BENGALS D VS. STEELERS RB LE'VEON BELL
The Bengals are looking at it this way.
They survived the Terrible Ten Minutes against the Steelers to fight another day. This day. Sunday (8:30 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 5) at Heinz Field in the game to keep the AFC North title in the last game of the year.
"We're defending champs and that's what we're going to go get. Our championship belt is one the line," says Bengals defensive lineman Wallace Gilberry. "You go to training camp, two-a-days, and all that, this is what it's all about. On the road is even better. You want to be at home, but to me its better coming to somebody else's backyard. Taking something that's already yours. We want to do everything we can to bring it back home."
Since the Bengals regained first place on Nov. 16, they've won five of the last six games with stingy defense the backbone of another post-season run that features a shutout, no touchdowns in six straight road quarters, and four interceptions of Peyton Manning. The only stain is the Terrible Ten, the first 9:51 of the fourth quarter when the Steelers struck for 25 points and 222 yards in their 42-21 victory at Paul Brown Stadium back on Dec. 7.
If it has been just one stretch, then it was just one play. The coaches call it a counter. When Joe Gibbs won Super Bowls with it, they called it "The Counter Trey." The Steelers call it "Georgia." If the Bengals are going to repeat in the AFC North, "Georgia," must be on their minds as if Ray Charles is whispering in their ears.
The 6-1, 244-pound Bell, who is having the most versatile season in Steelers history, had been relatively hemmed in back at PBS until he broke the counter for a 53-yard gain on the first snap of the fourth quarter to set up a field goal. Then he broke it for touchdowns of 13 and 22 yards on the way to 185 yards for the biggest day on the ground against the Bengals in three years.
Same play. Right guard David DeCastro and one or two tight ends, and maybe the fullback, pull to the perimeter
"Everybody else has stopped it better than the Bengals did in that first game," says Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham. "Either guard can pull and the tackle can pull, too. It's just a matter of making the reads and hitting gap control. You have to make the reads and get in the gap. That wasn't happening. You just have to make your reads. You can't be lazy with your reads."
It's a big game for the outside linebackers, like WILL backer Vincent Rey and SAM backer Emmanuel Lamur, if he's healthy with a hamstring injury that has limited him. It's also a big assignment for the safeties. Here's a defense that for the last six games has allowed no more than 85 yards on the ground. Except the day Bell ran for 110 yards in the fourth quarter.
"Georgia," may look a bit familiar. For the last couple of weeks the Bengals offense has been confounding defenses of its own with a lot of pulling plays. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has recently employed the "double pull,' usually featuring left tackle Andrew Whitworth and left guard Clint Boling. The Bengals are trying to take defenders out of the comfort level of the zone runs and challenging them with plays in the gaps.
Here's how Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther talked about the play the day after game:
"There was a down pull, two guys pulling across and a lot of time our offside linebacker was too late to get over there, that's why the ball was coming out. We got to get the ball turned back to that guy, but he's got to read it fast enough to see it and get over the top…Just matter of getting a double team back to the backside linebacker, guys pulling around so (the) front side linebacker has to play the pulls and the backside linebacker has to read the pull and get over top of the double team fast enough."
Pullers can play with the mind of a defense. Using the wings (tight ends, fullback) as pullers make the gaps change and move. Say you think you're in the B gap. They pull a guy and the wing, now there are two guys to account for and the gap has moved all the way to the outside of the tight end. There's no leverage if there's no response.
Making it even tougher is the saintly patience of Bell. Even when the seam doesn't present itself right away, Bell has been known to virtually "hang out," behind his huge offensive line and simply wait for a defender to jump and try to make a play, which opens up the gap.
"It wasn't that we couldn't stop it. We weren't attentive to detail and they knew that and they kept running it," Gilberry said. "That's any offensive coordinator. If you've got something to hang your hat on, you're going to run it until they stop it. We've definitely corrected it for future reference. Hopefully it's one of these things that they try and see if we fixed it. There are certain blocks you have to play a certain way. And we were playing them like we were playing any other block and with that scheme and that kind of running back. You can't do that. We just have to go back to the drawing board. And correct it on tape and correct it on the field and hopefully they run it at us and make sure we've got it fixed."
If there is anything they've shown in the last eight quarters since the Bell tolled with a road shutout and four interceptions of a Hall-of-Famer, it is the pride and resilience the defense used for the foundation of the last two AFC North championships of '09 and '13.
"We lost focus and we lost the importance of what we had. Fortunately the way we played the rest of these games we gave ourselves a second chance,' Gilberry said. "A second chance in Pittsburgh with the title on the line."