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Matchup of the Game: next man up


*Dre Kirkpatrick, along with Adam Jones and Leon Hall, played brilliantly on the corner in Pittsburgh last month.             *

                             BENGALS CBS VS. STEELERS WRS

How well did the Bengals cornerbacks play in last month's 16-10 victory in Pittsburgh against the Steelers trio of big-play burners?

Look at it this way. The Steelers leading receiver was tight end Heath Miller. Antonio Brown, the NFL's second –leading receiver with more than 1,300 yards, had his third fewest yards of the season with 47. Martavis Bryant, who has one catch of at least 40 yards in the last three games and averages an NFL-best 20.1 yards per catch, had his long of 21 yards against the Bengals on the second-to-last play of the game when they were in a prevent defense. Markus Wheaton, who had a 201-yard day two weeks ago, had one catch for five yards.

According to, starting corner Dre Kirkpatrick gave up that one, but allowed only 27 yards on three other completions. And Brown had only one catch for 15 yards against him.

Kirkpatrick is going to have to deliver another effort like that because he may be the only corner with any kind of experience in Sunday's re-match (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) at Paul Brown Stadium. The injuries have hit the Bengals where the Steelers are strongest.

And he's talking confidently. The Bengals corners live on press man-to-man and even though the Steelers are running by people left and right, Kirkpatrick is adamant.

"Nobody's challenging them. The Seahawks went up there and challenged them, we went up there and challenged them," Kirkpatrick said. "I think (Brown and Bryant) had like almost 40-some yards when we played them. So they don't scare us, we don't scare them. We know what to expect."

The Bengals like their young corners and they may see them plenty in the biggest game of the year. The other starter, Adam Jones, who the Steelers tested only twice, according to PFF, showed up with his foot in a cast Wednesday and it would be a surprise if he played.

And slot corner Leon Hall, who gave up just four catches for 28 yards in Pittsburgh, didn't practice Wednesday after missing Sunday's game with a back issue. Hall turned 31 Wednesday as a question mark.

If both those guys are missing with backup slot corner Darqueze Dennard already on injured reserve, that would promote two rookies to Corners Two and Three in Josh Shaw and Troy Hill (with a combined 79 NFL snaps) and they'd have to promote someone else from the practice squad.

But after practice Wednesday, defensive coordinator Paul Guenther didn't look as distraught as he was last year when his linebacking crew was decimated in the middle of the year.  

Shaw, a fourth-round pick, played well Sunday in Cleveland during his most extensive action of the season in the slot. And Hill played 22 snaps on the outside in his NFL debut and held up with four tackles that included two stops for a failed play, according to PFF.

As expected, Shaw was physical and made a nice open-field tackle on wide receiver Brian Hartline on third down to set up a fourth-and-one the Bengals won.

"We saw him, he's a player that played a lot at a high level at SC and Florida and he's a big, fast guy," Guenther said. "He's got good ability; he's smart he understands our system. I wasn't surprised at all he played well  . . . Those guys know I have confidence in all of them. It's not like what are we going to do? I went through that last year. We are well prepared for the next guy to go up. Those guys will be ready, whoever is in there . . . I just feel like we are deeper and better than we were a year ago. We're better. A lot better."

The 5-11, 180-pound Hill is now 1-1 against Ohio teams. It will be recalled he was on the Oregon team that lost to Ohio State in last year's national title game. An undrafted free agent, the Bengals also like his physical approach as well as his big-game pedigree and his experience. He played in 49 games in college, all 14 as a senior, when he played six games of at least 90 snaps because of his special teams prowess and was ranked 11th in the county with an average of nearly 1.5 passes defensed per game.

"Troy is not afraid. He'll fight you," Guenther said. "He's played in big ballgames at Oregon. He's a competitive guy. I like him. I like having him out there actually . . . He covers A.J. (Green) and our receivers all the time. He competes out there and he's a good prospect, I'm glad we have them. He's done well. 

Hill said after his debut that rather than speed up to the pro game, he feels like he has to take it down a notch.

"It's the next man up mentality and I've been learning that my whole life and it just happened to be my number,' Hill said. "It's different from playing all four years in college and then being a rookie in the NFL. You have to make adjustments to that speed. I'm trying not to press so much to make a play. Just let the game come to me. I had a lot of emotion that went into that game. I have to calm down when I'm out there and just be more technically sound and slow down. It's not as fast as you expect it to be."

Kirkpatrick is also talking about emotion when it comes to taking on the explosive Steelers. These guys are rolling. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has thrown for at least 334 yards in the last four games.  How hot? In the last two games, Bryant has a TD catch of 68 yards and Wheaton has one for 69. The 6-4, 211-pound Bryant has become the next big thing and has become the best deep threat in the game in the time it took to say, "A.J. Green."

"That's all he's got. Deep balls. That's all he does. Deep balls," Kirkpatrick said. "I know what to expect. I know what's coming. I know when I see certain things I know what to expect. It's just about me following through making a play when I see it. Because I know I'm going to see it. It's just all about, am I going to make the play."

He's not so much concerned about Bryant, but how the game is called.

"I just hope the refs let us play," he said, "We obviously know going into this game that those guys like to push, they like to try to get vertical down the field on the go balls and try to push off and create separation. I just want those guys to make it as fair as possible because I know what type of emotions I'm going to have going into this game. And when I have those type of emotions, I tend to play a little too aggressive but I try to stay in-between the rules of the game."

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