Steelers' Smith thinks DBs can handle Moss and Co.
By Chris Harlan, Times Sports Staff
Published: Tuesday, December 4, 2007 12:55 AM EST
PITTSBURGH — Steelers safety Anthony Smith has watched the Patriots on television and isn’t all that impressed with New England’s receivers.
He says the Bengals are better.
“We’ve faced some tough receivers, but I think these (Bengals receivers) are the best we’re going to face,” Smith said after Sunday night’s confidence-swelling victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, 24-10, making the Steelers defensive backs believe they now can stop anybody.
Yes, even the Patriots.
“They’ve got Randy (Moss) and the other little scat guy but they don’t have downfield threats like Cincinnati.”
These are the unbeaten Patriots that Smith is talking about — a pass-first offense that’s on pace to shatter the NFL’s scoring record.
Fellow safety Tyrone Carter wasn’t ready to agree with Smith’s declaration.
Not one week away from the most-awaited game on the Steelers’ schedule.
“Both teams have three talented receivers,” Carter said very diplomatically. “Randy Moss is having a phenomenal year. And Wes Welker is having a phenomenal year. ... They’re going to create some tough match-ups.”
Still, Smith says Cincinnati’s tandem of Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh are better.
“No question,” he said. “Really, (the Patriots’) only deep threat is Randy Moss. As long as we can contain him we’ll be all right.”
Sunday, though, Smith and his teammates in the secondary made certain the Bengals receivers weren’t much of a threat.
Quarterback Carson Palmer completed only 17 of 41 passes for 183 yards and no touchdowns, certainly an off day for one of the league’s more accurate passers.
The victory gave the Steelers (9-3) a commanding two-game lead in the AFC North standings with only four games still to play.
They’ve already swept Cleveland (7-5) and now Cincinnati (4-8), and could sweep Baltimore in the Dec. 30 season finale.
But minutes after Sunday’s victory, the discussion in the Steelers locker room had already turned to New England.
“There’s always going to be hype,” cornerback Ike Taylor said, refusing to enter the ‘who’s better’ debate. “That’s what the media is supposed to do. But as a player you have to enjoy it but you can’t get caught up in it.”
Taylor faced Moss last season, when the former Pro Bowl receiver was playing for the Oakland Raiders. Moss made only two catches for 20 yards but the Steelers lost 20-13 when Ben Roethlisberger threw four interceptions.
“I did all right,” Taylor said. “We lost, so I guess I didn’t do good enough.”
The Steelers success against the Bengals started with the pressure created by the linebackers, but the coverage provided cornerbacks Taylor and Deshea Townsend was outstanding.
Johnson had six catches for 86 yards and Houshmandzadeh had five catches for 42 yards. No other Bengals receiver had more than two catches.
“We let them know we were going to be on (the receivers),” said Carter, who combined with Smith to make 14 tackles.
“It’s not like the receivers were wide open. (Palmer) had to stick the ball in there tight.”
The key, Smith said, was that the Bengals receivers were intimidated by the Steelers physical defensive backs, with Smith being the biggest hitter among the group.
Houshmandzadeh dropped passes in tight coverage. Johnson backed out of bounds after a fourth-down reception, 3 yards short of the first-down marker. Chris Henry once rolled into a ball waiting to get hit.
“It has a lot to do with it,” Smith said, “because they were ducking a lot. Houshmandzadeh thought I was going to hit him. I was going for the interception and he was still ducking.”
And when Henry rolled, Smith told him: “Good move. Smart play. Way to get down. He just started laughing.”
Smith plans to use that same strategy for stopping Moss when the Steelers play the Patriots in Foxborough, Mass., on Sunday afternoon. It’s the same plan the two safeties use for every receiver:
“Our main thing is we have to be aggressive and hit them in the mouth, let them know that if they catch it we’re going to be there,” said Carter, who has been filling in for injured teammate Troy Polamalu.
“With any wide receiver, if you’re hitting them hard, they’re thinking twice. ... The most aggressive team wins those battles.”
If Smith were a receiver, would he be willing to take a hit from Smith the safety?
“That’s a tough call,” Smith said. “Possibly being put out or playing the rest of the game? I’d take my chances playing the rest of the game.”