KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
TV: FOX, Dick Enberg, Randy Cross
SERIES: 75th meeting. The Steelers lead the series, 44-30 with a 20-17 record in Cincinnati. The Steelers beat the Bengals in Cincinnati in the final game of last season, 23-17 in overtime, to knock them out of a playoff berth. It was their sixth straight win in Cincinnati and seven of their last eight there. Pittsburgh has won 11 of their past 15 games against the Bengals.
PREDICTION: Steelers 27-20
KEYS TO THE GAME: Steelers RB Willie Parker is third in the AFC with 600 rushing yards, and it's no coincidence his only non-100-yard games came in Pittsburgh's two losses. QB Ben Roethlisberger is enjoying a rebound season, but the pass protection in front of him has been shaky at times and the Steelers should be able to control the clock against a Bengals team allowing 135.5 yards per game on the ground. ... The Bengals scored 38 points last Sunday on the strength of 41 rushing plays, finally providing the ground game to help QB Carson Palmer from having to force the issue downfield. Replicating that game plan against Pittsburgh's No. 3-ranked defense will be awfully difficult. However, teams have found some success by focusing on shorter passes, and the Bengals have the big receivers who can make things happen after the catch.
KEY INJURIES: Steelers: DE Aaron Smith (knee) is out, snapping his 116 consecutive games played streak; CB Bryant McFadden (ankle sprain) could miss his third straight game. Bengals: RT Willie Anderson (knee) is out for the second time in three games, replaced by Stacy Andrews; MLB Ahmad Brooks will miss his fifth straight game, replaced by Anthony Schlegel.
FAST FACTS: Roethlisberger is 8-0 in his career in his home state of Ohio (4-0 at Cleveland and Cincinnati). ... Bengals WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh has caught a touchdown pass in all six games this season.
--RB Rudi Johnson (hamstring) did not practice for the second day in a row. He has missed of the last three games. The Bengals appear to be comfortable with Kenny Watson and DeDe Dorsey as their two running backs for the Steelers game.
--MLB Anthony Schlegel will start at middle linebacker in place of Ahmad Brooks, who is out for the fifth week in a row with a groin injury.
--LB Caleb Miller (back) did not practice.
--SS Dexter Jackson (hip) practiced full Thursday.
--WR Chad Johnson had a sore ankle Thursday and was held out of practice for the second Thursday in a row. He will play against the Steelers.
--FS Ryan Clark (spleen) did not practice on Thursday and it looks as if he will not play. Anthony Smith would replace him as the starter.
--DE Aaron Smith (knee) did not practice and will not play Sunday in Cincinnati. Smith has played in 115 consecutive games, including playoffs.
--FB Dan Kreider, who earned his first start last week in Denver, could be in for more playing time as the Steelers move more to the ground against the Bengals.
--DE Nick Eason, who signed as a UFA from Cleveland this year, will make his first start on the left side for Aaron Smith.
--LB LaMarr Woodley, whose three sacks are tied for second on the team, should get more playing time as a pass-rusher this week because of his production and because of Smith's absence.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is on his way to having one of his best seasons in his four with the Steelers.
Roethlisberger has completed 63.3 percent of his passes this season. He's also well on his way to throwing more touchdowns than ever -- his 13 are five fewer than his previous high, set last season. His five interceptions are way off the pace of his 23 that led the NFL last season.
Roethlisberger provides a glib answer to explain his improvement over a disastrous 2006 season when he was 7-9 as a starter and his passer rating dipped more than 20 points to 75.4.
"I throw it to the guy in our jersey instead of their jersey. I don't know, there's probably no explanation for it. Being smart with the ball and knowing what's going on."
Ken Anderson, Roethlisberger's new quarterbacks coach, has not touched his mechanics, but he has helped his pupil with the mental part of the game.
Anderson downplays his role in Roethlisberger's improvement this season.
"The credit has to go to him and how hard he's worked at it," Anderson said. "He's taking care of the football, he's making good decisions with it. I think that's something for Ben that was brought up a lot last year and that's something you always focus on, is taking care of the football and he's done a pretty good job of that."
Roethlisberger was more pals with his former quarterbacks coach, Mark Whipple, and it took a little bit for him to warm up to Anderson.
"Anybody that played as long as he did and played as well as he did, it helps because it gives him credibility," Roethlisberger said. "When he tells you something, you listen to it."
"When we get down there, they get open," Roethlisberger explained. "So much attention has gone to the receivers. When you get down there, those guys are big targets. They can get open down the middle and at the corners and they're doing a great job.
"Obviously, Heath and I have a great chemistry. He's my roommate and he's just a guy that I know that I can count on. I know when I need him, if I'm scrambling, even if the play isn't called for him, he's got great hands and he gets it done every play."
He is No. 91, the player the Bengals gave a hefty contract extension to in January.
Robert Geathers has earned the money. He has willingly, and effectively, made the switch -- at least temporarily -- from defensive end to linebacker.
Regardless of which position he plays, Geathers -- No. 91 to Bengals opponents -- is a marked man. Though Geathers is the team's top pass rusher -- with 10.5 sacks in 2006, he was moved from defensive end to linebacker a few weeks ago and started the past two games at strong-side linebacker. He had eight tackles and broke up a pass at Kansas City and added three tackles against the Jets.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has seen a lot of No. 91 in game film.
"He does a lot of things. A lot of focus has to be on him because he is such a good pass rusher, and now he's playing a different position," Roethlisberger said. "We just have to be aware of where he's at all the time and make sure that we try and get a big guy on him and block him because he can be very disruptive if he gets in space and gets a back on him."
Geathers is part of a trio that has started each of the past two games at the injury-ravaged linebacker position for the Bengals and added a sense of stability. Anthony Schlegel has started at middle linebacker with steady Landon Johnson on the weak side.
Geathers is open to the switch. At 265 pounds, he definitely is the team's biggest linebacker, but he's no liability in pass coverage because of his quickness, speed and football savvy.
"I'm still getting used to it. I'm learning a whole lot," Geathers said of his new position. "I think I'll be better at it once I get more comfortable."
Despite a solid pass offense, the Steelers are a run-first team, Geathers said of the Bengals' opponent Sunday.
"We know they are going to run down hill with a power running game," he said. "We know how good Willie Parker is, how fast he is, how he can bounce outside. We have to be ready to play a physical game and tackle on defense."