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
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
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
The Steelers have shut down Benson through most of his career,
holding him to 3.3 yards per carry and two touchdowns in six
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