If David DeCastro wants to begin mending fences with Steelers fans, he can start by blocking Geno Atkins.
Even on the day DeCastro showed up at training camp, he was asked if he was healed, healthy, stronger and experienced
enough to block Atkins.
"He’s a good player, yeah, but this is a new year," DeCastro said that day. "I feel a lot better than I did then."
Back then, in last season's critical loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, the Steelers' first-round pick was coming back from a knee
injury and couldn't block Atkins, who sacked Ben Roethlisberger on the first 3rd down of the game, the first 3rd down of the
second half, and the first 3rd down of the fourth quarter.
At least DeCastro was in position to recover the fumble Atkins forced.
And Roethlisberger was able to return to the game after the injury Atkins caused.
It was as disastrous a game for the Steelers' rookie right guard as last week's stupefying helmet dive into Maurkice
DeCastro can begin making amends tonight in Cincinnati by blocking Atkins, who signed a 5-year, $55 million contract that
was the most expensive signing in a Bengals off-season full of them. They spent $180 million to keep their nucleus intact,
but they brought in only one outside player, James Harrison, who replaced Manny Lawson at weak-side outside linebacker.
Harrison's one of only two changes to a defense that finished sixth overall last season. The other is second-year man
George Iloka, who replaced Chris Crocker at strong safety. Carlos Dunlap went from part-time defensive end to full-time in
place of veteran Robert Geathers.
Those players join a defense that held the Steelers to 3.1 yards per carry and Roethlisberger to a 58.6 passer rating in the
playoff-qualifier at Heinz Field last season.
Of course, much of it thanks to Atkins.
"He makes the defense go," said Geathers. "A 3-technique like that makes everybody around him better. (He) keeps the
backers clean, keeps the ends from getting extra looks. Without him it gets harder."
The Bengals haven't been as effective offensively, but they've added a pair of highly regarded rookies to their arsenal of big
names. To the Steelers, though, WR A.J. Green is the only big name.
"A.J. had double-digit targets in the first game," said Steelers safety Ryan Clark. "And he should. Every game. Every game he
should get a lot of opportunities to catch the ball."
Last year, Green caught 1 pass for 8 yards and a touchdown in the Steelers' win at Cincinnati, and then caught 10 passes for
116 yards and no touchdowns in the Bengals' win at Pittsburgh. He was covered by Ike Taylor in the first game and by Cortez Allen in the second.
Allen had two interceptions and forced a fumble against Green, but will miss this game with an ankle injury. That leaves old
pro Taylor on Green this time.
"You would like to have them both," Clark said. "But I don't think it changes the game plan at all not having Cortez."
The Steelers will also be without reserve CB Curtis Brown. They could choose a more safety-heavy approach with nickel back
Shamarko Thomas and corner-turned-free safety Robert Golden to handle WR Mohamed Sanu and Bengals tight ends
Jermaine Gresham and first-round pick Tyler Eifert.
The Bengals' second-round pick, running back Gio Bernard, has been compared to Ray Rice.
"That's what Marvin Lewis said," Clark said. "He is his size. He is quick like him. But that's a lofty, lofty comparison at this
point in time. At this point in time of Ray Rice's career, he wasn't Ray Rice yet. Right now they're just trying to work him in,
get him some plays, get the ball in his hands."
The Steelers are convinced that with only one ball to go around, it will go most often to Green.
And, really, that won't matter much if the Steelers can't block Atkins.