Ryan Clark remembers when playing the Cincinnati Bengals might as well have been a bye week.
Unfortunately for the Steelers, that is no longer the case.
“It used to be we felt like (playing) the Bengals was (a guaranteed) ‘W,’” the Pittsburgh safety said on The Morning Show. “Now, you know you have to bring your hard hat and play good football to even compete to beat them, especially when you go to Cincinnati.”
The Steelers will do just that on Monday night. Six of the last eight Steelers/Bengals games have been decided by a touchdown or less. The Steelers are 5-3 in those games but lost the most recent meeting, 13-10, at Heinz Field.
“Playing the Bengals, especially right now, they’re a team that’s always in the hunt to win the AFC North,” Clark said. “It’s exciting to play anyone. If you’ve been in this league long enough, you understand you can’t overlook anybody. Anybody can win a game on any day. I think it’s a rivalry that’s starting to heat up for both teams.
“But for us, it’s exciting. It’s a Monday Night Football game. It’s an opportunity to show the people who didn’t get to see the Titans game what type of team we can be.”
The Steelers were dreadful in Week 1, losing at home 16-9 to Tennessee. Aside from a safety on the opening kickoff, the Steelers were held scoreless until less than two minutes remained in the fourth quarter.
Even worse, Pittsburgh lost center Maurkice Pouncey (torn ACL and MCL) and linebacker Larry Foote (ruptured biceps) to season-ending injuries. Still, Clark feels the Steelers can compete.
“I’m not as alarmed as everyone else,” he said. “I mean, the people who are most alarmed are the people who have never been in our locker room. A lot of those people have never been in a locker room, so they don’t understand the things that happen after Game One – the strides you can make, the corrections you can make.
“They also don’t understand the emotional and also physical task it is to replace a Maurkice Pouncey, a guy who’s your captain, who’s your center, who changes the whole game plan offensively. And I think for us, we understand those things. We understand the process. We think we have the right people in place to correct those things and be better this week.”
Clark reminded listeners that the Steelers lost their 2011 season-opener 35-7 to Baltimore. Pittsburgh finished 12-4 and advanced to the Super Bowl.
“The people who are most alarmed are the people who haven’t put on pads – people who haven’t put on helmets and definitely haven’t worn this Steeler helmet,” Clark said. “So for us, we understand that it was below the line in Week 1. But we also understand that Super Bowls aren’t won in Week 1, so we’ve got to come back and put that (loss) behind us.”
Although the offense was painful to watch last week – Pittsburgh finished with 194 total yards – Clark said the defense has to do a better job of forcing turnovers. That unit didn’t force any last week and didn’t put the Titans in situations where Jake Locker had to win the game.
“We need to find a way to get turnovers,” Clark said. “We need to find ways to get short fields (for our offense).”
Offensively, Clark said there’s been much more give than take this year with Ben Roethlisberger and coordinator Todd Haley.
“They’ve been amazing together,” Clark said.
Clark added that Roethlisberger is at his best when plays break down, but protecting him has to be the Steelers No 1 priority.
“I think he’s better when he’s distressed; he’s better when he’s improvising,” Clark said. “But for us, we’ve got to keep him upright. We won’t win games without Ben Roethlisberger.”