Updated: 10-25-07, 6:05 a.m.
Now that Bill Cowher and Joey Porter are gone, Bengals-Steelers seems to be lacking in those intriguing matchups worthy of what just last year Sports Illustrated called the NFL's nastiest rivalry.
But news came Wednesday that the series' two oldest rivals are putting down their lances for this one. Bengals four-time Pro Bowl right tackle Willie Anderson and the man he always gives his Pro Bowl vote, Steelers defensive end Aaron Smith, aren't expected to play. Anderson was ruled out Wednesday with foot and knee problems and Smith figures to end his 117-game streak with a knee injury.
That comes two weeks after Anderson ended his own 116-game streak and just three days after he gutted out all but one series in the 38-31 win over the Jets.
The concern now is that Anderson has hurt himself more and could be out longer after coming back four weeks after he injured his knee in Seattle.
AndersonThe news wasn't disclosed until after Anderson and head coach Marvin Lewis addressed the media.
Before that, Anderson was breathing fire about what would have been his 23rd game against Pittsburgh, particularly about defensive tackle John Thornton's observation that this is a game for the "big-boy pads."
"I don't know what that means," Anderson said. "Every game should be a big-boy pads game. Notice that offensive lineman don't say anything like that. They're on every week. You better have them on this week. That's kind of been our problem. Our big-boy pads have got to stay on."
Anderson's absence leaves Stacy Andrews making his second career start at right tackle going against fifth-year defensive end Nick Eason, a veteran of 36 NFL games and three clubs making his fourth career start.
"That's good for us. He's definitely a great, underrated player in this league," said Anderson, who first played against Smith in Smith's rookie year of 1999. "Year in and year out he gets my Pro Bowl vote. He doesn't have the huge numbers the so-called ends have, but Aaron is one of the best in the business in my opinion."
At 6-5, 298 pounds, Smith, who relies a lot on sheer strength, is bigger than Justin Smith, the Bengals right end, but Anderson says their tenacity and hustle are similar.
"It's always been a key matchup," said Anderson of Smith's prowess against the run and pass. "I've got a lot of respect for Aaron. I stay and talk to him after every game."
This is the first game against the Steelers that Anderson hasn't started since the sixth game of his rookie year, a 20-10 loss in Pittsburgh Oct. 13, 1996. He made his first NFL start the next week in San Francisco and made his first start against the Steelers at home in a 34-24 victory on Nov. 10 known best for the Bengals' David Dunn returning a kick 90 yards for a touchdown on the last play of the first half.
If there is any guy who knows what Anderson brings to the line in a game like this one, it's backup tackle Scott Kooistra.
"You look at him and you think there is no way you can get by him," Kooistra said. "Not only can you not get by him, but mentally you're not going to get him out of his game. When something comes up, you're not going to trick him."
Check out the Bengals' first third-down play last Sunday. Jets linebacker Bryan Thomas looped outside over Anderson and came up the middle on a stunt and sacked Carson Palmer.
"It's something we hadn't seen on film. It was a three-man game up the middle," Kooistra said. "It was a little thing. One guy had to go back a little more (deeper) and pass it off."
Anderson had a quick conversation with right guard Bobbie Williams and Palmer didn't get sacked the rest of the day.
"They might have tried it again, but it didn't work," Kooistra said. "That's what you do as good offensive linemen. They might throw a wrinkle at you and once you know what it is, its, 'We'll pick it up the next time.' "
Which is how the Steelers live.
"Every game you know they're going to throw a wrinkle at you," he said.
Which is why the Bengals will miss Anderson in a game like this against an unpredictable, blitzing defense. But Kooistra held his own against the same type of scheme when Anderson left in the second quarter of the opener against Baltimore, and the Bengals think Andrews can, too.
There are still some good matchups Sunday.
Bengals Pro Bowl quarterback Carson Palmer against his old USC roommate, Steelers Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu, as well as Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski against the man that brought him to Cincinnati, Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.
But with Porter now in Miami, gone is that Casino Royale matchup with Bengals left tackle Levi Jones. With Cowher in a network blazer, gone is that letter-jacket matchup with old Pittsburgh prep foe Marvin Lewis.
Also not practicing for the Steelers on Wednesday were safety Ryan Clark (abdomen), linebacker Clint Kriewaldt (shoulder), left tackle Marvel Smith (back) and wide receiver Hines Ward (knee). Cornerback Bryant McFadden (ankle) and tight end Heath Miller (chin) were limited.
Besides Aaron Smith, McFadden, the third corner who has missed the last two games, is seen as the most touch-and-go and the others should play.
Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry has been cleared by the NFL to begin practicing with the team, and he was on the Paul Brown Stadium field Wednesday as the Bengals got practice underway. Henry is still on league suspension, but remains on schedule to return to the team for Cincinnati's Week 10 game at Baltimore on Nov. 11.
Henry wasted no time joining the Bengals' list of the injured in dislocating a ring finger.
But the Bengals are hoping that the signal from the NFL is that Henry is set to be eligible in the ninth game of the season Nov. 11 in Baltimore and that the two weeks head start will allow him to at least take some snaps.
"He's fine. He's a little out of shape," said offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski. "The great part of it is he was here all preseason and training camp. In the meetings he knew what we were doing and the way we're structured. It's just going to come down if he's going to be physically ready to play Baltimore."
Henry has been eligible to attend all meetings while not practicing in serving an eight-game suspension by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for several arrests.
Bratkowski said Henry missed a few of the sessions.
"There were a few he probably could have been here and a few he had things going on," Bratkowski said. "But he's here now and he'll be able to go out and practice."
Head coach Marvin Lewis said it's an indication that "Chris is doing things correctly as far as guidelines go. That's my interpretation of it."
Lewis said Goodell is trying to give suspended players more exposure to the team.
"Instead of kind of being lost, it (gives) them a chance to be involved and immersed totally in the team," Lewis said. "I think it's a positive step for him and hopefully he undersands that he's had a long journey and hopefully he sees that's (ending)."
Lewis said the Bengals will get a roster exemption, typically used before Henry is activated for a game. He doesn't have to apply for reinstatement. As long as he's following the guidelines, it's the club's call once he serves the eight games.
Also Wednesday, running back Rudi Johnson, linebackers Ahmad Brooks and Caleb Miller, and safety Dexter Jackson were not dressed for practice. Running back Chris Perry was in shoulder pads and helmet working on the side. It appears as if Perry is still not ready to practice full-time, but Lewis said he'll start practicing next week. Brooks (groin) has been ruled out.
Lewis said Perry has been mirroring practice on his own workouts on the side. Once he hits the field the Bengals will have three weeks to decide to activate him, cut him, or put him on injured reserve the rest of the year.
ESPN's Chris Mortensen doesn't think his report citing a prominent Bengals source on Sunday regarding Chad Johnson was misquoted, but he does think it was misinterpreted.
"There were two parts to it," Mortensen said Wednesday. "The first part dealt with the source saying that because of Chad's passion and pride, they have to figure out a way to deal with him. The second part was my analysis that the discussions could bring them to a crossroads and that could involve a trade. At no time did a Bengals source tell me they could possibly trade him."
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger can't figure out why the Steelers have won their last six at Paul Brown Stadium.
"Cincinnati is one of the rowdiest and loudest places we have to go," he told the Cincinnati media via conference call. "It's not easy. Those fans love it when we come down there. They love to get all over us."
Roethlisberger on his accuracy contests with former Bengals quarterback Ken Anderson, his new quarterbacks coach: "He got beat in training camp. I don't think he wants to play any more. He still throws a real pretty ball, but he's just old, so I give him a hard time."