By BOB LABRIOLA
The following are some of the interesting matchups to watch when the Steelers travel to Cincinnati for a 1 p.m. game against the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium:
STEELERS CBs BRYANT McFADDEN AND IKE TAYLOR VS. BENGALS WR CHAD OCHO CINCO: Since Ocho Cinco entered the league in 2001, he has scored 50 touchdowns, but only two of those came in the 15 games against the Steelers – one in 2003 and one in 2004 – and the Bengals are 4-11 in those games. That should not be considered a coincidence. "I think that has been one of their main focuses to keep No. 85 out of the end zone," said Ocho Cinco. "It's not really going away from their scheme; they really stay in their scheme in terms of the way they play defense. One of those focal points has always been me." The Bengals have multiple weapons at wide receiver, with T.J. Houshmandzadeh (five touchdowns) and Chris Henry (three touchdowns) both getting the ball into the end zone against the Steelers more often than Ocho Cinco. But when he scores, the energy that bubbles to the surface could infect the rest of the team to a degree where it would raise the level of its play. Keeping Ocho Cinco quiet from that standpoint is a step on the way to beating the Bengals.
STEELERS OLBs JAMES HARRISON AND LaMARR WOODLEY VS. BENGALS QB RYAN FITZPATRICK:Being that he was accepted into Harvard, and then smart enough to graduate from there with a degree in economics, Fitzpatrick has an edge over Ben Roethlisberger in one area, but that won't mean a whole lot come Sunday at 1 p.m. Where Fitzpatrick might best help his winless team against the Steelers is by using his head to help him know when to use his legs. In his two starts, Fitzpatrick is averaging 6.3 yards per carry, and his total already is high enough to put him second on the team in rushing. "We are going to apply pressure because that is what we do," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "We are going to play our game. There is no question that he has experienced some problems under pressure, but that is any quarterback who lacks experience. The thing that you have to be conscious of when pressuring this guy is that maybe their play selection changes some. They are running misdirected passes, boots, they are running some sprint-outs. So you can also get yourself in trouble pressuring some of those things when they change the launch point on you." Pressuring Fitzpatrick is tempting, but keeping him contained will be most important.
STEELERS QB BEN ROETHLISBERGER VS. BENGALS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR MIKE ZIMMER: The Steelers only had to watch the Monday night game between the Giants and Browns to see again the formula by which a team can lose on the road to an underdog. And turnovers always are at the heart of the matter. This is Cincinnati's Super Bowl, and the Bengals will put forth their best effort of the season. If the Steelers help that by making mistakes, well, better Steelers teams have traveled to Cincinnati and lost to worse Bengals teams. As for more recent examples of this – remember Steelers vs. Texans in 2002 and Steelers vs. Raiders in 2006.
STEELERS KICK COVERAGE VS. BENGALS KOR GLENN HOLT:"We are starting to get some continuity in that phase of the game and I think that it is showing up," said Tomlin about the Steelers kick coverage after the Jaguars game. Some guys that we have asked to step in have done a nice job. We have surrounded them with some consistent performers on that phase of our team." For this game, however, one of their most consistent special teams players – Keyaron Fox – is out with a hamstring injury, but Anthony Madison, William Gay, Lawrence Timmons and some others are capable of getting the job done. Holt leads the NFL with 744 total return yards, and he is on pace to return 75 kickoffs for 1,984 yards, both of which would be team records by a large margin. If the Bengals can answer a Steelers score with a special teams touchdown, it's certain to awaken the crowd at Paul Brown Stadium, as well as send a surge of energy through the Bengals sideline.
STEELERS Gs CHRIS KEMOEATU AND DARNELL STAPLETON VS. BENGALS DTs JOHN THORNTON AND DOMATA PEKO: The Bengals don't match up particular well on paper with the Steelers in a game that's primarily run-the-ball and stop-the-run, but things can change once the ball is put on the tee on Sundays at 1 p.m. Because Carey Davis has been ruled out and Willie Parker didn't practice either on Wednesday or Thursday, it appears as though Mewelde Moore and Gary Russell will be doing the bulk of the work for the Steelers rushing attack. The Bengals come in to this game having allowed eight rushing touchdowns already, and opponents are averaging 4.3 yards per carry. The ground is always the Steelers preferred method of travel, and if they can run the ball well enough that Roethlisberger attempts 20 passes or fewer, it almost always leads to a victory. Naturally, this starts up front.