Key Match-ups: Steelers-Bengals

Neal Coolong examines the key match-ups in today's game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals.

ROLB James Harrison vs. LT Anthony Collins

Collins could be thrust into the starting role, as starting LT Levi Jones missed much of Sunday's 13-13 tie with Philadelphia. Andrew Whitworth moved from left guard to left tackle, replacing Jones, but he suffered a high ankle sprain and was carted off the field. At that point, Eagles defensive end Trent Cole had two sacks, two tackles for loss and two hits on Bengals quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Steelers sacked Fitzpatrick seven times in their Week

With Whitworth and Jones hobbled at best (neither practiced Tuesday) for the short-week game at Pittsburgh, rookie Anthony Collins may get the start, and take on Harrison. On paper, it seems Harrison, who has 10.5 sacks in Primetime games the past two seasons, and 12 sacks this season (second in the NFL) has the makings of a big game. It wouldn't be surprising to see the Steelers try the 46 look they showed the Chargers in their 11-10 Week 11 win. They had Harrison and LOLB LaMarr Woodley over LT Marcus McNeill, and drew a false start.

SS Troy Polamalu vs. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick

With Harrison likely having a favorable match-up off the edge, the Bengals likely will keep a tight end in to help with him. That will leave Polamalu with some room to roam, and play with Fitzpatrick's head. Polamalu could line up along with Harrison, and cause confusion for Fitzpatrick down the field. If the young Bengals QB cannot accurately identify Polamalu's intentions on each play, he's going to be in for a long game.

Fitzpatrick is the third-lowest rated passer in the AFC (71.3), but has completed 66 percent of his passes (50-for-75) in the Bengals past two games, with three touchdowns to one interception. The Bengals are 1-0-1 in those games. He's grown much more comfortable with the Bengals' offense since he took over full time for the injured Carson Palmer in Week 6. It will be crucial for him to stay on the same page with his receivers and change up protections based on what the Steelers are showing.

RB Willie Parker vs. Cincinnati run defense

The question surrounding the Bengals defense is whether they are more likely to get beat on the ground or in the air. Judging by the stats over their past three games, it doesn't seem teams really want to run much on them. Philadelphia's Brian Westbrook had 60 yards on 14 carries in Week 11. Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew had 33 yards on 10 carries in a Week 10 Bengals win. Houston's Steve Slaton had 53 yards on 15 carries in Week 9.

But Parker has shredded the Bengals in his career. In the last six regular season games he's played against Cincinnati, he has 682 yards rushing and six touchdowns. His return last week against San Diego was a jolt to a sagging offense, and considering how well the Steelers offensive line played in Week 11, Parker is poised to crack the century mark once again.

Hines Ward vs. Jonathan Joseph

Two storylines exist amongst the Steelers wide receivers this week. With Santonio Holmes (Ohio State) going against Leon Hall (Michigan) during Ohio State/Michigan Week, it's still Ward and the Bengals' veiled threats of revenge that takes center stage. Ward was instrumental in the Steelers' win last week, making some huge third down catches.

Joseph is arguably the team's best defender, and has been asked to do a lot this season, considering the Bengals' weak pass rush. The Steelers are likely to pound Parker until he can't go anymore or the game is out of reach, but Ward will still play a vital role in getting the safeties out of the box to loosen up the run. Joseph has that task in front of him, but also dealing with Ward in the run game, where he is likely to show threats of retribution don't intimidate him.

The Coolong Scorecard
Steelers Unit Bengals
x Quarterback  
x Running backs  
x Offensive line  
x Wide receivers  
x Tight ends  
x Defensive line  
x Linebackers  
x Defensive backs  
x Special teams  

Neal Coolong writes a blog called "On The Black Side" and his match-ups column appears weekly on Steel City Insider.

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