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Bengals ready for another rivalry game with Steelers

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CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Bengals are 6-0 and leading the AFC North behind the stellar play of quarterback Andy Dalton. Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is recovering from an MCL sprain.

And, the young Steelers’ defense no longer is orchestrated by legendary coordinator Dick LeBeau or anchored by the likes of Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor.

One might assume this will all add up to a different result on Sunday when the teams square off at Heinz Field. Or, will history repeat itself?

Pittsburgh has won three straight in the series and eight of the past 10 meetings. The Steelers would rather not allow rival Cincinnati to improve to 7-0 for the first time in franchise history on its home turf.

“I feel like if you go to Heinz Field and win, you can win anywhere,” said cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. “That’s one of the hardest places I’ve played in since I’ve been in the NFL. It would definitely be a confidence booster.”

Cincinnati hopes to pin a new chapter in the rivalry this week.

But while a victory over the hated Steelers might be a feather in their cap, a greater prize awaits for these Bengals.

“We want to win in the playoffs,” Kirkpatrick said. “Nothing’s more important than that.”

A win on Sunday certainly would bolster Cincinnati’s post-season position, giving them a three and one-half game lead over the Steelers in the division and a 6-0 record in the AFC.

“It’s ‘Division Week,’” left tackle Andrew Whitworth said, flipping the script on the ‘Steelers Week’ theme.

“Whether it’s Baltimore, Pittsburgh, or Cleveland, there’s an extra bit of energy and attitude in the locker room that week. Focus will be at an all-time high.”

While Bengals players did their best to downplay the opponent this week, no doubt bad blood persists.

Cincinnati fans still lament Kimo von Oelhoffen’s hit on Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer who suffered a torn ACL in the 2005 playoffs. Then there’s the broken jaw suffered by linebacker Keith Rivers after a hit by Pittsburgh’s Hines Ward in ’08. Oh, and last year’s hit by Bengals corner Reggie Nelson on running back Le’Veon Bell later resulting in a heated exchange between Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and Nelson following the game.

Keith Butler is in his first season as Pittsburgh’s defensive coordinator after serving as its linebackers coach for 12 seasons. While he still incorporates the aggressive, physical style of his protégé LeBeau, Dalton saw some differences on film with Butler’s defense.

“There’s definitely similarities to what they’ve done in the past,” Dalton said. “But you can tell he’s thrown in his own wrinkles, his style.”

What hasn’t changed is the Steelers’ variety of blitz packages that brings pressure from different areas at any time. Pittsburgh (4-2) is tied for sixth in the league with 19 sacks.

“They bring guys from all over the place,” said Dalton. “You have to understand where guys are and where the pressure is coming from, when you’re protected and when you’re not protected. It all comes down to preparation during the week.”

Roethlisberger is expected to play Sunday barring any setbacks with his knee. How effective he’ll be on Sunday remains to be seen.

The Bengals expect the same Big Ben who’s 17-6 against them in his career.

“Ben’s one of the best quarterbacks in this league,” said Dalton. “With the way he can extend plays. He also can stand back there and throw it. The game’s never over against him. You have to take advantage of every opportunity you can get.”

SERIES HISTORY: 90th regular-season meeting. Steelers lead series, 55-34 and has won the past three meetings and eight of the previous 10.

GAME PLAN

–It’s uncertain how effective Ben Roethlisberger will be on Sunday in his first start back since the knee injury. The Bengals will force Roethlisberger to test his knee early and often. Cincinnati has 17 sacks this season and has grown tired of chasing Roethlisberger throughout his career. Bengals QB Andy Dalton and the Bengals offense will be tested by a young, speedy Pittsburgh defense under first-year coordinator Keith Butler. Dalton will need to avoid mental errors while sizing up the Steelers’ variety of blitz packages. Cincinnati can improve to 7-0 if it limits turnovers and can contain Antonio Brown, particularly on punt returns.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

–Bengals special teams vs. Steelers kick returner Antonio Brown who has three career punt return TDs, all against Cincinnati, each at Heinz Field.

Bengals special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons told reporters this week that they will try to limit Brown’s touches with proper placement by punter Kevin Huber. Last year a missed tackle by Dre Kirkpatrick resulted in Brown’s 71-yard return for a TD.

–Bengals defensive line vs. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger.

There will be a virtual target on Roethlisberger’s back when he plays for the first time since suffering a knee injury. Roethlisberger’s ability to elude pressure and extend plays with his feet has been a thorn in the Bengals’ side throughout his career. But, with Cincinnati’s defensive line healthy and firing on all cylinders, and Roethlisberger potentially at less than 100 percent, the Bengals smell blood. Cincinnati has 17 sacks this season led by DT Geno Atkins whose four sacks rank fourth in the league among interior lineman.


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