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Armed with Big Ben, how dangerous will Steelers be?

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PITTSBURGH — How much rust will there be on the right arm of Ben Roethlisberger?

That is the burning question facing the Pittsburgh Steelers as they prepare for their AFC North showdown with the Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday.

Before Roethlisberger injured his left knee at St. Louis and missed the past four games, he was playing at a high level, completing 75 percent of his passes for 304 yards per game.

Considering he exited the third game of the season at St. Louis early in the third quarter and finished with only 192 yards, his yards per game average is skewed lower than it should be.

Roethlisberger threw for 351 yards and a touchdown in the season opener at New England and then 369 yards and three touchdowns against San Francisco, his final complete game before suffering the injury against the Rams in Week 3.

Are three full practices this week enough for Roethlisberger and his receivers to get their timing back?

“I hope so,” Roethlisberger said. “We’re going to go out there and give it a go (Wednesday) and see where it goes from there.”

Roethlisberger experienced some pain and inflammation late last week after going through a rigorous practice on Thursday. He was listed as questionable for the Kansas City game, but Landry Jones made his first NFL start in his place.

“I think it was more pain and inflammation setback,” Roethlisberger said. “I don’t think it was another injury. It was just putting an extra heavy load on it and paying for it that night just with achiness, inflammation, things like that.

“I didn’t know what to expect. It was more disappointment. Once I got the reassurance I didn’t do anything to hurt the MCL or bone bruise; that it was just simple overuse, the inflammation and swelling will naturally happen… Once I got over the initial shock that something more happened I was fine with it.”

The Steelers might need Roethlisberger to pick up where he left off. The Bengals boast one of the top offenses in the NFL, and this game could come down to which quarterback can make plays in the red zone.

The Bengals are second in the league, scoring touchdowns on 71 percent of their trips inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. Despite using three quarterbacks in the past month, the Steelers rank fourth in red-zone efficiency. They have scored touchdowns on 68 percent of their trips inside the 20, although they’ve made only 50 percent the past three games.

“This is a heck of a test for us,” Roethlisberger said. “This is one of the best teams in football right now.”

SERIES HISTORY: 90th regular-season meeting. The Steelers lead the series, 55-34. The Steelers have won three in a row, eight of the past 10 and are 30-15 in games played in Pittsburgh. The Steelers won the only playoff meeting between the two teams following the 2005 season, beating the Bengals, 31-17, in an AFC wild-card game at Paul Brown Stadium. It was the first of three consecutive playoff victories on the road for the Steelers en route to their fifth Super Bowl title.

GAME PLAN: In two games last season, Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger threw for 667 yards, five touchdowns and only one interception. Expect the Steelers to attack the Bengals in the same manner on Sunday. It’s the first time this season the Steelers will have their four best offensive playmakers on the field together. The Bengals had a difficult time covering Antonio Brown, who had 16 receptions for 245 yards in the two games combined. Until the Bengals secondary proves it can shut the Steelers passing game down they’ll continue to look for chances to exploit the Bengals pass defense, which ranks 21st in the league this season.

When the Bengals have the ball, expect QB Andy Dalton to attack the Steelers as well. In two games against the Steelers last season, Dalton threw for 546 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. Dalton will have an eye on the Steelers secondary. Several starters are banged up, and even if they play, they’ll likely be hampered by their injuries.

Safety Will Allen and cornerback William Gay are on the injury report with ankle and shoulder injuries and cornerback Antwon Blake played last week with a cast on his broken thumb.

It could be another shootout at Heinz Field when the two teams meet again Sunday.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

–The Steelers secondary vs. Bengals QB Andy Dalton, who must be licking his chops in anticipation of the matchup. It would have been a difficult matchup if the Steelers had a healthy secondary. The Steelers are 28th in pass defense (277 yards per game) while the Bengals are fifth in pass offense (288 ypg). The fact that the Steelers could have some backups in the game due to injuries is yet more reason for Dalton to attack through the air.

–Steelers RT Marcus Gilbert vs. Bengals DE Carlos Dunlap, who is tied for the league lead in sacks with 6.5. Gilbert is no slouch, though. He has yet to give up a sack this season. Adding intrigue to the matchup, Gilbert and Dunlap know each other well, not only from their frequent AFC North confrontations but dating to their days as teammates at the University of Florida.


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