As expected, Bengals running back Giovani Bernard (knee) was ruled out of his second straight game Friday and won't play in Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) against the Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium. A bit unexpected is that cornerback William Jackson (knee) went limited again Friday and is questionable. Not as surprising is that wide receiver John Ross (groin) was also headed to his second straight inactive and was limited.
Jackson has been superb against the great Antonio Brown, the Steelers' perennial Pro Bowl wide receiver. According to profootballfocus.com, Jackson hasn't allowed Brown a catch in eight targets that include four pass breakups. Also questionable is back-up left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi (wrist), but he has yet to be active this season.
LENGEL PLAYS AT HOME: Matt Lengel has caught a touchdown pass from Tom Brady, played in a Super Bowl and is married to one of the greatest University of Kentucky softball players of all-time. Now will he be the second Northeastern University tight end to catch a pass for the Bengals?
"It's great to be back. It was nice being able to sleep in my own bed last night. I hadn't been home since July," said Lengel this week, freshly re-signed.
Lengel is on his third stint in Bengaldom interspersed with hitches for the Patriots, Browns and Texans after the Bengals signed him undrafted out of Eastern Kentucky in 2015. He hasn't been here since the middle of the 2016 season, when the Pats poached him from the practice squad, but he bought a home in suburban Cincinnati before he left and he's not leaving. Neither is wife, Lauren Cumbess Lengel, a private softball coach who four years ago helped lead UK to its first NCAA World Series and SEC title game.
"First base and pitcher. Better athlete than I am," Lengel said. "I'm from Pennsylvania (Mechanicsburg) and she's from Florida and people ask us (why live in Cincinnati?)," Lengel said. "We both went to school in Kentucky and we have plenty of friends from around here. I had a friend who moved outside of Cincinnati before I signed the first time. We really enjoyed the area and decided to stay."
The odd thing is that with his practice squad service, Lengel has spent most of his NFL career with the Bengals and has yet to play in a game for them. That should change Sunday because the Bengals need three tight ends and Tyler Kroft (foot) is out. Lengel has played in seven games, six in New England and one in Cleveland with both career catches coming for the Patriots.
Lengel transferred to Eastern Kentucky when Boston's Northeastern dropped football after Lengel's freshman year. He knows about the late Dan Ross, the Bengals tight end who played at Northeastern before setting the Super Bowl record with 11 catches when he helped lead the Bengals to Super Bowl XVI with a then club-record 71 catches.
TIGHT LIPPED: One of Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster's celebrations last season simulated his blind-side block that knocked out Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict a few weeks earlier and mocked the ensuing concussion, the shot where he stood over Burfict and drew a taunting flag.
"No comment," said head coach Marvin Lewis after Friday's walk through.
What level of concern does Lewis have of Burfict seeking revenge or retaliation?
"No comment," Lewis said.
Both questions, courtesy of The Cincinnati Enquirer's Paul Dehner, Jr., are the biggest elephants in a room jam packed with raging large mammals in this heated rivalry unspoken with issues.
Here was Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin's response earlier to a question if last year's game crossed a line. No, he said.
"We've been in some hotly contested games in recent years with the Bengals. There is a lot at stake. Those guys understand that. They are playing extremely hard but everyone is playing to win and playing to win means playing within the rules because penalties don't help any of our causes," Tomlin said. "I never felt that way. There were some unfortunate things that occurred in the game. That happens when you play football but largely when these two teams come together they represent what professional ball is about from a competitive standpoint and particularly fighting in divisional play."
As for Burfict, he prefers to talk to the media on Fridays. But in his own no comment, he declined.
SIMMONS SIMMERING: Special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons isn't sleeping on the Steelers after they blocked a punt last week. That's because he admitted this week he's losing sleep on the way his group is playing. In arguably the worst two-game stretch of his 16 seasons in Cincinnati, during the last two weeks the Bengals have had a punt blocked and a field goal blocked while allowing a 70-yard punt return for a touchdown and a game-opening 53-yard kick return. And they should have had another punt blocked but were saved by a running-into-the-kicker penalty.
"I let them know my feelings on Monday. It was good to get it out then and this is a new week and you've got to get re-set," Simmons said. "We have to learn from the past, but we can't live in the past."
Yes, four of the Bengals' top five special teams tacklers are first or second-year players, but Simmons was talking about his veterans without naming names. Now, Simmons realizes it's become more of a mental challenge
"We have to just go back to being fundamental in what we do. We have to stay poised. Some of the things happened were an aberration, mistakes by some of our veteran guys. A couple of bad things that have happened to us the last couple of weeks it throws us of," Simmons said. "We have to stand in there and rise up a little bit. Sometimes when one bad thing happens we play for another bad thing to not happen instead of being aggressive. Going to make the play we're a little hesitant - we don't want to lose the game. You can't play that way … There's not been a lot rhyme nor reason for some of it"
Now here come the Steelers. They not only blocked a punt last week, but they boast the dangerous Ryan Switzer, eighth in the league with a long punt return of 22 yards and 10th in kick returns with a long of 35.
"He's a really aggressive guy from the way he plays to his personality. He plays with the pedal to the medal," Simmons said. "He was very productive in college, I think he had five touchdowns as a sophomore and a couple after that. He's very aggressive, he's very quick. He has a natural feel to it. He had an 83-yard touchdown a year ago in Dallas. He's very aggressive getting the ball down the field so we have to get in front of him and stop him quick."