10-8-01, 2:50 a.m. Updated:
10-8-01, 5:30 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
The Bengals' run defense, reeling from its worst outing in three decades, took another blow Monday when defensive tackle Tony Williams learned he had torn ankle ligaments and is out at least four weeks.
Trainer Paul Sparling said there is a chance Williams will miss the next three games and not return until after the club's bye week for the Nov. 11 game at Jacksonville.
"But it could be four weeks plus," Sparling said. "He's got a Grade 2 (medium) sprain in his mid foot. He'll be put in a cast tomorrow and see where he goes from there."
Williams hurt his foot in the first quarter of Sunday's 16-7 loss in Pittsburgh and returned to play in the second quarter after getting a X-Ray. The foot was so swollen Monday morning that he got another X-Ray that revealed the injury.
Williams, the Bengals' first free-agent signing of the past offseason when he inked a four-year $11 million deal, appeared to struggle with the injury in a game the Steelers rushed for 274 yards that was the most rush yards surrendered by the Bengals since 1972.
The Bengals don't plan to sign another lineman. They can now activate for games end Jevon Langford and rotate starting left end Vaughn Booker and backups Glen Steele and Bernard Whittington in Williams' spot. Either Steele or Whittington figures to start in place of Williams against the Browns.
CHANGE OF PACE?: Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau, unhappy with both sides of the ball, said Monday he's considering personnel changes for the Browns' game. LeBeau wouldn't get specific, but defense is the obvious place to look after his club allowed Pittsburgh 412 yards on many missed tackles.
Both Carters starting free safety Chris and third cornerback Tom figure to be scrutinized this week.
The problem is, their backups have been hurting, and JoJuan Armour and Darryl Williams are going to have to pass muster in practice to be considered. Second-year cornerbacks Robert Bean and Mark Roman could play in Tom Carter's spot, but Bean is probable with a strained right shoulder.
Wide receiver Peter Warrick is probable with a right knee bruise, but he could be limited for several days in practice. Linebacker Adrian Ross is questionable with a quadricep strain. **
DEFENSE ON RUN:** This wasn't supposed to happen to a defensive front seven advertised as deep and stingy. But there were the Bengals Sunday giving up 6.9 yards per rush as Steelers running back Jerome Bettis mauled them for 153 yards on 23 carries a week after Chargers rookie running back LaDainian Tomlinson gouged them for 107 yards on 21 carries.
The 255-pound Bettis' first run was a 48-yarder, the third longest bolt of his career and his longest rumble in 71 games when he scored on a 50-yarder against the Rams Nov. 3, 1996.
The Steelers' 274 yards rushing was their most in 13 years and the most the Bengals have given up since 1972.
Weren't the free-agent additions on the line of Tony Williams and Bernard Whittington, as well as the drafting of end Justin Smith with the fourth pick supposed to bolster a defense that was seventh in the NFL last season in allowing just 3.8 yards per rush?
Was it cut-backs? Was it the trickery of Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart with his play-action option pitches, fake screens and quarterback draws? Was it misdirection to counter the Bengals' flowing pursuit?
"Don't give me any of that," said Bengals outside linebacker Takeo Spikes. "They ran right down our throats. I'm telling you what they did. They ran right down our damn throats. They just
ran over us."
Middle linebacker Brian Simmons shook his head: "Even if we won, I still would have been disappointed the way we just let Bettis run up and down the field."
The Bengals came out sluggish and paid for it on the Steelers' second play of the game when Bettis followed right guard Rich Tylski, bounced off strong safety Cory Hall, and raced 48 yards to put him within six yards of 10,000 career yards.
"You can't let a guy like that get started," said Bengals defensive end Vaughn Booker. "And you really can't let him get 40 yards on the second play of the game. He feeds off of that and he gets harder and harder to stop. It's simple. We missed some tackles."
It was Bettis' ninth career 100-yard rushing day against the Bengals, but Stewart might have hurt them more with his 61 yards on nine carries. He said after the game that whenever the Steelers spread it out and the Bengals had just six in the box, he was taking off.
On the Steelers' lone touchdown drive:
_Stewart's option pitch to the left outside completely fooled the Bengals on running back Amos Zereoue's 22-yard run.
He faked a screen to the left and ran right for 11 yards.
And he finished off the drive on third down with an eight-yard run up the middle after he spread out the Bengals with five receivers for a touchdown and the 10-0 lead with 5:21 left in the half
The Bengals had a shot at him, but cornerback Mark Roman missed Stewart at the 3 on a day missed tackles were the norm.
" We practiced all week on that stuff," said cornerback Tom Carter. "Like the fake pass by Stewart on the boot. They didn't give us anything new. They just did a good job on execution. They played at a little higher level than we did today."
BIG PLAY: Bengals cornerback Tom Carter was involved in the game's key play. The Bengals had just cut the lead to 13-7 with 4:45 left in the game and needed the ball back. Two plays later out of a three-receiver set on 3rd-and-five from the Steeler 43, Carter couldn't keep up with Hines Ward on a crossing pattern and gave up a 24-yard play that led to Kris Brown's clinching 48-yard field goal with 1:52 left.
There was no pass rush on the play against the NFL's third worst passing game. Plus, the play was reminiscent of how Chargers quarterback Doug Flutie found wide receiver Jeff Graham the week before on a similar crossing pattern against Carter for 28 yards to convert a 3rd-and-7 and led to San Diego's go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter.
In San Diego, a tight end picked off Carter. But he said the Steelers didn't pick him off.
"It happened quick,"
Carter said. "It was a pivot route and he has the option to just try to go on up or out. I'm just trying to square him up best I can and react off the move."
Ward continues to throttle the Bengals. He had eight catches for 68 yards, passing his career-high of seven set against the Bengals in 1999. In last year's 15-0 win over Cincinnati, he scored the game's only touchdown on his career-long 77-yard touchdown catch.
SLIP SLIDING AWAY: Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna wasn't the only guy who noticed the game balls were slippery. Steelers President Dan Rooney thought they looked slippery even after the game. He thought they were going to be used only on kickoffs.
The 60 game balls made for the Heinz opener apparently weren't rubbed down to remove their gloss.
HEINZ STORY: The Steelers will always remember Opening Day at Heinz. Grim Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge, tapped by President Bush to be the nation's new security chief, presided over pre-game ceremonies. The U.S.-led attacks in Afghanistan had already started, but the crowd wasn't told until Bush's address appeared on the scoreboard during halftime.
The 64,000-plus yellow seats are probably the stadium's dominant feature and some like it and some don't.
"Did they have a sale on
seats?" asked one Bengal during pre-game.
A tale of the tape: Heinz Field has 64,440 seats, 129 suites, 7,500 club seats, two club lounges with a total of 45,000 square feet all spread out over an enclosed area of 524,908 square feet.
Heinz is a smaller version of the Bengals' 65,350-seat Paul Brown Stadium, which has an enclosed area of 1.8 million square feet. PBS' club lounges are each about 30,000 square feet.
"This is the fourth stadium I've been to now in Pittsburgh and each one has its charms," said Bengals President Mike Brown as he surveyed the field during pregame. "Forbes Field, Pitt Stadium, Three Rivers and this is a beautiful place with a great view of the river and the city. The seats certainly make it memorable."
The crowd of 62,335 was 2,115 below capacity, although all tickets were sold. Heinz was to have opened Sept. 16 against Cleveland, but that game was postponed by the attacks on New York City and Washington D.C. It's still the largest crowd in Steeler history, besting the 1995 AFC championship game Pittsburgh lost to San Diego.