PITTSBURGH -- Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is back but with a brace and at less than 100 percent mobility.
It's the kind of game in which the ferocious pass-rushing front of the Cincinnati Bengals would love to bang the Pittsburgh Steelers' quarterback around.
And the Steelers' left tackle is making his second start.
So the game plan should be an easy one. Altogether now:
Run The Ball!
And the Steelers have been able to do that to the Bengals, who rank 28th in the NFL by allowing opponents to rush for 4.9 yards per carry.
The Steelers pummeled the Bengals on the ground in the first meeting last year, and most of it via a counter play into the weak side in which right guard David DeCastro and tight end Heath Miller were the primary pullers.
But there are several variations of the play, and it seemed as if the Steelers used all of them in piling up 193 yards on 31 carries that day, an average of 6.2 per carry.
"It's great when they know what's coming and they can't stop it," said H-back Will Johnson. "They just stayed in their base defense and couldn't stop it."
"I'd say we ran it 10, 12 times, some form of it," said offensive coordinator Todd Haley. "When it's working, you keep doing it till they fix it. But the second game they obviously had worked a bunch at it and did a much better job of stopping it."
The Bengals widened their ends in anticipation of the Steelers' counter play in the second game, and Le'Veon Bell, who had gained 188 yards in the first game, was held to 20 yards on eight carries before leaving in the third quarter with an injured knee.
The Steelers still won the second meeting last season, but rushed for only 29 yards on 18 carries. They won on the strength of a healthy Roethlisberger. But with him coming off a knee injury that cost him four games, running the ball could very well be the priority this week. Dusting off the counter play behind DeCastro and the tight ends would be a good place to start.
"It's hard for teams to really defend against because if one guy gets lost in the shuffle, someone gets washed out, you can be out the gate, particularly when you have a guy like Le'Veon," DeCastro said. "We're just kind of getting better and better as we go. Guys are starting to read it better, the fullback, whoever's pulling. It just takes a little bit of time. I think we're getting better at it, for sure."
The Steelers ran it only once last week. Bell broke the play for a season-long run of 42 yards.
"Pretty good average," DeCastro said.
Pretty good play.
NO NEWS GOOD NEWS FOR BEN
Roethlisberger practiced again Thursday after getting a full night of sleep without pain. Unlike last week.
"Woke up today no extra issues or inflammation, pain, so I'd say big step forward from last week," Roethlisberger said.
When asked to evaluate his performance so far this week, he said "I'd like to be throwing the ball better and doing some better things but I feel pretty good out there."
Haley was asked if he's seen any rust in his quarterback.
"No, not from what I've seen," Haley said. "Obviously it's a potential issue when a guy hadn't played a bunch, but as we said at the start of the week we've got to get on track fast and that takes everybody. That means everybody making plays when they get an opportunity."
TUITT NOT DOING IT YET
Defensive end Stephon Tuitt missed his second consecutive practice and that could mean he'll miss his second consecutive game with a sprained knee.
Does nose tackle Steve McLendon expect to slide over and replace Tuitt at end?
"I don't know what they're going to do," said McLendon. "All I know is I've been getting a lot of work there this week."
Also missing Thursday's practice were SS Will Allen (ankle), LB Terence Garvin (knee), TE Matt Spaeth (not injury related) and QB Michael Vick (hamstring).
The Bengals, who are coming off a bye week, list only CB Leon Hall (back) as being limited Thursday.