StrategyNovember 21, 2004


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Spotlight Game: Pittsburgh at Cincinnati

By Dave McGrath

Each week, Dave presents a preview of several of the week’s most interesting contests, offering his take on fantasy performances, potential sleepers and, of course, the game’s outcome.

Pittsburgh

Ben Roethlisberger: Everyone keeps waiting for Roethlisberger to falter (including me), but that has not happened yet. Although he has not hit the 200-yard mark in the last three games, he has done exactly what head coach Bill Cowher has asked of him. He has limited his mistakes while cashing in when the opportunities arise. Big Ben should have a game reminiscent of the past couple of games in which Jerome Bettis has shouldered a good amount of the load. Roethlisberger will get some time in the pocket, since Cincinnati’s defensive pressure is not usually staggering (despite their inflated number of sacks against Dallas and Washington). The last time he faced the Bengals, Ben threw for 174 yards and a score. He will put up similar numbers today: 200 yards, one TD, and an interception.

Duce Staley/Jerome Bettis: Duce Staley has been downgraded to doubtful and is expected to miss his third straight game, so sit him unless you hear otherwise near game time. This is cause for Bettis owners to celebrate as they will gladly insert him into their lineups for this tilt. Although Cincinnati has lowered their yards per carry allowed average from 5.3 (earlier in the season) to 4.5, their run defense is still very suspect. Bettis has notoriously torched the Bengals in the past, and if Cincinnati is not careful, history could repeat itself. Look for the Steelers to focus on running the ball. Bettis should have around 25 carries and the combination of Willie Parker and Verron Haynes should have 10-12 backing him up. Bettis should have 100 and a TD with that number of carries.

Pittsburgh WRs: Plaxico Burress continues to shake off his early season slumber, while the usually consistent Hines Ward has seen a drop off in receptions. Still, both receivers should see at least moderate success in this game. Ward should work the middle for moderate gains, and Burress will look to exploit his size advantage against the smaller Cincinnati corners. Both Burress and Ward will grab 70 yards in this game, and one of the two should haul in a touchdown. Antwaan Randle El has only 180 yards on the year, and the most he can hope for is 20-30 in this contest. However, if return points are valuable in your league, he could be worth a glance.

Jerame Tuman/Jay Riemersma: Neither warrants a start. As a matter of fact, if you happen to own either of them, I suggest that you drop them as soon as possible, since your fantasy foes are most likely having a good laugh at your expense (unless you are in a large league or in one with unorthodox formats). Riemersma is questionable, so his blocking duties could be relegated to Tuman.

Defense: As a unit, there are better starts out there, especially considering that Cincinnati plays like a completely different team in The Jungle. They should get sufficient pressure on Palmer, but the sack numbers may decline, assuming Palmer is quick to get rid of the ball on short slants to TJ Houshmandzadeh and Chad Johnson. Also, Rudi Johnson has only lost two fumbles in his career, so do not hope for much in the way of fumbles. Pittsburgh will capitalize on Palmer’s lone glaring mistake of the day and will add between one and three sacks. As for IDPs, however, Pittsburgh again offers many options. Perhaps the best play is Troy Polamalu, who already has 54 tackles and four picks on the year. He will also be motivated by the fact that he is facing his old college teammate and roommate in Carson Palmer. Polamalu snared an errant toss and returned it for a TD in their first matchup of the year, and he could intercept him again. Deshea Townsend is another quality player in the secondary. The cornerback has already recorded four sacks, three interceptions, and a TD on the year. As for the front seven, almost all of the players are feasible starts. James Farrior, Larry Foote, Joey Porter, Clark Haggins and Aaron Smith all have at least three sacks on the year, with Smith leading the way with six. Out of this group, Smith and Farrior would be the best starts due to Smith’s knack for getting to the quarterback and Farrior’s tackling prowess (second on the team with 52 tackles).

Cincinnati

Carson Palmer: Palmer has shown signs of maturing into his role as a quarterback in recent weeks, having an efficient game in their blowout victory over Dallas, and then going into Washington and defeating the league’s top overall defense. Palmer played relatively well in Pittsburgh earlier in the year before two late picks sealed the game for the Steelers. The young QB may try to stretch the field with Chad Johnson at times, but expect a somewhat conservative game plan to counter the aggressive Pittsburgh defense. Palmer will go 17/27 for 190 yards, a TD, and an interception.

Rudi Johnson: Johnson has not been spectacular this season, but he has been solid, quietly posting a stat line of 785 yards and five touchdowns. You may think that Johnson will run into tough times in this game, facing a Pittsburgh team that allows only 3.6 yards a carry. However, remember that Johnson had previous success against the Steelers in week 4, running for 123 yards and a TD on 24 carries. While he may not hit that number again, expect Cincinnati to continuously give the ball to their feature back, not only in order to tire the Steelers, but also to control the clock. Johnson will see 23-30 carries here for 90-115 yards and a TD.

Cincinnati WRs: Chad Johnson has thrown out some more pre-game fodder, telling the media that he will enjoy his trip to the end zone this week and asking fans to bring a donation to ease the fine that he will receive. He certainly has a chance of fulfilling that promise this week, but it won’t be easy with Pittsburgh’s improved pass D. However, TJ Houshmandzadeh has contributed in the absence of Peter Warrick, so that could possibly ease some of Chad’s double teams. Johnson owners should be happy to see a TD along with seven catches for 80 yards when this game ends. Houshmandzadeh has 12 catches in the last three weeks, but is still searching for consistency (one catch against Dallas, seven against Washington). Palmer should look for TJ early to send a message to the Steelers that they will not be afraid to utilize other receivers if the Steelers decide to key on Johnson. Houshmandzadeh will have five grabs for 50-60 yards.

Cincinnati TEs: Cincinnati has three tight ends that see regular action, but unfortunately not one of these three deserves your attention from a fantasy perspective. Reggie Kelly and Tony Stewart, who are each hovering around 40 yards for the year, seldom make an impact receiving. Each of them will most likely gain 10-20 yards at most. The team’s most productive tight end has been Matt Schobel, who has 13 grabs for 151 yards and a pair of scores. Don’t be fooled into starting him, however, as half of those numbers came on a 76-yard TD catch against Dallas. He promptly followed that performance up with a 0-catch day against the Redskins. In fact, he has not recorded a catch in four of Cincinnati’s nine games. Sit these tight ends.

Defense: As a unit, the Bengals have been a surprisingly valuable fantasy defense this year, leading the league in takeaways with 24. They have also played with considerable intensity as of late, allowing only 13 points while forcing eight turnovers in the last two games. That being said, owners should not fooled, keeping in mind that those games were against NFC East bottom feeders Washington and Dallas. Although this defense is improving, they come up against a more sophisticated offense that as a unit is less mistake-prone than their previous two opponents. Sit Cincinnati for another day if you have a viable backup option. Cincinnati will register one turnover and 1-2 sacks. The Bengals, however, do offer some valuable IDPs. The first that comes to mind is corner Tory James, who currently leads the league with six interceptions, and has also recorded 36 tackles and a fumble recovery. James could add to his league-leading pick total if Big Ben decides to test him one too many times. At the linebacker spot, Brian Simmons and Kevin Hardy are solid, registering 51 and 39 tackles respectively. On the line, Justin Smith, who has been a disappointment after an encouraging rookie campaign in 2001, has rebounded somewhat this year with 47 tackles (third on the team) and a team-leading four sacks. No other D-lineman is worth much of a look except for Duane Clemons (29 tackles and three sacks).

Sleepers:

Madieu Williams: This rookie out of Maryland is one of six rookies seeing significant time on the defensive side of the ball for Cincinnati. While the other newcomers are just beginning to gel, Williams has made an immediate impact. He leads the team with 58 total tackles, and has added two fumble recoveries, two interceptions, and a TD, making him a valuable IDP to pick up off the wire. Madieu could see good numbers again against Pittsburgh, especially if Roethlisberger attempts to stretch the field with Ward and Burress.

Prediction

I’ll admit that I am a little biased here, but there are several reasons why I think Cincinnati can pull this out. First of all, this matchup is a major trap game for Pittsburgh, especially coming off wins against undefeated New England and Philadelphia, not to mention divisional foe Cleveland. Also, Cincinnati is beginning their token second half-surge, turning a 1-4 record into a respectable 4-5, including a 3-1 mark at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals also always seem to show up for these big games, defeating previously undefeated Kansas City last year, and Denver earlier this season on Monday Night Football. Regardless of the winner, I expect this game to be close throughout. Ultimately, look for Roethlisberger’s trip to Ohio to end with his first career loss. I have gone against Pittsburgh twice already and lost, but I will go to the well once more. Cincinnati 23, Pittsburgh 20.

 
Dave McGrath is a freshman at LaSalle University, and will be previewing several games in this way each week. He can be found posting as dave416 in the Cafe forums.

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