The bad news was that the Bengals went into Sunday's 24-17 loss to the Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium without their best pass rusher, left end Carlos Dunlap. The good news was that they knew they were going to get a solid, professional at-bat from the dean of the defense in starting left end Robert Geathers.
With Dunlap's year-long emergence, Geathers has played primarily in the base defense but on Sunday he came up with his first sack and a half of the season and added three quarterback hits while playing most of Dunlap's snaps on passing downs. Geathers anchored a pass rush that sacked Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger five times and hit him 13 times.
But on the next snap after two of those sacks, Roethlisberger hit wide receiver Mike Wallace on passes of 21 and 12 yards, respectively, to keep drives alive that netted 10 points.
"We probably should have got 10 (sacks)," safety Chris Crocker said of Roethlisberger's penchant for escape.
But if they had just contained him after the five …
"We got off to a slow start. You get down 14-0 to these guys and it's just hard to win a game like that," Geathers said. "I don't think there's any magic to it. We came out and played better in the second half."
Geathers came into the NFL with Roethlisberger in 2004, so he knows the deal well. The Bengals didn't touch Roethlisberger in those first two drives. In fact, Jon Fanene, coming from left end untouched on third-and-10 from the Bengals 16 on the game's first drive, missed a clean shot on him when Roethlisberger sidestepped Fanene to throw a touchdown pass to wide-open wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery.
"The receivers run their makeshift routes and Ben gives them time to get open," Geathers said. "We know the DBs have to cover for a long time and we have to keep rushing. We just didn't do it long enough. When we do things we're supposed to do and be in all our spots, we're as good as we want to be."
Geathers thinks it is a drawing-board deal and that it's not a confidence-crusher. The Bengals came into the game allowing an NFL-best 3.3 yards per rush and while they gave up just 3.5 Sunday, they did give up a nine-yard touchdown run to running back Rashard Mendenhall. Only one other scoring run has been longer against them this season, Colts running back Donald Brown's 18-yarder back on Oct. 16.
"Whenever we don't do well, we have to look at what we're doing," Geathers said. "The young guys know if we do what we're supposed to do we can beat these guys."
REY RETURNS: Bengals middle linebacker Rey Maualuga returned from his three-game absence and said that his severely sprained ankle felt OK. He finished with seven tackles, tied for second with Crocker behind outside linebacker Manny Lawson's 10.
"I don't think it hindered my performance," Maualuga said. "I was afraid I could get cut low and have my legs taken out, but other than that, I felt good. My wind was behind me."
He said the pressure on Roethlisberger began to amp up when the Bengals defense got a better read on Pittsburgh's offense.
"When they first start off, we want to see how their offense is and get a little feel of what they're trying to do to us and what they're trying to run," Maualuga said. "When we come back to the sidelines, we'll get coached up and show where we're supposed to be. And when the play happens again, we'll get it right and not give up as many yards the next time."
SLANTS AND SCREENS: Steelers Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu said he should have made the play on Andy Dalton's 36-yard TD pass to wide receiver A.J. Green. "I saw the ball pretty well, actually. I just wasn't aggressive enough," he said...Running back Cedric Benson made a huge play on the other Bengals touchdown, Dalton's one-yard pass to tight end Jermaine Gresham. Dalton made the play leaning away from outside linebacker James Harrison and Benson gave him that extra instant with a block. "He came in real wide and I had to adjust," Benson said. "But that's my job."