It's not like He Who Shall Not Be Named was scaring the heck out of little Joey Burrow when Josh Bynes was playing against The Team That Shall Not Be Named.
But the Bengals two generation gap quarterbacks do have far different experiences heading into Sunday's game (4:25 p.m.-Cincinnati's Fox 19) against the Steelers in Pittsburgh.
Burrow, the rookie quarterback, has yet to take a snap against the NFL's lone unbeaten. Bynes, the ninth-year linebacker, made two starts against the Steelers last year during the Ravens' 12-0 run that closed out Baltimore's season and he hopes to run his career record to 5-1 against the Steelers.
Burrow has another moment on his way to Rookie of the Year. As his battered offensive line now adds Covid to its list of health challenges, it is the only thing standing between him and the infamous Steelers pass rush that leads the NFL in sacks, quarterback hits and pressures per pass.
It sounds like Burrow learned some valuable lessons from last month's struggles in Baltimore against the Ravens' blitz that claimed seven sacks in his worst pro outing, his only game that wasn't at least good. Pittsburgh blitzes almost as much per pass as the Ravens, which is nearly half the time.
"Just get the ball out of my hands fast, don't try to make a big play on every snap, execute the offense the way it's supposed to be executed, and the points will come, and the wins will come," Burrow Zoomed before Wednesday's practice, "They are very different schematically. They both bring a lot of pressure, that's the one similarity. I'm sure they are going to watch that game and think they can heat me up and expect me to make some mistakes when I get pressured. But that's something I just can't do and I'm looking forward to this game."
If he doesn't sound cowed, that's because he left his fears in childhood. Burrow revealed Wednesday that his bye-week binge watching included the old FOX series House, M.D., a show he never watched back in the day because it scared him.
"I was scared of everything growing up. I still don't like scary movies. I don't like haunted houses or anything like that," Burrow said. "I couldn't watch Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, House. I was strictly a Sponge Bob, Disney Channel Nickelodeon kind of guy."
About the time Burrow was turning the channel, Bynes was winning a Super Bowl ring with the Ravens as a special teams standout and Ray Lewis understudy. In the three games he's played more than half the snaps against Pittsburgh, the Ravens were 3-0 and the Steelers rushed for less than 100 yards.
That's been the definitive stat in the Bengals-Steelers series, spanning the 29 seasons of Steelers head coaches Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin and quarterbacks Neil O'Donnell and Ben Roethlisberger. In the 58 games the Bengals and Steelers have played since 1992, including two in the postseason, the Steelers have rushed for at least 100 yards in 45 of them and have won all but eight.
In Roethlisberger's 32 starts against them, they've rushed for 100 a total of 23 times and he is 20-3 in those games.
Never mind that the Steelers are ranked 19th in rushing and that nowadays they throw to get the lead and run to win. No matter the era, they are committed to it and Bynes knows what makes the Pittsburgh running game tick.
Last year he didn't get picked up all camp until the Ravens called the first week of October to straighten out the run defense with Pittsburgh up next. He pulled the 2019 version of Quinton Spain, showing up Wednesday and playing 72 percent of the snaps as the Ravens held the Steelers to 77 yards rushing to start that 12-0 finishing kick.
"If you play the Steelers enough, you know what they bring to the table. You know that they just don't care who's lined up in front of them and they don't care what you are running, they don't care about whatever it is, we're going to run our thing and that's on you to stop it," Bynes said. "When I was in Detroit I had the privilege of going against the Steelers in training camp for a couple of days and being around Mike Tomlin, so I promise you his mentality is 'this is what it is. You either stop it or you don't.' And that's what it's going to be about this Sunday.
"Even when you watch the film, they have this mentality that we're going to come down and we're going to punch you in the mouth, we're going to do our plays and it's up to you to stop it. If you do, you do. If you don't, then it's going to be a long day for you. It ain't about nothing else. It ain't no dodge, it ain't about trying to trick you this and try to do all that or whatever. It's just playing sound football, your fundamentals and your keys, and read your stuff and just come downhill and play some real football."
The Bengals came into this season allowing the most yards rushing since 2017 and they spent the offseason trying to fix it with free-agent signings and draft picks. The signing of Bynes was at the center of the overhaul and he knows what his defense must do in the second half that starts against the Steelers.
"We would love to have offenses with less than 100 yards rushing and all that good stuff. Hell, the Steelers just gave up (265) to Baltimore I believe it was. It happens in this league," Bynes said. "But we have to learn how to finish as a team, that we didn't do in the first half of the season. We definitely have to finish better defensively and when we do get off the field, even if we get put back in those situations, where it's a turnover or a sudden-change situation, that we know how to execute really well and get off the field, hold the team to three points or no points and get a turnover."
JOE-BEN, PART I: We know what Roethlisberger's record is against teams from his home state of Ohio. A rather staggering 49-9-1. But he's 0-0 against Burrow, the product of Athens. Burrow may not have grown up rooting for Pittsburgh in Athens' den of Steeler Nation, but he was watching Big Ben.
"He's one of a handful that I always enjoyed watching," Burrow said. "It feels like he is always in control of what's going on. It feels like he's never rushed and he sees the field. I always enjoyed watching him growing up."
Getting the ball out of his hand fast is something Burrow can emulate. According to Pro Football Focus Roethlisberger (212) and Burrow (208) have the most throws with the ball held less than 2.5 seconds with Ben possessing a lethal 73 percent completion percentage with 13 TDs. Big Ben's average time in the pocket is an NFL-shortest 2.13 seconds compared to Burrow's 2.65 that is 17th among regular quarterbacks, just behind Aaron Rodgers and ahead of Teddy Bridgewater.
O-LINE RE-VISITED: So right guard Xavier Su'a-Filo surfaced at practice Wednesday for the time since he broke his ankle in the opener and didn't appear on the injury report. It looks like left tackle Jonah Williams (stinger-limited) is going to try and go, but right tackle Bobby Hart (knee) and backup Fred Johnson (Covid) didn't practice.
Head coach Zac Taylor wouldn't say who the emergency right tackle is, (""We have a couple of guys in that offensive line room that have played before and practiced there") although he indicated that one game after rookie Hakeem Adeniji made his first start at left tackle they feel good about him there. Although he said they would take a look at Su'a-Filo to see if he can go, Taylor didn't sound like he wants to get into a rotation He loves the vet guards Su'a-Filo and Quinton Spain, but it sounds like he's sticking with left guard Michael Jordan and right guard Alex Redmond.
"I think you always want the continuity. You always want those guys to play next to each other, because there are some verbal and some non-verbal stuff they feel from one another," Taylor said. "But we've got a lot of guys who have been in this program for a long time now. They understand the expectations and they've gotten enough reps to where we don't feel cautious throwing things at them. They're prepared to play if they need to."
INJURY UPDATE: Taylor said he wanted to see running back Joe Mixon (foot) do individual drills Wednesday before making the call if he'll work Thursday. Mixon, who has missed the last two games, has never missed three straight in his four seasons.