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Tomlin downplays bad blood between Steelers and Bengals

(Photo by John Sommers II/Icon Sportswire)
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PITTSBURGH — There may not be a more violent rivalry in the NFL right now than the one between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals.

Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell sustained season-ending knee injuries each of the last two years in games against the Bengals. The Steelers were furious when Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict celebrated while Bell was on the ground writhing pain with torn ligaments last year in their Week 8 matchup.

Burfict inflicted more damage to the Steelers in an AFC wild card playoff when his shot to the head of Antonio Brown in the game’s closing moments concussed the All-Pro wide receiver. Though the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty helped the Steelers get in position for the winning field goal, Brown was forced to miss the following week’s loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos in the divisional round.

The Steelers (1-0) won’t have to worry about Burfict when they host the Bengals (1-0) on Sunday at Heinz Field. He will be serving the second game of a three-game suspension imposed by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for the hit on Brown.

Yet while emotions figure to be running high, as usual, between the AFC North rivals, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin declined to add any fuel to the fire Tuesday during his weekly press conference.

“That matchup needs no endorsement from me,” Tomlin said. “We’re excited about it. Often times, our past shared experiences weigh into the anticipation, but that won’t be our concern this week. We’ll focus with this group on their group this time around and let past history be past history.”

The Steelers and Bengals feuded on social media throughout the offseason. Yet Tomlin said he does not feel the need to address his players about the importance of keeping their cool this week either on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook — or the playing field.

“I thought largely our guys handled themselves appropriately and didn’t get consumed by the emotions that comprised the recent elements of the matchup, and I don’t anticipate anything changing this time around,” he explained. “Our focus is a singular one, and that’s to win the game. And we realize that to win the game you can’t beat yourself.

“That’s part of our everyday culture in terms of how we approach our business. I don’t have to wait for a game like this or a matchup of significance like this where the emotions run high to express that. I don’t subscribe to that school of thought. That’s just part of our everyday business.”

Among other topics addressed by Tomlin:

Lack of pass rush

(Photo by Brian Kunst/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire)

Though the Steelers beat the Washington Redskins, 38-16, on Monday night in their opener, defensive end Cam Heyward expressed his disappointment that they had no sacks of quarterback Kirk Cousins. In fact, Cousins was hit only once while completing 30-of-43 passes for 329 yards.

“I agree with Cam,” Tomlin said. “We have to create more disruption. We have to get after the quarterback more, particularly when we are ahead. Sometimes game circumstances provide opportunities. That game circumstance should have provided more opportunity for production in that area. We’ll go back to work.”

The Steelers, though, did intercept Cousins twice, Linebackers Ryan Shazier and James Harrison each had a pick.

Tight ends

Thrust into the starting lineup with Ladarius Green on the physically unable to perform list, second-year man Jesse James caught five passes for 31 yards.

However, Tomlin was just as pleased with James’ run blocking. Running back DeAngelo Williams rushed for 143 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries.

Tomlin said s reserve tight ends David Johnson and Xavier Grimble will need to help neutralize Bengals defensive ends Carlos Dunlap, Michael Johnson, Margus Hunt and Will Clarke.

“We get quality contributions from our tight end position in the run game,” Tomlin said. “That is an element of the matchup that is a significant one this week. The Bengals have some enormous defensive ends, some guys that create ridiculous physical mismatch issues on the ends of the lines of scrimmages.

“They are generally capable of dominating tight ends. The work of Jesse and others are going to be on display this week, so keep an eye on that one.”

Artie Burns

Cornerback Artie Burns, this year’s first-round draft pick from Miami, saw limited action in his NFL debut. He played nine defensive snaps but did not appear on the stat sheet.

Burns missed the first three preseason games with a quadriceps injury but Tomlin is pleased with the progress the 21-year-old is showing in practice.

“Our offense, when you are working on our card defense, you get challenged,” said Tomlin. “Artie is already showing signs of being one of those young guys that welcomes that challenge. He always is looking for the matchup against No. 84 (Brown) and that helps him from a growth and development standpoint.”

Tomlin downplays bad blood between Steelers and Bengals

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