'No better time and place'

Posted: 3:10 a.m.

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Adams: Looking forward to the challenge

PITTSBURGH - It's a revolutionary concept in this war of turf that began when Bill Cowher got 106 yards from Barry Foster in Cowher's first game against the Bengals 14 years ago during a 20-0 victory over Dave Shula.

It looks like the Bengals finally have enough smash in the mouth to challenge that dark alley where the Steelers have controlled the running game and this rivalry in the Cowher era.

In the 28 regular-season games Cowher has coached against Cincinnati, six different players have rushed for 100 yards 19 times and the Steelers have won 16 of them.

"There's no better time and place to go out and prove we can stop the run," said Sam Adams, the new Bengals defensive tackle whose 360 pounds have changed the chemistry of this matchup.

Middle linebacker Brian Simmons smiled at the mention of Adams.

"Like having three new guys," Simmons said.

It's not that Adams is the major piece. It's just that he's the final piece. Is it any coincidence that Simmons, the guy playing behind him, and defensive tackle John Thornton, the guy playing next to him, are playing what may be their best ball since they've been Bengals?

"Any time you add a quality player, you're going to help the other guys," Simmons said. "Not just me. I could care less about me. It's like Marvin (Lewis) is always saying. It takes 11 guys playing together, and a lot of us have been together a long time and you add a guy like Sam with guys like Justin Smith, Thornton ... "

And how many times have we seen this scenario play out? Team A gets stoned one week in its ground game and the next week vows to get back on track against the Bengals, leaving it battered and its run game suddenly well again?

The Steelers have been talking about it all week after they rushed for just 26 yards Monday night in Jacksonville. They have to pound it, and that means the Bengals have to stop it. Just like they stopped defending AFC rushing champ Larry Johnson two weeks ago in the opener, and just like they stuffed the Cleveland's Reuben Droughns on 32 yards on 14 carries after the Browns spent the week talking about re-establishing the running game.

"The guys understand how everyone fits into the overall scheme," said left end Bryan Robinson. "This is a gap control defense. Pittsburgh tries to man up with you and tries to maul you. The good thing about this front is we've been through that before, and the mauling stops."

The Bengals have, at times, defended well the Cowher Power running game, which has 12 top 10 NFL finishes in his 14 seasons. But sometimes it's been because their offense jumps out on the Steelers and they have to throw. When the Bengals won in Pittsburgh last year, running back Willie Parker nearly had five yards per carry, but he could only run it 15 times because of the score.

The Steelers have asserted their muscle at key recent moments in the rivalry:

When the Bengals were 2-1 early in 2001 and went to Heinz Field with a defense that would finish ninth in the NFL, the Steelers mashed them for 275 yards for the most rushing yardage in nearly 30 years against the Bengals in a 16-7 victory.

In 2004 when the Bengals got their shot at a raw Ben Roethlisberger and their own Rudi Johnson racked up one of only two 100-yard games against the Steelers in the past two years, Pittsburgh barged for 165 yards and Ben became Big when he only had to throw 25 passes in a 28-17 win.

Last season, the Bengals were at home and had a chance to take a 2.5-game lead on the Steelers in the North in late October, but Pittsburgh played classic keepaway once the Bengals couldn't convert early in the red zone and Roethlisberger only had to throw 14 times as the offensive line salted away a 27-13 win with 221 grinding yards.

And the Steelers, no doubt, would love to go easy on Roethlisberger on Sunday after he looked so wan against Jacksonville Monday night. Adams, a veteran of black-and-blue games with the Steelers as a member of the Ravens, has seen this act before.

And the he's getting paid as much for his sagacity as his diameter.

"You don't want to play against somebody running from you. They definitely aren't going to run from us. They're going to try and punch you in the mouth," Adams said. "It's easier to play against someone like that. Because you know they're going to be they're and they're going to be standing.

"They're champions; they're not going to panic. You have to go through a long haul if you want to play good week in and week out. You want to correct your mistakes and be better than they were. That's what they're looking to do. We have to go in and make sure we don't let them do that."

Except, now the Bengals have Adams, a guy that lives for games like this.

"Pittsburgh prides themselves on physically beating you up. That's how they go about doing their business," Adams said. "Personally, I think the best teams in the league are the teams that play physical. The teams that play more physical than the others are the teams that get to the playoffs and championships, so forth. So if we want to be one of those teams, we have to go out and play more physical than the Steelers. It's one of those games that you enjoy playing. It's one of the reasons why you play."

You can put too much stock in numbers. For instance, early in the decade the Bengals had players earn their incentives because the club finished in the top 10 in yards per carry. But it didn't translate into wins because teams just ran it on the offensively-challenged Bengals once they got ahead.

Now offenses have to go point for point with Carson, Chad, and Co., and so they can't pound it for very long. And that helps. Last year the Bengals allowed just five 100-yard rushers after allowing nine in 2004.

And if the offense has helped, the Bengals also added better players on defense with Robinson and middle linebacker Odell Thurman leading that list in '05. Take away that exhibition game in Kansas City last year and since Parker went for 131 last year at Paul Brown Stadium, the Bengals have allowed one 100-yard rusher in the last 10 games.

And numbers don't lie. A major reason the Steelers have dominated this decade is because they've allowed the NFL's fewest number of 100-yard rushers with 13. A major reason the Bengals have been playing catchup is because in that same stretch they have allowed 34, six against Pittsburgh.

But Adams doesn't want to say the guard has changed just yet. He's going to leave the yapping to non-trench players like Chad Johnson and Joey Porter.

"Until you prove that, you don't talk about that. The best don't talk about it," Adams said. "They don't have to talk about it. You don't have to talk about it because you know who you are and you go out and prove it. What we need to do is go out and prove it. Offseason is for talk. The season is for proving who you are and what you're capable of doing."

Adams has been here before. He gets the sense they're sealing off the back entrances for one of those days.

"They're going to lock the key to the stadium and see who is the last guy standing," he said.

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