Injuries have plagued the Steelers so far this season, but Sunday may prove to be the best example of how they are able to work through them. NT Chris Hoke has played well in the absence of Pro Bowl NT Casey Hampton, and Bengals C Eric Ghiaciuk has been less than impressive through the Bengals' first six games. Hoke is a relentless, speed-over-bulk lineman, and can very easily get through or around Ghiaciuk and stuff Cincinnati's beleaguered running game once again.
Ghiaciuk has looked a lot like former Steelers C Sean Mahan, in that he gets dominated by bigger tackles (Cleveland's Shaun Rogers ate him alive in Week 4). He's not any better against guys who weigh less than 340 pounds, and Hoke should be a big part of why Cincinnati will go another game with a poor rushing attack.
QB Ben Roethlisberger vs. Cincinnati secondary
While Roethlisberger is sort of a paradox against Cincinnati – he has 11 interceptions in his past six games against them, but has a career record of 6-2 and has never lost at Paul Brown Stadium – this game may rest on him more than any other has. With RB Willie Parker still nursing a knee injury, Mewelde Moore will get his second straight start. The Bengals are not a team teams can't run against (28th in the NFL, giving up 156.8 yards per game), but turnovers trump all other stats. If Roethlisberger can avoid turnovers and be effective enough against the Bengals' secondary, he should have another quality game.
Cincinnati's pass defense looks good statistically because teams run on them 36 times a game – the highest amount in the league. Looking at their past two games, Steelers would be wise to take caution of Cincinnati's defense. Statistically, Dallas and the Jets should have walked all over them, but the Bengals kept both games competitive, and did not allow either Tony Romo or Brett Favre to throw for more than 230 yards. The Bengals got one interception off Romo, and two off Favre.
The out-spoken Johnson has been largely quieted on the field this season. He traditionally doesn't contribute much statistically against Pittsburgh, and with Ryan Fitzpatrick making his third start this year for the injured Carson Palmer, Johnson's going to have to get something going for the 0-6 Bengals. Fellow WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh has an ankle injury and missed two practices this week.
Taylor is usually locked onto Johnson, and has held him to 107 yards on six catches and no touchdowns in two games last season. Since Johnson is the team's only dynamic and healthy offensive weapon, Taylor's removal of him from any position that may cause a Bengals advantage is important for the Steelers defense.
LT Marvel Smith is out with back spasms. Trai Essex replaced Smith against Jacksonville, but Starks will get the nod against the Bengals. Smith filled in well for Smith at the end of last season, but has seen very little time this season. Starks is playing for a contract with a team likely other than the Steelers, who gave him a one year deal under the transition tag. He started at right tackle on the Steelers Super Bowl championship team in 2005, but has fallen out of favor since then. A big game will help him get the big payday he'll be seeking, as his only role with the Steelers will be as a back-up.
Odom has been a fairly vanilla pass rusher this season, but if he can catch Starks off-guard – he's shown less-than-desireable footwork for a left tackle at times in his career – he could be a factor in this game. He only has two sacks in the team's first six games, but the more pressure he gets, the more turnovers he could force. He has caused two fumbles so far this year.
|The Coolong Scorecard|
Neal Coolong writes a blog called "On The Black Side" and his match-ups column appears weekly on Steel City Insider.