10-11-02, 10:50 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Cornerback Artrell Hawkins found out rookie strong safety Marquand Manuel is smart the easy way.
"He told me he was smart one day," said Hawkins with a veteran chuckle. "I asked him if he could pick this stuff up, and he said, 'All I need to do is to see it one time usually,' and the way he played on Sunday you have to believe him. He played well. I'm really impressed with how he prepares himself. He's a quiet one. He doesn't say much, but he's working."
If the offense has been slowed by the rotation of quarterbacks and receivers, could the same be said of the safeties as the defense grapples giving up the big play they didn't allow last year?
When Manuel, the club's sixth round draft choice, made his first NFL start last Sunday next to free safety Cory Hall, it was the Bengals' third different starting safety combination in five games. Most of the big plays have apparently been more the responsibility of the safeties than the cornerbacks because the feeling in some quarters is that Hawkins and Jeff Burris aren't playing all that badly. Plus, the safeties have the burden of calling signals and the Bengals have two rookies in Manuel and second-round Lamont Thompson (who plays on passing downs and made the mistake on the Colts' 69-yard game-breaker last week) on the field a lot.
"It could be a reason," Hawkins said. "In reality, it could be, but it can't be because that would be an excuse and excuses get you beat. It's not really the
same as quarterbacks and receivers because we don't have timing routes or things like that. It's more communication and knowing your assignments."
That has also been a problem, and defensive coordinator Mark Duffner admits, "We're as young as we can be at that position," but he also says there have been breakdowns by both safeties and corners in just letting receivers run wide open.
"We've got some growing to do there, but it's all tied into together," Duffner said. "A lot of it is technique related and we've got to get a better pass rush. I have high regard for our safeties."
Particularly Manuel, who looks like he's going to be around a while.
"His poise and demeanor in the game itself was very impressive," Duffner said. "His work ethic is very mature for a rookie player and coupled with his skill, he's going to be a player. He was assignment sound and where he was supposed to be."
That didn't seem to be happening the first month, which began with Mark Roman as the starter at free safety and Hall at strong. Then, after the Chargers' debacle, they went to last year's combo of Hall at free and JoJuan Armour at strong to stop the run for three games. They stopped the run, but not the big pass against Tampa Bay, when Armour got sucked away from the middle of the field on a Brad Johnson pump fake in one of the scoring plays.
"They're trying to find the right mix," Hawkins said "There is going to be learning curve for the young guys."
MATCHUPS:The running game may set the tone for these two teams, but lately this game has been decided on big plays. SoBengals WRs Chad Johnson and Peter Warrick* hve to go out and beat one-on-one coverage for the first time this year against *Steelers CBs Chad Scott and Dewayne Washington.*
Bengals CB Artrell Hawkins has to keep an eye on Steelers WR Antwaan Randle El in the slot. In his second NFL start, Bengals SS Marquand Manuel has to fight off the physical play of Steelers WR Hines Ward and TE Mark Bruener in the running game.
Speaking of the running game, the left side of Pittsburgh''s offensive line is coming off its best outing and pits Steelers C Jeff Hartings against Bengals DT Oliver Gibson and Steelers LG Alan Faneca vs. Bengals MLB Brian Simmons. For Cincinnati's running game, Bengals FB Lorenzo Neal has to clear out Steelers RILB Kendrell Bell, last year's NFL Rookie Defensive Player of the Year.
In his second NFL start, Bengals LT Levi Jones takes on torrid Steelers ROLB Joey Porter,while Bengals RT Willie Anderson goes against Steelers LOLB Jason Gildon, one of the most prolific sackers in Steeler history. Bengals K Neil Rackers vs. Steelers K Todd Peterson.
JOHNSON, WARRICK VS. SCOTT, WASHINGTON: ** The Steelers are playing more bump-and-run than last year because teams have tried to hurt them with quick three-step drop passes and the corners are pressing to break up the plays. The Saints' receivers hurt the Steelers last week with double moves, which is what happened to Scott when he let Jerome Pathon run wide open for a 64-yard completion.
But Scott is Pittsburgh's best cover guy, he is better at bump-and-run rather than soft, and Bengals' coaches are still waiting for their guys to consistently beat one-on-one press coverage. Plus, the Bengals have to find a way to replace Darnay Scott, who had his best games against the Steelers. In Cincinnati's last two wins against them, Scott had a 76-yard TD catch in Pittsburgh three years ago and a 113-yard day against them last year.
HAWKINS VS. RANDLE EL: The former Indiana quarterback's versatility is as advertised. He hasn't broken a mega play yet, but they're trying. He's looked to be elusive and explosive at wide receiver in his 18 catches (11.6 yards per catch) and five runs (for 3.4 yards), and nearly broke a 29-yard punt return for a touchdown last week. **
HARTINGS, FANECA VS. GIBSON, SIMMONS:The Steelers pounded out 120 yards on the ground against the stingy Saints last week and why not? Faneca started in last year's Pro Bowl and Hartings was a first alternate. It's always interesting when Gibson, a former Steeler, goes against his old team. The Steelers' bread-and-butter play this year has been a right-to-left counter behind a pulling Fancea. If Simmons can't go, Faneca will be pulling into Adrian Ross.
NEAL VS BELL:** Neal has impressed the Steelers with his crushing lead blocks and is coming off a big block in Dillon's 67-yard run last week. Bell hasn't played since he got a high ankle sprain in the opener and he practiced this week for the first time since he tried to come back a few weeks ago. Word is he's going to try and play. If he can't go, they lose his 254 pounds and only get 235 pounds from Larry Foote or John Fiala.
JONES VS. PORTER: Porter has been the Steelers MVP this season with four sacks and three interceptions. The Bengals have five sacks and three interceptions combined. Jones did well against the power of Chad Bratzke in his first NFL start, but had trouble adjusting to Dwight Freeney's quickness in the fourth quarter.
"I guess you could say he's not as big as Bratzke or as quick as Freeney, but he can do both,"Jones said. "He does it all. He knows what to do, he's smart, and knows how to use his hands. It's another day against a great pass rusher."
ANDERSON VS. GILDON: Anderson's 100th game turns out to be a marquee standoff. By his own count he has allowed three sacks since 1999 and Gildon has 1.5 of them. Gildon has just one sack this year, but he's third all-time on the list and is 10 away from tying L.C. Greenwood's record. The Steelers' defense has taken time to come together with James Farrior coming over from the Jets this offseason to replace Earl Holmes at linebacker and he's needed to adjust to calling new signals for new teammates.
PETERSON VS. RACKERS: Remember one of the first days of free agency this past March when Peterson visited Paul Brown Stadium and wanted to sign? The Bengals didn't want to drop $800,000 a year on a 32-year-old kicker when they needed to wrap up three of their defensive starters. Peterson, the 13th most accurate kicker of all time, missed a 39-yarder on his first bid as a Steeler and he's had one blocked. He's four of six with a long of 46 and has a 31-yarder in OT against Cleveland.
TANDEM PLUNGE?** Will he or won't he? Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau told WLW's Jim Scott on their weekly radio show Friday morning he would think about jumping into the Ohio River after a Bengals' win if he joined him. On Friday afternoon, LeBeau sounded pretty serious: "For a victory? Right now? Swim Lake Erie, man."
TALKIN' BASEBALL:** Bengals kicker Travis Dorsch is toying with returning to the Purdue baseball team when he goes back to West Lafayette, Ind., next January to attend second semester classes. Dorsch, a pitcher and first baseman, gave up baseball two springs ago to concentrate on kicking, but now that he has yet to be active in a game, he recalls he had some interest from the baseball scouts as well.
"I'm not saying I'm going to do it, but it's always an option," Dorsch said. "This is my job right now, but I'm not doing enough for this organization. I just want to compete."
Dorsch, the club's fourth-round pick, knows the NFL trading deadline
is this coming Tuesday. But nothing appears to be brewing as he continues to sit behind Neil Rackers.
"All I can do is try to get better," Dorsch said. "They pay me every Monday, so that's my job and I'll continue to do it until I'm told to go elsewhere."
Dorsch was drafted to kick, but most NFL teams saw him as a punter. He's been working on both in practice and is pleased with the way he has adjusted to the directional punting he didn't do in college.
Dorsch was his high school baseball team's MVP and the right-hander thought he was headed for a pro career in baseball until the middle of his stint at Purdue.
Because of language in the standard NFL players' contract, Dorsch would probably have to get permission from the Bengals to resume his baseball career at Purdue.
NUMBERS GAME:** All the numbers you need for this Sunday, including 29-10 and 8-32. The first is the Steelers' NFL-best October record since 1992. The second is the Bengals' league-worst record in October over the same stretch.
29-10 _ The Steelers' NFL-best October record since 1992.
8-32 _ The Bengals' league-worst record in October since 1992.
384 _ Yards caught by the Bengals wide receivers in last year's 26-23 OT victory over the Steelers.
677 _ Yards caught by the wide receivers this season.
106-71 _ Steelers' record since Bill Cowher was named head coach before 1992 season.
50-115 _ Bengals' record since Dave Shula was named head coach before 1992 season.
9 _ Starting quarterbacks for the Bengals in the span between Steelers QB Tommy Maddox's fourth and fifth NFL starts (Dec. 12, 1992-Oct. 6, 2002).
5,638 _ Bills quarterback Drew Bledsoe's pace to set the NFL record this year for yards passing in a season.
6,444 _ Bengals yards passing in the 21st century.
675 _ Career catches for Steelers wide receiver Terance Mathis.
585 _ Career catches for the six Bengals wide receivers.
Minus-8 _ The Bengals' turnover differential, ranked 29th in NFL.
Minus-9 _ The Steelers' turnover differential, ranked 30th in NFL.
40 _ Running back Corey Dillon's spot on the NFL all-time rushing list with 36 yards Sunday.
12 _ Steelers running back Jerome Bettis' ranking on the NFL all-time rushing list.
106.5 _ Yards Bettis has averaged in 12 games against the Bengals.
86.8 _ Yards Dillon has averaged in eight full games against the Steelers.