Steelers-Bengals Preview

For a team picked to finish last and in apparent disarray

heading into the season, the Cincinnati Bengals are making many

prognosticators look foolish.

Riding their longest winning streak in more than 23 years and

tied for the lead in the AFC North, the Bengals begin a stretch of

four straight games against division rivals when they host the

Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.

The holdout of Carson Palmer, trade of Chad Ochocinco to New

England and impending suspension of Cedric Benson had many

predicting no better than a repeat of last season’s dismal 4-12

performance.

Palmer has since been traded to Oakland and Ochocinco has been

ineffective for the Patriots, while Benson and rookie quarterback

Andy Dalton have helped lead the Bengals (6-2) to the top of their

division, tied with Baltimore.

Cincinnati has won five straight after beating Tennessee 24-17

last week, marking its longest winning streak since a six-game run

in 1988 – the last time the Bengals appeared in the Super Bowl.

There’s a long way to go, though, before Cincinnati starts

talking about reaching that level.

“Our goals are the same – trying to win the AFC North and

nothing less than the playoffs,” defensive tackle Domata Peko, who

is helping anchor the Bengals’ fourth-ranked defense allowing 301.3

yards per game, told the team’s official website.

“That’s what our goals have been coming into the season and we

just have to keep things rolling. There’s nothing else we want to

do but make the playoffs and take it from there.”

Dalton has experienced some growing pains but has been an

adequate replacement for Palmer, throwing for 12 touchdowns and

seven interceptions. He went 22 for 39 for 217 yards and three TDs

last week, while Benson added 78 yards on 20 carries after serving

a one-game suspension in the Bengals’ 34-12 win over Seattle on

Oct. 30.

Cincinnati’s offense hasn’t exactly been explosive – it ranks

22nd averaging 316.3 total yards – and it’s sure to be tested in

the next four games, including two against Pittsburgh (6-3).

The Steelers, who have won seven of the last nine meetings, rank

third in the NFL in total defense allowing 280.2 yards per game.

Cincinnati plays at Baltimore on Nov. 20 and hosts Cleveland on

Nov. 27 before traveling to Pittsburgh on Dec. 4.

“It’s a street fight,” said left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who

caught a 1-yard touchdown pass in a 23-7 loss to the Steelers in

the most recent meeting Dec. 12. “It’s a football game, but it’s

like you’re meeting somebody in the school parking lot. That’s what

it is. It’s football, but it’s a fight at the same time.”

Pittsburgh, which is tied with Miami for last in the league with

four takeaways, allowed a 13-play, 92-yard drive in the final 2 1/2

minutes of a 23-20 loss to Baltimore last Sunday night, giving up a

touchdown pass with eight seconds remaining.

The loss snapped Pittsburgh’s four-game winning streak, and the

356 yards allowed were the most since giving up 385 to Baltimore in

a season-opening 35-7 loss Sept. 11.

“We lost a very tough, close ballgame, highly contested,” coach

Mike Tomlin said. “Hopefully we will grow and learn from it. I know

those will be our intentions. I truly believe that it will

strengthen us moving forward.”

Though the Steelers have had success against the Bengals in

recent seasons, their meetings have been tight. Prior to

Pittsburgh’s victory last December, the previous three games were

decided by six points or fewer, with Cincinnati winning two.

“Really, when you think about it, the last couple of years, the

ball has ended up in their hands inside the 10-yard line or so, to

win it at the very end,” Tomlin said. “We were fortunate enough to

make a play a year ago (in a 27-21 win Nov. 8, 2010). We weren’t

the year before that (when the Bengals threw a touchdown pass with

14 seconds remaining to win 23-20 on Sept. 27, 2009).”

Ben Roethlisberger has averaged 352.0 yards while throwing six

touchdowns over his last three games, though he hasn’t had similar

success in recent meetings with Cincinnati.

He hasn’t thrown for more than 280 yards while tossing 10

touchdowns and 10 interceptions with a 79.7 passer rating over the

last 10 matchups. The Bengals have allowed eight passing touchdowns

this season, tied for third-fewest in the NFL.

Cincinnati has the league’s second-best run defense allowing

84.5 yards per game, while Pittsburgh ranks sixth giving up

95.6.

The Steelers have shut down Benson through most of his career,

holding him to 3.3 yards per carry and two touchdowns in six

matchups.

Pittsburgh’s LaMarr Woodley will miss a second straight game due

to a hamstring injury, but fellow linebacker James Farrior is

probable to return after missing two games with a calf problem.

Cincinnati linebacker Rey Maualuga said he expects to play

despite an injured ankle which has kept him out of the last three

games.