Protecting the Ohio-bred quarterbacks in Pittsburgh during Sunday's game (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) is paramount in the wake of the losses the Bengals and Steelers took last week.
Ben Roethlisberger took nine shots among his two sacks in a 26-17 Heinz Field loss to the Raiders. In the 20-17 loss in Chicago, Joe Burrow got sacked four times and hit five others. The Steelers carry the all-time record of at least a sack in 75 straight games and here comes left end T.J. Watt, who sacked Burrow twice and hit him twice more last season the one time Burrow played the Steelers.
Now also here Bengals rookie right guard Jackson Carman. With Xavier Su'a-Filo listed as doubtful after he didn't practice this week, Carman is poised to make his first NFL start against a guy that has driven the Bengals bonkers since he arrived in the first round of the 2011 draft. In 19 games against the Bengals, defensive tackle Cam Heyward has an astounding 9.5 sacks to go with 18 hits on Cincinnati quarterbacks Andy Dalton, AJ McCarron, Jeff Driskel and Ryan Finley.
But Heyward doesn't have a couple of his running mates in fellow tackle Stephon Tuitt (2.5 sacks, 11 hits on the quarterback in 11 games against the Bengals), out with a knee injury, and nose tackle Tyson Alualu (two sacks and four QB hits in 11 games against Bengals), out for the year with a broken ankle.
On the Bengals revamped defensive line, nose tackle D.J. Reader and right end Trey Hendrickson are playing in their first games against the Steelers. Left end Sam Hubbard is looking for his first sack of Roethlisberger, but he did get one in 2019 against the Steelers when he sacked Devlin Hodges. Defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi is the one guy on the front four who has dumped Roethlisberger when he got to him in the 2018 opener playing for Cleveland.
Hubbard hasn't sacked him, but he hit him once as a rookie and learned a valuable lesson.
"If you get your hands on him you have to go after his throwing arm," Hubbard said this week. "You have three guys hanging off him, he's still staying up. He's still going to get the ball out and avoid a sack. You get around it and go after his throwing arm to try and pin it. I got my hands on him my rookie year and I fell right off. I was like, wow, you don't realize how big and strong he is until you try to go bring him down. So you have to try to pin that throwing arm."
HILTON RATINGS: With everyone up in the bit about the refs throwing 11 taunting flags last week and the Bengals-Steelers about to stage their semi-annual Testosterone Fest, the Bengals have been warned.
Although you have to wonder in the wake of the Pro Football Talk report on Thursday that the NFL told their officials two of the flags didn't meet the standard if one of them was Bengals strong safety Vonn Bell's shrug after he forced Andy Dalton to unload an incompletion.
But, like Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said, it doesn't matter because they're dropping the flags like they said they would in the preseason. After playing the last four seasons in Pittsburgh, Bengals slot cornerback Mike Hilton has a great perspective on the teams' best trash talkers. He says Watt is the Steelers' best overall.
"I would probably say (wide receiver Chase) Claypool," Hilton said of the Steelers' biggest offensive talker. "He definitely likes to talk, but he's just like T.J., he makes a lot of plays for them and he embraces his role."
For the Bengals?
"Defense I have to put myself up there, me and Germaine Pratt. On the offensive side I would probably say Joe Mixon. He definitely likes to talk a good bit. It's all good fun and games when we're out here competing."
But the refs are cutting back on the fun and the games.
"Especially against a rivalry team," Hilton said of what's on the horizon Sunday. "Definitely going to be a lot of jawing and a lot of extra. We just have to be smart about how we do it. Don't celebrate over an opponent and give a first down. We just got to be smart and keep our heads up."
INJURY UPDATE: Wide receiver Tee Higgins (shoulder) and cornerback Trae Waynes (hamstring) went limited Friday, but are both doubtful, meaning there's a 75-percent chance they won't play. But Taylor indicated both could come down to game time decisions Sunday. At the very least he sounded optimistic Waynes would make his Bengals debut Thursday night at Paul Brown Stadium in the Ring of Honor Game against the Jaguars.
"He's up in the air," Taylor said of Sunday.
At some point over the last 24 hours Hilton injured his chest and went limited Friday but is probable.
All the Steelers big guns, except for Watt, went full Friday. Watt (groin) was limited all week and listed as questionable, but it sure sounds like he's playing. Two starters were ruled out Friday in linebacker Alex Highsmith (groin) and wide receiver Diontae Johnson (knee).