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NFL Preview - Pittsburgh (0-1) at Cincinnati (0-1) (ET)
2013-09-17



Perhaps no team had a more difficult start to the season than the Steelers.

Accustomed to kicking off a new campaign in style, especially at home in Heinz Field, Pittsburgh lost far more than a game in Week 1 when Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey, linebacker Larry Foote and running back LaRod Stephens- Howling all went down with season-ending injuries during an ugly 16-9 setback against Tennessee.

Things don't figure to get much easier this week for the Steelers when they run into their old friend James Harrison and a strong Bengals front seven.

The Titans scored 16 straight points in Week 1 after return man Darius Reynaud's mental mistake on the opening kickoff resulted in a safety and a 2-0 edge for the Steelers just seconds into the contest. Pittsburgh never capitalized on the early momentum, however.

Ben Roethlisberger completed 21-of-33 passes for 191 yards, one touchdown and an interception for the Steelers, who came in with 10 straight victories in home openers, the longest active streak in the NFL.

Pittsburgh, which was held to 32 yards rushing, lost Pouncey and Stephens- Howling to torn ACLs while Foote ruptured his biceps.

"We've got a lot of work to do," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "Nobody cares about our problems. They're glad we've got them. We need to understand that. We need to stick together and persevere."

The Bengals, meanwhile, suffered a tough loss of their own but at least came out of it relatively unscathed, because their main AFC North rivals -- the Steelers and Baltimore Ravens -- also suffered setbacks in Week 1.

In fact the AFC North as a whole went 0-4 on Kickoff Weekend, a stark contrast for a group which produced five playoff teams over the prior two seasons. Baltimore was unimpressive again Sunday but beat the Cleveland Browns, making the division a bowling shoe-ugly 1-5 early on.

Chicago's Jay Cutler hooked up with Brandon Marshall for a go-ahead 19-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter in Week a, as the Bears began the Marc Trestman era with a 24-21 victory over Cincinnati at Soldier Field.

The Bengals squandered an 11-point third-quarter lead, turned the ball over three times and committed eight penalties -- with linebacker Rey Maualuga's personal foul the most costly as it allowed the Bears to run out the clock.

"We didn't deserve to win because we had too many penalties and mistakes," Cincinnati nose tackle Domata Peko said. "But I also think we got a feel for what kind of team we have here, or at least what kind of team we can be. Really, we dominated them for three quarters, in my opinion. We've just got to finish."

Cincinnati signal caller Andy Dalton completed 26-of-33 passes for 282 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions, while A.J. Green grabbed a game-high nine passes for 162 yards and both of Dalton's touchdowns.

"They didn't stop us one time," Green said. "They didn't really stop us on offense. We were doing whatever we wanted. The biggest thing we had was turnovers."

BenJarvus Green-Ellis added a rushing score for the Bengals, who entered the postseason as a wild card club last season.

The Steelers will be looking to avoid their first 0-2 start since 2002 and have certainly fared well in Cincinnati over the years. Pittsburgh has won 11 of its last 12 at Paul Brown Stadium, including last season's 24-17 victory there on Oct. 21 behind Jonathan Dwyer's 122 rushing yards.

The Steelers also lead the all-time series by a substantial 52-33 margin.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Harrison, the five-time Pro Bowl linebacker and 2008 Defensive Player of the Year with the Steelers, was released in March when he and Pittsburgh couldn't agree on a restructured deal. He brings a physical presence to an already highly-regarded Bengals front seven.

"We all know how James plays," Tomlin said. "He brings physicality to the table, he's a guy who brings great passion and he can inspire his teammates."

The group, which features All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins, a player who just inked a big money extension before the season started, may have gone into Chicago a little too haughty because the Bears' offensive line lacks any kind of reputation. That kind of thing isn't going to happen again against a division foe like the Steelers, though, especially with Harrison playing his old mates for the first time.

"I don't have a chip on my shoulder against the Steelers," Harrison said. "I don't hate the Steelers. Am I disappointed? Yeah, I'm disappointed."

Pittsburgh brought in some help last week, signing former Titans center Fernando Velasco to replace Pouncey and bringing back Dwyer to take over for Stephens-Howling. In addition, veteran kicker Shayne Graham, a former Bengal, was signed after Shaun Suisham injured his hamstring against Tennessee.

Velasco is certainly not in Pouncey's league but he should be a significant upgrade over stop-gap Kelvin Beachum eventually, although it will be tough for the University of Georgia product to get up to speed in just one week.

When the Steelers succeed against Cincinnati it's generally due to the running game. Pittsburgh has run for at least 100 yards in all 29 of its wins over the Bengals over the last 20 years.

That could be tough formula this week with the injury problems in the backfield and on an already shaky offensive line. Isaac Redman remains the starter at running back for now but his ineffectiveness in Week 1 could give Dwyer some early looks. Rookie Le'Veon Bell, meanwhile, remains out for at least another month or so with a foot injury.

"I think a consistent running game is really important, not only to be good offensively, but to strike a balance," Tomlin said. "We haven't been able to do that to this point."

For the Bengals, Green is one of the game's elite playmakers and will be a tough test for Steelers cornerbacks Ike Taylor and William Gay, particularly Taylor, who will likely be given the task to shadow Green no matter where he lines up.

Green is playing at a high level early in the season and had 17 catches for 203 yards in his two meetings with Pittsburgh last season, including 10 catches in Cincinnati's 13-10 win in the Steel City in December, a game which eliminated the Steelers from the playoff hunt.

That contest, coincidentally, was also when star Steelers tight end Heath Miller tore his ACL. Miller, Roethlisberger's favorite target, has returned to practice and there was some hope he could make his season debut in this one but he's been officially ruled out.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

Expecting Pittsburgh to continue its recent dominance over Cincinnati could be too much to ask. The Steelers have won 10 of their past 11 in Cincy and Tomlin is 7-1 on Monday nights, but Dalton has nine TD passes versus just one pick over his previous four home starts.

That's all white noise when talking about this one, however. Cincinnati is the more talented team and perhaps more importantly, the healthier one.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Bengals 21, Steelers 14

Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/2013/09/16/4484993/nfl-preview-pittsburgh-0-1-at.html#storylink=cpy




49ers select RB Marcus Lattimore
2013-04-29

The 49ers took a chance NFL Betting Lines during Saturday's NFL draft by using a fourth-round selection on Lattimore, the South Carolina running back who suffered a career-threatening right knee injury last season just one year after tearing ligaments in his left knee.

San Francisco took a similar gamble several years ago when it spent a third-round selection on Frank Gore, who had suffered torn ligaments in each of his knees a year apart at the University of Miami before declaring for the NFL draft after his junior season.

That risk turned into high reward for San Francisco as Gore developed into a four-time Pro Bowl star on his way to becoming the franchise's all-time leading rusher. The 49ers are hopeful of future rewards from Lattimore after making him one of their seven selections during Saturday's final leg of the draft.

The 49ers also looked elsewhere in the fourth round to add firepower to their offense by selecting wide receiver Quinton Patton out of Louisiana Tech three picks ahead of Lattimore. San Francisco addressed defensive needs in the fifth round with lineman Quinton Dial of Alabama and in the sixth round with linebacker Nick Moody of Florida State.

The 49ers completed their 11-player draft haul in the seventh round by selecting South Florida quarterback B.J. Daniels with the No. 237 overall pick, Iowa State offensive tackle Carter Bykowski at No. 246 and Rutgers cornerback Marcus Cooper at No. 252.

''Excitement was in the air from day one through today,'' 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said late Saturday afternoon. ''When we get this entire rookie class together and walking out to the field, it's going to be one impressive-looking group.''

The most intriguing pick is Lattimore, who figures he's in the right place next to the right people for a successful comeback after declaring for the NFL following his junior season.

''It's still surreal to me,'' Lattimore said after the 49ers made him the No. 131 overall pick. ''This is a great opportunity with a great organization and I just can't wait to get there. I'm so excited I get to work with all the great running backs and everybody on that team and be a part of that running backs family.''

Lattimore is particularly anxious to meet Gore, who helped Lattimore through some dark days last season after a gruesome knee injury that left his leg pointing the wrong way. Lattimore dislocated his knee and tore three ligaments in it during an Oct. 27 game against Tennessee.

Lattimore received a phone call a few days later from Gore, who got Lattimore's number from 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver, who played with Lattimore at South Carolina. Gore, having experienced the same kind of ordeal before he joined the 49ers in 2005, told Lattimore to remain strong.

''Right after it happened, I doubted myself and I lost hope,'' Lattimore said. ''But I got a chance to talk to Frank Gore, I got a chance to talk to Willis McGahee, and I realized everything happens for a reason. (Gore) knew he could come back from what he had and he worked hard and was determined. He told me to keep that positive mindset, and that's what I've been doing these past five, six months.''

Lattimore said he's on track ''to be good to put on pads in three or four months'' as he attempts to add punch to a backfield that includes Gore and youngsters Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James. Hunter, Gore's backup the past two seasons, is returning from a torn Achilles tendon that ended his season last year after 11 games.

Despite the injuries to both knees the past two seasons, Lattimore still set South Carolina school records with 38 career rushing touchdowns and 41 total touchdowns in just 29 games. The NCAA's Freshman of the Year in 2010, Lattimore rushed for 2,677 yards in three abbreviated seasons.

''Marcus Lattimore - unique player, unique person,'' Harbaugh said. ''Can't say enough about the mental toughness this young man has displayed. Nothing keeps him down. He's dazzling as a runner, electric as a ball carrier, and we're betting that he'll be able to overcome the setback with the injury.

''I love the aggressive mental approach he has taken through this whole process, but we're going to slow down the aggressive physical things and make sure Marcus is 100 percent healthy before he goes out there on the field. If he doesn't play this year, then he doesn't play this year. But I think if anybody can overcome what he's been through, it's him, Marcus Lattimore.''

The selection of Patton continues San Francisco's offseason upgrade at the receiver position, where the 49ers earlier this year traded a sixth-round selection to the Baltimore Ravens to acquire veteran Anqan Boldin.

The 49ers are looking for more help for the team's No. 1 wideout, Michael Crabtree, who had a career season in 2012. San Francisco isn't expected to re-sign free agent Randy Moss, and complementary receivers Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams both are coming off serious knee injuries they suffered late last season.

The team also got nothing out of its first-round selection in last year's draft, A.J. Jenkins, who did not catch a pass during his rookie season. Patton is expected to immediately compete for playing time after recording 104 receptions for 1,392 yards and 13 touchdowns as a senior last year. He also could find an opportunity as a kick returner.

''I'm open to whatever they need me to do,'' Patton said. ''I'm trying to make an immediate impact on my team in the best way I can. (I'm) an ultimate team player and ultimate competitor out there on the field. It doesn't matter what it is, we'll just do it.''

After using three of their top four picks on defensive players during the draft's first two days, the 49ers returned to that side of the ball with Dial and Moody.

San Francisco used a second-round selection Friday to draft Florida State's Cornellius ''Tank'' Carradine to fortify the team's defensive front wall, then added Dial three rounds later to further strengthen an area in which the team lost two of its top players during free agency earlier this year. There could be opportunities for both in San Francisco's 3-4 defensive alignment after the 49ers lost starting nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga to the Philadelphia Eagles in free agency and Rickey Jean Francois, the top reserve in their line rotation for several seasons, signed with the Indianapolis Colts.

The versatile Moody is a candidate for multiple roles after starting at both safety and linebacker during his college career. Moody spent three seasons at safety with the Seminoles before moving to outside linebacker last year. At 6-foot-2 and 237 pounds, he also has potential to move to inside linebacker in San Francisco's 3-4 scheme and could become a physical presence on special teams.

The 49ers believe they might have a find among their final picks in Daniels, whom Harbaugh can envision helping the team in several ways. Daniels passed for 2,078 yards and rushed for 426 yards as a senior last year and also played some defensive back during his career at South Florida.

''You wonder with the athleticism, just how many ways could he contribute to this team and this roster,'' Harbaugh said. ''The quarterback position, and he could be a running back, he could be a wide receiver, he could be a kick and punt returner. The idea of a Swiss army knife comes up again. He's a tremendous athlete with great foot quickness and we just have to see how many things he can be good at.''