Updated: 8 p.m.
The numbers and the Bengals say they're a different and better offense than the one that lost to the Steelers, 24-17, back on Oct. 21 at Paul Brown Stadium, for the third of four straight Cincinnati losses.
After that game the Bengals had clicked just 47.8 percent of the time for touchdowns in the red zone and their running game was in neutral with running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis averaging just 3.4 yards per his 125 carries. Since then The Law Firm has carried it 138 times for 649 yards and a 4.7-yard average, and in the six games since the win over the Giants the Bengals have jacked their red-zone TD percentage to 63 percent.
And the guy the club had hoped to have in the lineup that Sunday night against the Steelers but never made it, rookie speed receiver Marvin Jones, is going to be in there for his fourth start at No. 2 receiver opposite A.J. Green.
It will be recalled that Jones took the bulk of the snaps in practice that week of the Steelers game, prepping for his busiest NFL game. But he hurt his knee blocking on a kick return before the Bengals could get to scrimmage that night and he didn't appear again until Nov. 25 against the Raiders and got his first start the next week in San Diego.
"I think we're peaking at just the right time," Green said Monday. "There were some games we let get away early. With Marvin playing now we've got a lot of guys that can play and can spread the field."
The Steelers are also going to be very different in the secondary. Cornerback Ike Taylor (fibula) figures to be out and won't be shadowing Green again, like he did back in October and held him to a catch. Taylor also held AFC North rivals Torrey Smith and Greg Little to a catch each. The guy that is going to shadow Green, Keenan Lewis, didn't finish last Sunday's game in Dallas and might be out with a hip injury. Cornerback Cortez Allen, who missed Sunday's game, could be back for the Steelers this Sunday.
The Bengals would like to get Jones going. In his three starts the fifth-rounder been targeted 11 times and has just five catches for 65 yards with a long of 17 and didn't have any Thursday night despite four targets. His specialty in the preseason had been the deep ball, but the No. 2 receiver hasn't had a lot of continuity. Jones is the fourth different starter.
"I don't think so," Jones said when asked if that's held the offense back. "If you just look at the games what held us back was us and our execution. Once we hit on all the cylinders and execute, we'll be good. I wouldn't say it's a problem having multiple starters at that position."
The Steelers are an intriguing matchup for Jones. While Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has made a career out of taking away the best Bengals receiver, the complementary receivers have had some big days in wins, dating back to Darnay Scott in LeBeau's first year as Steelers coordinator in 1995.
Since then it's been T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chris Henry and now with Pittsburgh holding Green to one catch for eight yards back on Oct. 21, is Jones next?
Jones says he's not sure if the Steelers are going to do the same thing and blanket Green and let others try to beat them. He never saw the game because he was getting an MRI.
"It's a possibility," Jones said. "We're not in this league by default. We can make the plays. When someone forces someone to make a play, I don't really believe that. We'll see what happens."
Jones was ready back on Oct. 21 and he's ready now.
"I wanted to go and really produce. I felt very good that whole week of practice was just had a great week of practice. I felt I was going to go and explode and stuff like that," Jones said. "When I went down, that happened. It's just a chance, I'm very comfortable within the locker room, the team and our offense and stuff, so just to come out and have a great game. That's the only focus on my mind is executing when the team needs me to make plays and that's what I plan on doing."
SLANTS AND SCREENS
» Kicker Mike Nugent says he's not sure if his right calf is going to be ready for the Steelers.
"It's one of those things you keep trying to go out there and make it feel better every day," said Nugent, who has sat out the last two games while Josh Brown has made all six of his field-goal tries. "It feels better every day. Treatment and time."
He says it's going to depend on how it feels late in the week. Asked if he thinks a competition has broken out with him and Brown, Nugent says that's not a question for him.
"That's a better question for the coaches," he said. "Josh is a great guy in the locker room and is really kicking the ball well and has really helped the team."
» New fullback John Conner showed up Monday and is wearing No. 32, the jersey worn by running back Rudi Johnson when Conner was following the Bengals during his career at Lakota West High School in the Cincinnati suburb of West Chester, Ohio.
"I couldn't have picked a better situation to come into," Conner said. "Growing up in Cincinnati I know all about the Pittsburgh rivalry. It's a big-time game and I couldn't have picked a better time to come in here."
Running backs coach Jim Anderson has already had Conner for two days in the office teaching him the offense. Conner figures to be active and play on special teams Sunday, but it's a guess how much he'll play from scrimmage.
"That's always the question when you get a new player in the middle of the season," Anderson said. "How fast can you get him ready?
"He's a blue-collar player. A tough guy that we liked coming out of Kentucky (in the 2010 draft). Another team got him (Jets in the fifth round), but we were able to get him now."
» Bengals cornerback Terence "The Tech" Newman, known for his detailed preparation, plans to deliver 131 new Kindles to City Gospel Mission's Whiz Kids program during his day off Tuesday.
With the help of his teammates last month, Newman's "Legends for Literacy" program fundraiser netted the Kindles and $3,500 in Amazon.com gift cards to be allocated to more than 60 Whiz Kids sites around Greater Cincinnati. On Tuesday, Newman takes Kindles to Whitaker Elementary in Finneytown.
A service of City Gospel Mission, Whiz Kids is a one-on-one literacy and mentoring program with more than 1,300 students and 1,800 volunteers.
"Whiz Kids has been instrumental in helping children across Cincinnati become better readers, and now having these Kindles at each of their locations will make that process a little bit easier," Newman said. "Technology makes reading more interactive and fun for kids, and I am proud that my foundation can help provide such technology to kids who need it most."