By BOB LABRIOLA
The following are some of the interesting matchups to watch when the Steelers host the Cincinnati Bengals at 8:15 p.m. on Thursday at Heinz Field. The game will be broadcast by NFL Network, with fans in the Pittsburgh area also able to watch the telecast on WPCW (Pittsburgh's CW).
STEELERS ROLB JAMES HARRISON AND DE BRETT KEISEL VS. BENGALS LT LEVI JONES AND LG ANDREW WHITWORTH: Under ideal circumstances, this would be a difficult matchup for the Bengals. Harrison is having a Defensive Player of the Year type season so far, and Keisel is giving the Steelers exactly what they need from a defensive end in their scheme. But these are not ideal circumstances for the Bengals, because both Jones and Whitworth are injured, and even if they both play neither will be close to 100 percent. Whitworth left the Bengals' locker room last Sunday on crutches, and Jones left Paul Brown Stadium hobbled on a troubled leg. Coach Marvin Lewis hasn't ruled either out for the game, but neither was practicing early in what was going to be a very short week. "The main thing we'll deal with as we go through the week is got some guys banged up, particularly on the offensive line, with Andrew Whitworth and obviously Levi didn't finish the game at full strength," Lewis said on Monday. "We'll have to deal with that as we go through the week here, and gain some replacements that way." The Bengals signed guard Nate Livings from the practice squad with a spot created by putting linebacker Abdul Hodge on injured reserve. The team also signed center Digger Bujnoch to the practice squad. If Jones doesn't play, it'll be rookie Anthony Collins at left tackle; if Whitworth can't play, the backup listed is Scott Kooistra, but he has been hobbled by a knee injury.
STEELERS ILB JAMES FARRIOR VS. BENGALS RB CEDRIC BENSON:The Bengals first decided that Rudi Johnson wasn't the answer anymore, and he's now in Detroit. The job then went to Chris Perry, who started the first six games, but he is averaging only 2.7 yards a carry. The Bengals then turned to Benson, the former No. 1 pick of the Bears, and the results have been much better. "They have settled on a feature ball-carrier and that guy is Cedric Benson," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "He is doing a nice job; he appears to be running very well right now. It is obvious that he is shaking the rust off as evidenced by his performance of late, specifically the one in Jacksonville. His performance was central and key to their win in that game." Benson had 104 of the team's season-high 159 rushing yards that day, and he still has the combination of speed and power that made him so attractive on one draft day. Benson's first start for the Bengals was in the game against the Steelers, and he finished with 52 yards on 14 carries, while also being the cause of Bryant McFadden's broken arm and Troy Polamalu's concussion.
STEELERS RT WILLIE COLON VS. BENGALS DE ROBERT GEATHERS: Marvin Lewis first learned the ways of the NFL in Pittsburgh, when he worked on Bill Cowher's first staff as the linebackers coach with coordinator Dom Capers and secondary coach Dick LeBeau. What he learned back then was pressure, and the Bengals are showing that right now. "Defensively, the biggest thing is they are applying more pressure than they were a month ago," said Tomlin. "They have added to their blitz packages, but at the same time they have guys who are playing better football for them. Robert Geathers is a guy who jumps out at you when you study the tape here of recent weeks. This guy had a sack and forced fumble last week (against the Eagles); he had a sack against Jacksonville. This guy is playing good football for them at the left end position. He has really ignited them defensively." The Bengals are 1-0-1 in the last two games after opening 0-8, and their defense played well back-to-back against the Jaguars and Eagles. Cincinnati had five sacks and four takeaways in those two games, a dramatic improvement for a team that had nine sacks and four interceptions over the first eight games.
STEELERS KICKOFF COVERAGE VS. BENGALS KOR GLENN HOLT: "Glenn Holt didn't play for them the last time that we faced those guys, and they had some success returning kickoffs on us," said Tomlin. "We have to shore up that element of the matchup and respect the fact they have their primary return man back." In that first meeting, the Bengals returned six kickoffs for 129 yards, with Andre Caldwell turning in a long of 36 among his three returns for 88 yards. Holt is a better returner than Caldwell; he has a long of 60 yards so far this season.