New Bengals? Or S.O.Bs?

The Cincinnati Bengals believe they're entering a new era, but that won't arrive until they can beat the Pittsburgh Steelers. The two AFC North rivals meet today in Cincinnati.

The Cincinnati Bengals want their fans to believe it's a new era. And even though the lineup card says that it's so, until they beat the Steelers, they'll be the same old Bengals who:

* Have lost to the Steelers all four times Coach Mike Tomlin's been on the Pittsburgh sideline.

* Have lost 10 of 13 games to the Steelers under Coach Marvin Lewis.

* Have lost five in a row to the Steelers.

* Have lost every game at home to the Steelers since 2001.

On opening day, the "new" Bengals looked like the same old Bengals when they lost to the Denver Broncos on the longest last-minute pass play (87 yards) in league history. But the Bengals turned it around last week with a surprising 31-24 win at Green Bay.

Some of the key players included defensive end Antwan Odom, who had five sacks; outside linebacker Rey Maualuga, who forced a fumble to provide the turning point of a tie game; and return man Quan Crosby, who returned punts of 60 and 32 yards to set up a touchdown and a field goal.

Those are just three of the current Bengals who weren't in the starting lineup last year when they came to Pittsburgh in November for a 27-10 loss to the Steelers.

In fact, only nine Bengals – counting specialists – were in both the starting lineup that night in Pittsburgh and again last Sunday in Green Bay.

Back from injury are Odom, QB Carson Palmer, WR Chad Ochocinco, LB Keith Rivers, and CB Leon Hall.

Added in free agency were WR Laveranues Coles, DT Tank Johnson, and SS Roy Williams.

Starters and specialists added in the draft were Crosby, Maualuga, and P Kevin Huber.

On paper, they are certainly the new Bengals, and they have some new bite to their defense. After finishing the season with an improved group that allowed only 23 points in the final three games, the Bengals have allowed only nine more points and 18 more yards than have the Steelers in two games this season. The Bengals also have nine more sacks.

Who are these guys?

"Nobody wanted any of us," said second-year defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. "OK, Leon and J-Joe (Joseph) were first-round picks. Rivers, too. And Odom was a free agent. Teams wanted him. But that's it. Nobody wanted the rest of us."

Odom has been the defensive star. His five sacks in Green Bay (three against a backup tackle) give him seven for the season.

The Bengals' right defensive end, Odom bulked up 30 pounds to 280 in the offseason after a disappointing 2008 when the big-ticket free agent had only three sacks. This year he keys a penetrating 4-3 defensive line that Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said "might be the best we've seen so far."

That might not bode well for a Steelers offense that averaged only 3.1 yards per carry and has scored only 27 points in two games.

Offensively, the Bengals are led, of course, by Palmer, who's 2-6 against the Steelers but didn't play in either of last season's games because of an elbow injury.

Running back Cedric Benson has rushed for 217 yards (4.3 avg.) this season, while Ochocinco, Coles and Chris Henry have each caught touchdown passes. Henry has been troubled by a quadriceps injury that keeps him from "opening up deep," according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.

While the long-misbegotten Bengals have clearly improved with the large lineup turnover, they're still prone to mistakes – 13 penalties for 100 yards last week – due to having the third-least experienced (3.77 years per player) roster in the NFL.

The Bengals have also survived with an offensive line that returns only one player – RG Bobbie Williams – to his same position from last season.

"They're coming together as a unit," Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel said of the Bengals' line. "But I think we can beat them."

That might be the place to start against these new-age Bengals.


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