Ben: 'It's AFC North football'

It's a rivalry that continues to grow, one that comes naturally as it pits two highly competitive, physical AFC North teams against each other.

And on Sunday at Heinz Field, when the Steelers host the Cincinnati Bengals in their home opener, physical football will definitely be on display.

"I think it's a physical football game, it's a physical division," said quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. "That is what we expect, a physical football game. Clean."

The Steelers defeated the Bengals in the regular season and playoffs last year in Cincinnati, while the Bengals won at Heinz Field. Roethlisberger said while things heated up last year against the Bengals, he doesn't look at them any different than he does any other AFC North opponent.

"It's AFC North football," said Roethlisberger. "All of them are competitive. Whether it's the Browns, the Bengals or the Ravens, to us they are all big division rivals. You amp it up because it's AFC North. That is why you amp it up.

"It's a competitive rivalry, just like all the games are in this division. They won the division last year. Everyone wants that coveted AFC North title."

This week will be the first AFC North test for the Steelers, and it will be against a solid Bengals defense even without linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who is serving a three-game suspension for "repeated violations of safety-related playing rules."

"One of the best defenses in the league," said Roethlisberger. "Physical game, mental game. Just a really, really big challenge for us."

The natural rivalry, combined with being the home opener, is going to make for a fun afternoon at Heinz Field on Sunday.

"It's exciting. As much as we are playing the Bengals, it's AFC North, we are going to Heinz Field and it's the opener," said Roethlisberger. "I am sure there will be a lot of energy and excitement there. We feed off of that. We are excited to have our fans there being rowdy. Hopefully we can come away with a 'W' for them."

A little more from Ben:

On his confidence in the younger guys, because of their performance against Washington:
"It makes you feel good and it makes them feel good. Some of those guys got their first NFL experience and for them to get that is a big thing. I've got confidence in them and I think they have confidence in themselves, so that's key. We just have to keep it moving forward."**

On quick throws:**

"We were just taking what they (Washington's defense) gave us. They were dropping some linebackers deep and it was giving us a chance to get Jesse (James) the ball right away. I've been doing that my whole career, just getting the ball and throwing it. I guess the Lord blessed me with big hands."On a difference in the Bengals defense without Vontaze Burfict:

He's a great player. He's all over the field making plays. Obviously, if he's not out there, they don't have that guy. But, they've got a lot of other guys who are stepping up and making plays. Like I said, one of the best defenses in the league." On pass to Sammie Coates:

I knew he was going to be there, I knew the play we had called and I knew what the coverage was going to be. I'm just thankful there wasn't a blitz. I picked it up and knew it was one-on-one, just tried to put it out there, just throw it pretty far and let him (Coates) do the rest."  On Reggie Nelson:

He's been a good player. He's been a guy I have played against for a long time and has made a lot of plays against me. Him and I joke. I told him he should thank me for getting him into the Pro Bowl last year. Good player, glad he's not back there, but they have some other guys who are still back there, guys they brought up through the system who are pretty good."On how running the ball well opens up things for the offense:

It helps us. Like we always say, we want to be a balanced offense. I think when you can run the ball as effectively as we did, especially late in the game, I think it opens up the play-action stuff. But, it also forces the defense to come down and try to take away the run, and that opens up the pass game." 

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