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Bengals Notebook: Expecting Healthier Steelers; All Things Burrow; Boyd, Hilton Plant Pittsburgh Connections In The Slot

Tyler Boyd looks for his first NFL win in his hometown.
Tyler Boyd looks for his first NFL win in his hometown.

There's nothing more illusory than an early week Steelers injury report, so the one that was dispatched Wednesday in the run-up to Sunday's game (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's 12) at Heinz Field was a little more realistic.

These guys are known to tough it out and if they don't, they find somebody who can.

Naturally, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, like he seems to be every week, is on the injury report. Since it is his left pectoral muscle that was hurt Sunday and not his throwing pec, no one is going to be surprised when Roethlisberger draws his 35th start against Cincinnati as he tries to prevent losing his fifth game at home against them.

Roethlisberger has come off the injury report so often he is the AFC North's resident vampire. Heck, he crawled out of the crypt against the Bengals in the same game Vontaze Burfict put a stake through his throwing shoulder and won the Steelers a Wild Card Game with a comeback win at the gun.

"He's been doing it for a long time. He's a tough guy. We're expecting him to play so we've got to be prepared," said Bengals slot cornerback Mike Hilton, who saw Roethlisberger's M.O. for the last four years as a Steeler. "If he's not, we'll adjust and do our job."

Even though Bengals head coach Zac Taylor has only played him twice, he gets it as the only Bengals head coach to be .500 vs. Ben at 1-1.

"He's tough and he's able to take some hits," Taylor said before Wednesday's practice. "He took some tough hits (10) in the last game, so you can see why someone would be sore after that. But you always get a really good player on Sunday, and that's what we've got to be ready for."

Of course, Roethlisberger didn't practice Wednesday. But left end T.J. Watt (groin), who was supposed to be out, went limited. So he and his 7.5 career sacks and 12 QB hits in eight games against the Bengals figure to be in place Sunday. But don't expect him to have that kind of a run of the place in his first game against right tackle Riley Reiff. Cornerback Joe Haden (groin) also went limited, defying those who thought he'd miss this one after missing last week. So it looks like he'll play his 18th career game against the Bengals and looks to add to his Cincinnati totals of four interceptions and 27 passes defensed.

Linebacker Devin Bush, who has 13 tackles and three of them for a loss in two games against the Bengals, also looks ready to play after he injured his groin in the opener and missed last week. He went full Wednesday.

Meanwhile, two starters were out for the Bengals Wednesday, wide receiver Tee Higgins (shoulder) and right guard Xavier Su'a-Filo (knee. Taylor said he'd try to get them back for Friday's practice.

Starting cornerback Trae Waynes (hamstring) could very well miss his third straight game because he didn't work Wednesday on a wet field and you figure he needs a full week of practice since going down a month ago. They could give him the extra rest after next Thursday night's game against Jacksonville, making his Bengals debut Oct. 10 at Paul Brown Stadium against Green Bay and his old division rival Aaron Rodgers.

Defensive tackle Josh Tupou was out for personal reasons while defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi (groin) and punt returner Darius Phillips (rest) were limited.

BURROW UPDATE: Quarterback Joe Burrow was not on the injury report for his knee. He shrugged off all mentions of his nine sacks and seven hits in two games, but his teammates have enormous regard for his toughness. Never mind his resilience after he gunned two straight touchdowns after getting picked off three straight times in last Sunday's whirlwind fourth quarter in Chicago.

"It's impressive how strong he is mentally," said slot receiver Tyler Boyd. "Before the interceptions happened, he was getting hit a lot. He got pressured a lot. He's throwing with guys in his face and I know mentally that's frustrating. I go back to the huddle, like, I feel bad, and I always make sure he's good. 'You good, bro? I'm good, we're good. Let's keep it going.' That's one thing I don't worry about is his toughness. He's as tough as it comes. With the picks, I know he takes the blame. At the end of day we know the type of caliber of player and quarterback that Joe is."

Right after Sunday's game Burrow was still hot enough to say he forced two of the throws. On Wednesday he was a little more philosophical.

"The first one. That was me trying to force it. I give credit to him, he made a great play. Not a lot of linebackers can make that play and so I was aggressive," Burrow said of Roquan Smith undercutting a route before logged a 53-yard pick-six. "I don't know if I would have changed what I did. I could have made a better throw, but I probably would have made that decision again, and the second one, (cornerback Jaylon Johnson) made a great play.

"They made really good plays on defense and the corner guessed that we were running short. They were getting pressure all day so he knew we were going to get the ball out fast and he just jumped the route. So that one, you know, I've just got to give credit to him. When you play pro football, stuff like that is going to happen. Those guys get paid on defense, too. So you just put it behind you and move on to the next one."

Burrow says his pocket movement and feel for the rush that was so prominent before the ACL injury is going to get back to where it was. He's been thinking about it and hopes to step it up.

"Watching the film, that's an area that I can improve," Burrow said. "Just feeling the rush and feeling where I can escape the pocket a little faster. That's definitely an area that I'm continuing to get better at post-injury.

"I'm definitely not thinking about it, but I'm definitely going to be in more of a mindset to escape the pocket faster moving forward … I was watching the film. There were certainly a few plays where my first or second read wasn't there and I moved on quickly, but just not quickly enough and I think in those situations I can try to get out of the pocket and make a play."

He's certainly going into Heinz with the idea erasing of his lone appearance against the Steelers, a 36-10 Heinz job in which he went five of 15 for 24 yards in the second half after a big first half. For one thing, safety Minkah Fitzpatrick was back there and for another Watt was constantly in his face and sacked him twice and hit him two other times.

"You can't just read the coverage and expect him to be in a certain part of the field," Burrow said of Fitzpatrick. "He does a good job of understanding where his job is and does a good job of understanding whether the route concept allows him to go to a different area. He's not always where you expect him to be. And he makes a lot of plays doing that."

Pittsburgh has had the most sacks in the league the last two seasons and they got to Burrow four times.

"It's a combination of all of it," said Burrow of scheme, personnel and execution. "That's what the great defenses do. They have great players and great scheme to back it up, and they have, obviously, TJ Watt and Cam Heyward. Now, they've got Melvin Ingram over there. We played him last year too. He's a really good player, so they got a lot of different guys that can create pressure from a lot of different ways."

TB9: Tight end C.J. Uzomah is the only position player left from the 2015 wild Wild Card game against the Steelers and he only took one snap. Punter Kevin Huber and long snapper Clark Harris are still here and it was the last game they played before they drafted slot receiver Tyler Boyd.

Boyd, one of the greatest players in the history of Pittsburgh scholastic football and the University of Pittsburgh, has played eight games against the Steelers, the most on offense and defense along with Uzomah and Trey Hopkins.

So Boyd, seeking his first pro win in his hometown, knows exactly what the Bengals have to avoid against a defense that not only had the most sacks in the last three seasons but is currently riding the NFL's longest streak ever with at least one sack in 75 straight games.

He's been listening to Taylor's Steelers' Week mantra.

"We can't allow them to have any takeaways. If we protect the football and execute our assignments, we force them to do things they don't want to do," Boyd said. "Like blitzing and catching them on deep balls. We have to execute those plays. We can't allow them to get strip fumbles, we can't allow them to get any picks. Without them getting any turnovers, we'll be perfectly fine. It's not a defense where we feel like we won't be able to do anything."

In the previous two years, the Bengals forced a combined 33 turnovers. The Steelers had 38 last season alone and head coach Mike Tomlin's teams historically make turnovers fatal. Certainly they have against the Bengals. Taylor is 1-3 against Pittsburgh in games they are minus-four in turnovers. The Monday night game last year that they won, they were plus-3.

HILTON HOTEL: Tomlin has been talking about losing slot cornerback Mike Hilton to the Bengals and how well he covered Boyd.

"Mike has been a difficult matchup for us at a lot of different positions," Taylor recalled of the last four games. "He was always good in coverage. Two years ago we felt like we had a shot for a big 80-yard touchdown and Mike put pressure on the quarterback on a nickel blitz and took it away from us, made us check the ball down, so we're glad he's on our team. "

That's what Hilton does. Now he gets a shot to ring Big Ben. He never discussed with Roethlisberger how he'd blitz him.

"I'm pretty sure they'll expect that," Hilton said. "Try to keep him off balance. Move around and try to keep them guessing when I'm coming and when I'm not. Just to throw a wrench in their reads … I definitely had (sacking Ben) run through my mind. Hopefully I get that opportunity on Sunday and hopefully it will be a big play."

Hilton had to laugh when Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham asked what it would feel like hear "Renegade," blaring at Heinz on the other sideline.

"Going to be different. But I know how electric it will be," Hilton said. "Especially with fans being back I know they'll excited. I know I'm going to enjoy it and it's going to be a fun one.

MORE BOYD: No hesitation on Boyd's part when asked who his favorite Steelers were growing up: A wide receiver, of course, Hines Ward, and Hall of Fame running back Jerome Bettis.

"Just because of how tough they played, and how many plays they made when their number was called," Boyd said. "They executed each and every time and I feel like that's who I am and who I need to be. I have to continue to leave good things on film, because when defenses see it they know we've got to game plan around and find ways to stop him. Those players that are hard to defend are the players that are in my eyes great players."