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Matchup of the Game: counter culture



It is old home week Sunday in Pittsburgh (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) for Dunlap even though he admits the experience in Heinz Field can be hostile enough to elicit four-letter  words. And that doesn't include, "spit," which he says can also come flying from the faithful.

Dunlap says that's OK because he's used to the SEC. And he'll get another reminder of his days at Florida when he sees Gilbert, his fellow Gator and offseason workout partner, across the way. It's a dream matchup with the 6-6, 280-pound Dunlap, the NFL co-sack leader with 6.5, facing the 6-6, 330-pound Gilbert fresh off his shutout of Chiefs sack ace Justin Houston that extended his season-long skein of not allowing a sack.

"He's just an athletic, big guy. He has good feet," Dunlap says. "He's a bigger guy so he can stick with you on the edge and bull (rush)."

In conjunction with the Salute to Service game, the Bengals and USAA honored the airmen and women at WPAFB.

PFF has rated Gilbert the fifth best pass protecting right tackle in the NFL despite his league-high 16 pressures allowed. Dunlap is rated the 12th best pass-rushing end with eight QB hits and 13 pressures to go along with the sacks.

"He's been playing extremely well. I'm excited for him. He's developed into a heck of a player," Dunlap says. "It's going to be a challenge going against my friend at the peak of his game against me trying to get to the peak of my game."

Dunlap has plenty of institutional knowledge on Gilbert, not only culled from his daily practice sessions against him at Florida, but also from this past offseason's workout regimen in Miami under a trainer they share with Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell.

"I have a good understanding, but he's developed as a professional," Dunlap says. "He's doing some things he didn't do in college."

Which is funny because they're saying the same thing about Dunlap. How at age 26 and in his sixth season he has matured. Dunlap has talked about it all year and this week he's talking about how understanding the opponent is scheming him has taken him to the next level and improved his communication.

But leave it to head coach Marvin Lewis to sum up the difference best when asked about it this week.

"He does what we want to see much more often," Lewis says.

Consistency.  And they would also like to see it this Sunday. In a frame.

Dunlap documents his big-game sacks or multiple game sacks by framing his No. 96 jersey complete with a photo of the play and the particulars on a plaque. He's got his first one in there (Peyton Manning in his last season with the Colts) along with "big game sacks or multiple game sacks."

He says he has eight, but for whatever reason there is no future Hall-of-Famer Ben Roethlisberger. That may be because in eight games against the Steelers he has 1.5 sacks. With the Steelers offensive line banged up, Dunlap is hoping the Bengals as a unit have a chance to frame him.

"That's something as a D-line we can hone in on," Dunlap says. "Their Pro Bowl center isn't going to be in there (Maurkice Pouncey) and their left tackle (Kelvin Beachum) is injured as well. It's a great opportunity because you've got a guy who's not in rhythm with those guys since they're not used to taking all the snaps. So you're trying to take advantage."

That's where Gilbert comes in. The Steelers hope he can fend off Dunlap one-on-one so they can give help to center Cody Wallace and left tackle Alejandro Villanueva. But first things first. Before they can get to Roethlisberger they have to stop Bell and the dreaded counter play he ran for most of his 185 yards last year at Paul Brown Stadium.

The Steelers call their counter "Georgia." And during the "The Terrible Ten," minutes of the fourth quarter Bell marched for a 53-yard run and touchdowns of 13 and 22 yards. But the Bengals countered it in the regular-season finale when they held Bell to 20 yards on eight carries before he hurt his knee.

They have to do it again.

"It's not a chalkboard run," Dunlap says. "The running back is able to read off two points and he takes what is ever given to him. If it weren't for that running back the play probably wouldn't work as well.  You saw last year when he went out, we were able to stop that play. It's pretty much that running back and just (knowing) what we have to do and be able to take care of it."

With Steelers right guard David DeCastro and one or two tight ends, and maybe the fullback, pulling to the perimeter, the onus is on the ends and outside linebackers to stay in lanes and not stray to make a play.  

"We knew it was coming. Everyone wasn't gap sound," Dunlap says of that first game. "Last year we had a lot of different combinations in that front seven so everybody wasn't in sync with each other and on that play they exposed it. That's one of the reasons why this year we've been so much better communicating. I feel like the odds are stacked in our favor this year because we've got those same front seven guys with everybody healthy. I know where my linebacker is going to be. I know where Mike (Johnson) going to be. Geno (Atkins). (Domata) Peko. I know where everybody is going to be. But last year we didn't know who was going to be healthy that week or who was going to be up."

Johnson, who wasn't here last year at right end, heard a reporter inquiring about stopping the counter and pounded his chest.

"It's a team effort and we'll be ready for it," Johnson says. "They kicked it in the head the second time they played them. It just snuck up on them in that first game. They handled it well the second time. We have to be physical at the point of attack. He's a really patient back, so we have to make him stutter his feet and get the troops there. Make sure we rally to the ball."

Bengals linebacker Chris Carter, who played his first three seasons in Pittsburgh, has similar advice.

"Hit them in the face. Don't wait for them to come," Carter says. "A lot of teams have problems with it because whoever takes on the initial counter block usually ends up waiting for it to come. I think that's the key for us. Start the fight. Go right at them at the point of attack. Hit them in the face and cause confusion in the back. And give them fewer lanes to run in."

Middle linebacker Rey Maualuga and WILL backer Vincent Rey are echoing Lewis this week. "Plow your own field."

"Coach Lewis is right," Rey says. "When you try to help somebody else out with their job, there's no one doing your job and it makes it worse. It's all about staying in lanes. (Bell) is a great runner. Very patient. One step he's slow and the next minute he's going full speed."

There's plenty of incentive to stop the run. For Dunlap, it means getting to the passer. It also means a counter to last offseason with Gilbert.

"We hang out almost every day," Dunlap says. "And this is one of the games we talk the most smack.  Last season he won, so he had the leg up all offseason. I'm looking forward to try and switch that around this year."

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