Win trumps Ben­gals ri­valry

The Morning Call - - SPORTS - By Chris Adamski

Bud Dupree spent a few mo­ments in the Pitts­burgh Steel­ers locker room last week wist­fully look­ing back to a time in the ear­lier stages of his ca­reer.

Be­cause then he was a younger man ea­gerly an­tic­i­pat­ing em­bark­ing on his NFL jour­ney? No.

Be­cause the Steel­ers were le­git­i­mate an­nual Su­per Bowl con­tenders? Not quite.

Be­cause he misses some of his team­mates who have moved on since those first three sea­sons? Nope.

“Be­cause when we were play­ing [the Cincin­nati Ben­gals] then, ev­ery game peo­ple were ‘go­ing to sleep,’ ” Dupree said with a wry smile. “[As in], hav­ing con­cus­sions ev­ery game. Peo­ple were get­ting hurt ev­ery game. Paramedics were on stand-by.

“I mean, it’s fun to get that way.”

It was only 22 months ago a Steel­ers-Ben­gals game fea­tured nine per­sonal fouls, a player sus­pen­sion, a sub­se­quent $36,000 fine, three di­ag­nosed con­cus­sions, two play­ers carted off the field — in­clud­ing the se­ri­ous spinal in­jury suf­fered by Ryan Shazier — and four oth­ers who left the game and did not re­turn.

In part be­cause both teams are 0-3 and be­cause many of the chief pro­tag­o­nists of the re­cent surly his­tory of the ri­valry have moved on, a re­peat isn’t ex­pected when the teams meet Mon­day night.

And this makes Dupree sad. “It was fun while it lasted,” the fifth-year out­side line­backer said. “There’s still a lot of chip­pi­ness go­ing on, just from his­tory, [from] both teams. But we’ve got a lot of new guys on our team, so they re­ally don’t un­der­stand the feel­ing [of dis­like for the Ben­gals].”

That lack of un­der­stand­ing starts at the top with one of the coaches. For the first time in 13 years, a Steel­ers-Ben­gals game won’t have a postgame hand­shake in­volv­ing coaches Mike Tom­lin and Marvin Lewis.

Lewis was fired a day af­ter the Ben­gals’ 2018 sea­son ended with a loss at Heinz Field. He was re­placed by Zac Tay­lor, who is 25 years younger than Lewis and con­sid­ered an of­fen­sive guru — a stark con­trast to Lewis, who had a rep­u­ta­tion as a de­fen­sive mas­ter­mind when he was hired by the Ben­gals 16 years ear­lier.

“It’s an in­ter­est­ing thing get­ting ready to play Cincin­nati this time around be­cause, par­tic­u­larly in re­cent years, the continuity that they’ve had in play­ers and schemat­ics [com­bined with] the continuity in play­ers and schemat­ics that we’ve had al­ways started the strat­egy of prepa­ra­tion kind of on third base,” Tom­lin said.

“We know and un­der­stand them in­ti­mately. They know and un­der­stand us in­ti­mately. But it’s in­ter­est­ing to look at the new regime and see some of the fa­mil­iar faces but the dif­fer­ent ways that they’re em­ploy­ing them. That pro­duces some in­ter­est­ing chal­lenges for us.”

Part of the Sean Mc­Vay coach­ing tree that has fea­tured the NFL’s trendy “it” of­fense in re­cent years with the Los An­ge­les Rams, it be no sur­prise Tay­lor has re­vamped a Ben­gals of­fense that fin­ished last and sev­enth-to-last, re­spec­tively, among NFL teams in to­tal of­fense the pre­vi­ous two sea­sons.

Cor­ner­back Joe Haden is cog­nizant of ad­just­ing to a Cincin­nati scheme that dif­fers from the one he saw through nine sea­sons with the Cleve­land Browns and Steel­ers.

“When you study a [team with a new] of­fense and it’s the be­gin­ning of the sea­son, ten­den­cies don’t re­ally quite show so much,” Haden said.

With Von­taze Bur­fict, Adam “Pac­man” Jones, Joey Porter, Mar­cus Gil­bert and An­to­nio Brown gone, it’s pos­si­ble the ten­dency for pre- and in-game trash-talk­ing be­tween the teams will de­crease, too.

Then again, it would take some chutz­pah for some­one to do any talk­ing when his team is en­ter­ing the fi­nal day of Septem­ber look­ing for its first win as the Steel­ers and Ben­gals are.

“We have been play­ing those guys for so long, so on both sides I think there is a lot of re­spect,” cen­ter Mau­r­kice Pouncey said. “But you know what this game is go­ing to be, re­gard­less of any of that. I mean, it’s still a ri­valry. It’s still the AFC North. It’s still go­ing to be one of those games that will be played phys­i­cal. It’s just how it is.

“But mostly, each team is re­ally, re­ally look­ing for a win.”

GENE J. PUSKAR/AP

Pitts­burgh Steel­ers out­side line­backer Bud Dupree said the old Steel­ers-Ben­gals ri­valry was “fun.”

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