to myself. What goes on in my head, nobody knows. Yeah, I know. That's how I want to keep it."