PITTSBURGH – Anthony Smith has a warning for the Cincinnati Bengals’ wide receivers:
Don’t go over the middle Sunday night unless you’re prepared both physically and mentally.
Smith tried to warn Chad Johnson the last time that he’d better wear a mouthpiece, but Johnson didn’t listen. So Smith knocked out his gold teeth with one of several blows from his free safety spot in the Steelers’ 24-13 win.
Johnson, in fact, was so tired of taking hits from the Steelers that he dropped several key passes late in the game. And he kept dropping them the next two weeks.
Johnson caught five passes for 51 yards in the Oct. 28 game against the Steelers. In the next two games, he caught a combined seven passes for 121 yards.
The Bengals’ all-time leading receiver returned to form against the Tennessee Titans last Sunday, when he caught 12 passes for 103 yards and three touchdowns. It appears his confidence has returned in time for Sunday night’s game at Heinz Field.
“Oh, yeah, his confidence is back up there,” Smith said. “But it’ll get right back down to reality once he gets hit a couple times.”
Smith has become the Steelers’ deep-field enforcer since replacing the injured Ryan Clark at free safety that day against the Bengals. But Clark has had his fun with the Bengals’ receivers, too. He delivered a big hit on Chris Henry last year that was nearly as violent as the shot Smith laid on T.J. Houshmandzadeh that same day. It’s how the Steelers have dealt with the explosive triumvirate of Bengals receivers the last few years, or ever since Houshmandzadeh wiped his cleats with a Terrible Towel at the end of the 2005 regular season.
Smith says it’s the only strategy.
“You’ve got to be physical with them because it throws them off their game,” he said. “When you hit them hard like that, they tend to run away from you.”
Smith, like Johnson, loves to talk on the field. But, like any defender, Smith enjoys a more physical game.
“They’ll be looking out for us when they come across the middle,” Smith said. “It’ll pretty much stop most of their completions.”
Obviously, Smith believes he’s already in the minds of the Bengals’ receivers.
“Oh, yeah, no question,” he said. “Not only from our (last) game but from the past few games. We’ve been hitting guys in the mouth and knocking guys out (of) the game, so they’re aware of it.”
Should Johnson wear a mouthpiece this week?
“If he don’t, I’m going to try to do the same thing I did last time.”
Smith knocked out Johnson’s gold caps, but he had help on the play from the ground. Johnson dropped the deep pass, took a shove from Smith, and landed face first on the play. Troy Polamalu helped Johnson retrieve his caps.
The injured Polamalu probably won’t play Sunday. He’ll be replaced once again at strong safety by hard-hitting veteran Tyrone Carter. Smith doesn’t think the change will help Johnson out much, if at all.
“I know he’s going to come in trying to get his get-back,” Smith said. “But it ain’t going to happen.”
And what of Houshmandzadeh in the middle of the field?
“See, that’s his problem, working the middle of the field,” Smith said. “That’s where I’m at. That’s my domain.”
Smith compared Houshmandzadeh to Hines Ward in that he takes big hits and doesn’t intimidate easily.
Houshmandzadeh doesn’t talk much, according to Smith, “unless they’re up.” And then he might go so far as to wipe his shoes with a Terrible Towel.
“He might want to do that again, but he won’t have a chance to as long as I’m playing,” Smith said. “If anybody comes across the middle, if they don’t duck, I’m going to make something happen.”