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Preview of the Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers

Everything anyone needs to know about today's Bengals at Steelers game.

MEMORABLE SERIES MOMENT
Steelers 30, Bengals 24
Nov. 2, 1975: Riverfront Stadium

The Cincinnati Bengals are 6-0 for the third time in team history, the first time since 1988 when they went to the Super Bowl. The only other time they were 6-0 they hosted the defending champion Pittsburgh Steelers in Coach/Founder Paul Brown's final season on the sidelines. The Steelers were 5-1 and jumped out to a 23-3 third-quarter lead on Lynn Swann's second touchdown catch. The Bengals rallied to within six points behind QB Kenny Anderson, WR Charlie Joiner and RB Boobie Clark, but Steelers safety Mike Wagner intercepted two fourth-quarter passes, the latter he returned 65 yards to set up Bradshaw's clinching touchdown plunge. Franco Harris rushed for 157 yards and Swann caught six passes for 116 yards, the six catches were the high throughout his first three seasons. The Steelers went on to win the division by a game over the Bengals, and then the Super Bowl. The Bengals have never been 7-0.

TALE OF THE TAPE

"Andy Dalton's playing the best football I've seen him play. He's throwing the ball downfield a lot more. He's driving it more. He literally has five weapons he can go to, whether it's (Mohamed) Sanu or Marvin Jones or A.J. Green, and then you've got Tyler Eifert in the shorter area. He'll run a seam route, too. And then Giovani Bernard (is) coming out of the backfield. They'll run all verts and then they'll flare him out and he's capable of making a big play. It's like short, short, BOOM over the top; short, short, OM over the top. They'll get you in a rhythm, run the ball, and then they'll go a couple of times down the field. It seems to me he's going down the field a lot more than I've seen him in the past." -- Steelers broadcast analyst Tunch Ilkin.

TOP QUESTION

Can the Steelers keep Ben Roethlisberger clean?

It helps that the inexperienced tackle for the Steelers, Alejandro Villanueva, will be lining up across from the Bengals' weaker pass-rusher, Michael Johnson. On a Bengals defensive line with 15.5 sacks this season, Johnson has only one, and only one in his last 18 games, or since he had two against the Steelers while playing for Tampa Bay last season. That's the flip side of Johnson: He's been a Steelers killer with 6.5 of his career 31.5 sacks against them. Carlos Dunlap is the superior pass-rusher this season. He has 6.5 sacks and will be going up against his old college teammate Marcus Gilbert in perhaps the most important matchup of the day for the Steelers. While the Steelers are at it, they can block Geno Atkins, too. The defensive tackle has four career sacks against the Steelers and four this season.

THREE QUESTIONS: With RG DAVID DECASTO

Q: Didn't you guys ran that counter play 15 times or so last year against the Bengals?

DD: "Yeah we ran it a lot at their place. I'm sure they're going to be ready for it this time."

Q: Is that your bread-and-butter running play?

DD: "Yeah, I think. It's a nice change that gets you on the edge. 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. 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."

Q: What's the key to blocking on the move like that?

DD: "It's hard because there's a lot of in-between. Like, somebody's going to kill the guy, but if you go too hard then somebody's going to fall on his face, especially with guys in space. It happens so quick. It comes with practice and guys blocking for you and making it easy to read. It's a lot of reps, repetition really. I can't tell you how many times I ran it in college."

BIG-GAME BONUS QUESTIONS: With OLB ARTHUR MOATS

Q: Pumped?

AM: "It's inTENSE, baby."

Q: I'm doing a story on James Harrison.

AM: "Awright, word."

Q: He said that when new players come along, they're afraid of him. How did you do?

AM: "I'll tell you a little secret. First time I met him, man, it was a little intimidating. I'm not gonna lie. It was when he was announcing his retirement. So he was up here finishing his workout. He had just come in and showered. Obviously I knew about him and stuff, looked up to him and stuff. I texted my wife like 'I'm going to talk to him. He's right in here.' It's the perfect time to talk to him, right? And he turned around and he looked so angry. I was like, you know what? I'm going to just walk right by with my head down. Called my wife, I was like, 'Yeah, babe, I know I told you I was gonna speak to him. It didn't work out.' So that was my first impression. But then we signed him and got To talking to him at meetings and stuff. He was still kinda crazy. And then eventually he got cool. Yeah."

GAME BREAKDOWN

What to look for from the Steelers today against the Bengals:

ON OFFENSE:
 
The Killer B's -- Ben, Bell, Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant -- are together for the first time since, well, the Steelers last played the Bengals. The group played together 10 games last year and averaged 420 yards and 31.2 points. In the other six games last year, the Steelers averaged 386 and 20.7. Including the playoff game and the first seven games this season, the average in the 14 games without all Killer B's is 367 yards and 21.4 points. This will be the third time they're all playing the Bengals, who've been beaten by both pass- and run-heavy Steelers game plans. This group can do what it wants; however, this one might come down to well the Steelers can protect King B without another B, Kelvin Beachum, at left tackle.

ON DEFENSE:

The Steelers are healthy on offense, but the defense will again be without lineman Stephon Tuitt. He'll be replaced ably in the run game by Daniel McCullers at NT with Steve McLendon sliding over to Tuitt's LDE spot, but Tuitt's pass rush won't be replaced. Perhaps DC Keith Butler will make up for it with his DB blitzes. Antwon Blake? Are you ready? The beleaguered cornerback needs to make another big play. Besides, what better way to get him out of coverage than to blitz him? In all seriousness, the Steelers will need to get after Dalton. He's leading the league in passer rating (116.1) and has been sacked only six times. Those two stats tend to go hand-in-hand.

PREDICTION

Roethlisberger in a brace will not be Roethlisberger, the big guy who can move and throw downfield while on the move. However, the Steelers have had success attacking the Bengals, need the game a LOT more than the Bengals, and over the last five games have the better efficiency and line-of-scrimmage numbers against tougher competition. The hope is that Roethlisberger shows up today with a quantum leap physically over this past practice week. That's always possible when young athletes work diligently with a professional
training staff. Pittsburgh, 24-23.

BY THE NUMBERS

3: Number of punt returns for a touchdown in Brown's career. All three (71, 67, 60 yards) were against the Bengals at Heinz Field (2014, 2013, 2011).

89.4: Roethlisberger's career passer rating against the Bengals, including the playoff game. His passer rating this season is 113.1.

147: Average yards from scrimmage by Bell in three games against the Bengals. The Steelers' running back has scored four touchdowns in the three games.

13: The number of tackles made by Bengals inside linebacker Vontaze Burfict in his first game against the Steelers on Oct. 21, 2012.

14: The number of tackles made by Burfict against the Steelers since then. He didn't play in the two games last season due to a knee injury but was just activated off the PUP list and will play today.

DOWNLOADS:
 
* Bengals tight end Eifert averages five catches for 57 yards and a touchdown per game this season, so expect those numbers out of him today. Rob Gronkowski averages 5.7 for 93 (5-94 vs. Steelers); Travis Kelce averages 5.7 for 70 (5-73 vs. Steelers); and Antonio Gates averages 9.0 for 94 (9-92 vs. Steelers). Perhaps the Steelers really don't have a problem with tight ends. Bengals Coach Marvin Lewis believes a productive tight end is merely the product of his environment.

"It depends on the team and the wide receivers," Lewis said. "The teams that don’t have the receivers end up with a tight end who does good things. You look at the difference in New Orleans and how Ben Watson becomes the hero, because the receiving corps and the comfort level with the quarterback and the tight end is very strong. To me, that’s the telling tale of things."

* S.O.B. might stand for Same Old Bengals with their fans back home if they don't show today they can beat the Steelers. But these aren't your father's Bengals, according to one of the team's starting cornerbacks.

"There's something brewing," said Dre Kirkpatrick. "There's something going on. This is a different team. I haven't played on this team. This is my first time playing on this team. It's like the other teams. We've bonded and the bond has grown over the four years I've been here. I just see something great happening now."

* What better way to celebrate the first gathering of the Steelers' Killer B's than to don the "bumble bee" 1934 throwback uniforms today? The Steelers are 3-1 with them on, including last season's 639-yard outburst in the 51-34 win over the Indianapolis Colts. RB DeAngelo Williams tried his on the other day and likes it.

"This is my favorite one," he said. "Even when I was with Carolina it was my favorite one."

* Blake is becoming the most vilified cornerback in Pittsburgh since Harvey Clayton some 30 years ago. But Blake's coordinator, Butler, doesn't agree with the general public.

"He’s a tough, little guy," Butler said. "He’s a mentally tough guy and you have to be mentally tough to play corner in this league. You also have to have a short memory to play corner in this league. You can’t freak out about every little thing that happens to you at corner. He doesn’t. He comes back to play every time. That’s admirable to me. I’m glad we have him on our team. He does the best he can, he tries as hard as he can and I know he’s going to compete when he’s out there. I’m glad we have him."
 
* In the 57 snaps of his first start at left tackle last week, Villanueva was at fault for only one sack. But it ended the game when Tamba Hali forced quarterback Landry Jones to fumble with 2:05 remaining. Even then, the Steelers were down by 10.

"I thought he did a very good job," said offensive coordinator Todd Haley. "I thought our protection was very good for the game. It’s too bad we had two bad plays, and they came late. But overall, to go on the road against those guys, I thought the guys up front, including Alejandro, did a good job."

PARTING SHOT

“I've seen him come back from some nasty injuries. There was one time it looked like he snapped his ankle in half, and he was back two, three weeks later. He was in pretty much a cast the next day. I don't know how he came back, but he came back, man. He's a freak of nature. You gotta give him his respect." -- Bengals LB Chris Carter on former teammate Roethlisberger.


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