KEYS TO THE GAME: The Bengals' injury-riddled roster took another hit with the loss of MLB Nate Webster for the season, and the Steelers will attempt to take advantage in the running game. RB Duce Staley is coming off his first 100-yard game with the Steelers and needs to be productive to take pressure off rookie QB Ben Roethlisberger. The Bengals struggled against the run with Webster, so they will need to stack the box and force Roethlisberger to win the game. Offensively, the Bengals have struggled to put drives together and score touchdowns. They need RB Rudi Johnson to get untracked early and know if they can get a lead it will put more pressure on Roethlisberger to come from behind.
FAST FACTS: Bengals: Offense has not scored a touchdown in its past 30 possessions. ... Have lost 41 consecutive road games to teams with a winning record. Steelers: WR Hines Ward is on pace to catch 117 passes. ... Lead the series 39-28. ... Coach Bill Cowher is 17-7 against Cincinnati, his most wins against any team.
Records: Cincinnati Bengals (1-2) at Pittsburgh Steelers (2-1)
WR Chad Johnson could have a big game Sunday against the Steelers, based on their problems at cornerback and Johnson's historically strong showings against Pittsburgh. In six career games against the Steelers, Johnson has averaged 5.2 catches and 82.3 yards. He had a career high 152 yards at Pittsburgh in 2002.
RB Chris Perry finally appears prepared to make his NFL debut Sunday against the Steelers. Though dressed, Perry did not play in either of the last two games after missing the opener with a hamstring injury. The problem appears to be blocking schemes.
QB Carson Palmer leads the NFL with 117 pass attempts after three games, three ahead of Vinny Testaverde and Marc Bulger. Palmer's high number of attempts is the result of a 52-pass game against Baltimore in which the Bengals fell behind 17-0 and had to pass more to try to catch up.
LB Caleb Miller is confident that he can be successful in making his first NFL start at middle linebacker. The third-round rookie started at weak-side linebacker in the opener and suffered a sprained ankle. He is just 225 pounds but said he compensates for working against bigger offensive linemen and running backs with speed, quickness and brains.
DB Keiwan Ratliff, who is third on the depth chart at left cornerback, said the Bengals have been working him at safety and have asked him to learn all four defensive backfield positions.
LB Kendrell Bell did not practice again on Thursday and it appears he will miss his fourth straight regular season game. Bell, who has a groin injury, has not played since the first exhibition game. Larry Foote will again replace him.
QB Ben Roethlisberger makes his first start in Heinz Field after opening on the road in Miami last week. Roethlisberger is third in the AFC with a touchdown percent of 7.1.
P Chris Gardocki will play in his 200th game and possibly make his 1,000th punt against Cincinnati. He already owns the NFL record for punting 997 times without a block - he's never had one touched in an NFL game.
K Jeff Reed has made only 3 of 6 field goal tries this season. Coach Bill Cowher said this week his kicker needs to be more consistent.
CB Deshea Townsend is off to a fast start. He has two interceptions, two passes defensed and is tied for second on the team with 14 solo tackles.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
The injury-riddled Bengals got a mix of good and bad Thursday.
The bad: Backup safety Kevin Kaesviharn, who has started the past two games at free safety, was added to the injury report as questionable with a back injury. If Kaesviharn can't play or is limited, rookie Madieu Williams would likely move from free to strong safety.
The good: Starting strong safety Rogers Beckett, who has missed the last two games because of a concussion suffered in the opener, was upgraded from questionable to probable for the game Sunday at Pittsburgh. Beckett practiced Thursday for the second day in a row. Beckett's return would allow Williams to move to free safety. Williams started the past two games at strong safety.
Other key injuries remained unchanged Thursday. Starting left tackle Levi Jones (knee) missed his second consecutive day of practice. He had to leave the game early Sunday against Baltimore. He is likely to try to play against Pittsburgh, where he would be working against linebacker Joey Porter.
If Jones can't play, left guard Eric Steinbach would slide to left tackle, and Larry Moore would be inserted at left guard. Moore (knee) has been out since the opener. Though he remained questionable Thursday, Moore did practice for the second day in a row.
The Bengals also appear prepared to play without wide receiver Peter Warrick on Sunday. He remained questionable with a shin injury and did not practice. The team signed wide receiver Cliff Russell from its practice squad Wednesday, and Russell would dress as the fifth wide receiver if Warrick can't play.
The Bengals (1-2) are just trying to hold the team together and steal a victory Sunday before heading into a much-needed bye week.
Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu and Cincinnati quarterback Carson Palmer were roommates at Southern Cal and first-round draft choices in the NFL last season.
Sunday, Polamalu hopes to short-sheet his old roommate.
"It would be a blessing for me to get my hands on the ball," said Polamalu, who leads the Steelers in tackles from his strong safety position and swiped his first NFL interception last week.
Polamalu was a two-time All American at USC, where Palmer won the Heisman Trophy in 2002. Neither, though, started a game as a rookie last season.
"He looks very good," Polamalu said of Palmer's play this season. "His first game, he looked very comfortable. Baltimore is an excellent defense and they gave their offense some trouble. Hopefully, we can do the same."
Polamalu played on the nickel and dime defenses for the Steelers last season even though they traded up in the first round to take him with the 16th pick. He was immediately installed as their starting strong safety the past spring, just about the time Palmer was promoted to No. 1 quarterback in Cincinnati.
"He was a great roommate," Polamalu said of Palmer. "We had a house with about six guys who were low-key guys."
Cincinnati Bengals (1-2) at Pittsburgh Steelers (2-1)
Indianapolis Colts (2-1) at Jacksonville Jaguars (3-0)
New England Patriots (2-0) at Buffalo Bills (0-2)
New York Giants (2-1) at Green Bay Packers (1-2)
Oakland Raiders (2-1) at Houston Texans (1-2)
Philadelphia Eagles (3-0) at Chicago Bears (1-2)
Washington Redskins (1-2) at Cleveland Browns (1-2)
Atlanta Falcons (3-0) at Carolina Panthers (1-1)
New Orleans Saints (2-1) at Arizona Cardinals (0-3)
Denver Broncos (2-1) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-3)
New York Jets (2-0) at Miami Dolphins (0-3)
Tennessee Titans (1-2) at San Diego Chargers (1-2)
St. Louis Rams (1-2) at San Francisco 49ers (0-3)
Kansas City Chiefs (0-3) at Baltimore Ravens (1-2)
The Latest Line: