Release a statement

Well, instead of beating the lack of run defense drum into a pulp, my question is how important is it for the Bengals to have a statement game against the Packers or is beating them by a field goal enough? I'll concede a win is a win, but after a loss like that I would like to see the intensity cranked up a couple notches. Do the Bengals need to go into Pittsburgh to win the division or are we playing for a wild card, or still taking it one game at a time?
** Evan, Clarkston, MI

EVAN:**
The score isn't so important but, you're right. There is something to that. Everyone always seems to resolve to have a statement game against the Bengals and then they go out and do it. That said, to be 5-2 (1-1 in the North) and staring at a composite schedule of .500 teams (28-28) the rest of the way, the division title is still very much a possibility. The only problem now is that split you were hoping to get with the Steelers now has to come on the road, and that's brutal. It's hard to see the Steelers going worse than 5-1 in the division, so the Bengals can't.

And, an aside to Mike from Los Angeles for ripping me about saying a play-off team is an elite team. After watching what Pittsburgh did Sunday, you're right. You become an elite team over time.

What is so impressive about the Steelers is that 10-game winning streak on the road. That just shows you how much confidence, toughness and discipline they have. They came in here Sunday in a sold-out gym and took it over with their will as much as their running game. That is truly an elite team.

And, the Bengals have all the makings of that. They certainly played that way in the September to Remember. They just have to get back a little bit of that swagger that allowed them to overcome a game's worth of adversity and play with the abandon that resulted in finishing off drives in the red zone and forcing two or three back-breaking turnovers on defense. If they played that way Sunday, they would have been up 14-0 and would be 6-1. It's not so much talent as mind set, although they have a ways to go in stopping the run if they want to win an AFC play-off game.

Marvin Lewis is a little peeved with media types saying his team played tight against the Steelers, and maybe it wasn't that. Maybe tentative and looking at the game differently than they did the first four games is a better of way saying it.

Lewis said as much when he said on Monday, "That's the point that I made all last week. Pittsburgh plays 16 big games. Just like we do. They all count the same and they're all big. If this were a game at the end of the season to see who is going to the playoffs, now it's a huge game. It's bigger than big. But it wasn't. It's another game on the schedule where you've got to go play. When you play a good team, you've got to make sure you do things the right way."

In the weeks leading up to games, we've heard the Jaguars say how they were going to get right by going back to running the ball, and how the Steelers were going to get right and go back to running the ball, and now maybe it's time for the Bengals to flex their muscles and say they're going to go back to do what they do best, and that's balance. It's like Willie Anderson has been saying. Hit the bullies back.

The score doesn't matter, but your idea is right. Against the Packers, it'd be nice if they circled the wagons around the run defense, vowed to keep Brett Favre off the field, and loaded up their own running game to smash their way back on track. A team's best run defense is a 10-point lead and a grinding running game that chews clock.

As we found out against the Steelers, instant-replay cameras and numbers don't lie. In the games Rudi Johnson has at least 22 carries, the Bengals are 12-5 and quarterbacks have thrown 27 touchdowns compared to 20 interceptions. Since he took over for Corey Dillon in 2004, the Bengals are 4-5 and Carson Palmer and Jon Kitna are a combined 14 touchdowns and eight interceptions when Johnson doesn't run it that much.

That's not a knock on the play calling. All that means is this offense is at its best when Johnson has the room, and the score, field position, and lack of red-zone mistakes dictate the ability to have balance. < p="">The biggest stat separating the Bengals and Steelers? Pittsburgh has scored points on all 21 trips inside the 20. The Bengals have whiffed for no points six times, which gets back to intangibles more than talent.

Yes, now would be a good time for a nice, all-around statement game. 27 for about 135 for Rudi and 22-for-31 for Carson for about 275, keep the very dangerous Favre off the field, and score 17 points on three red-zone trips.

OK, Mike. I buy it. After watching Pittsburgh, I know what you mean by an elite team and that means doing it year after year. But I still think winning 10 games and reaching the playoffs once in the NFL isn't a lark.

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