Updated: 11-10-11, 1:15 a.m.
The Bengals rookie tandem of Andy Dalton and A.J. Green have hooked up for four touchdowns this season, and it's already more than any rookie combination of the last five years in surpassing the Jay Cutler-Tony Scheffler long-ago duo in Denver in 2006.
They've got a long way to go to pass the franchise record of Ken Anderson-Isaac Curtis (51), but Dalton and Green have already made an impression on Steelers safety Ryan Clark as he gets ready for his first meeting with them Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) at Paul Brown Stadium.
(And, by the way, Clark's conference call with the Cincinnati media Wednesday shows how the DNA of this rivalry seems to have changed. Perhaps not as trashy.)
"I think he's extremely composed, goes through his progressions well," Clark said of Dalton. "I also think they're calling a very intelligent game for him, obviously leading with the run. I think he really trusts his receivers—A.J. Green, Jerome Simpson—and those guys are making amazing plays for him. But the biggest thing you see is the team believes in him, they believe in his leadership. He has great moxie for a young quarterback and he's doing an extremely good job for those guys."
Green and Simpson are trying to do what Chad Ochocinco couldn't ever do against a Dick LeBeau defense: log a 100-yard game.
"I think the thing you're impressed about the most is his ability to catch the ball in traffic," Clark said of Green. "You look at the flag route he catches in end zone against the Indianapolis Colts; the guy is right up on him. Also going in traffic and catching the ball and catching the ball on slants and being able to run. So he's the complete receiver. I actually talked to our wide receivers coach about him last year when he was in school and he was just saying how he was NFL ready last year in college. So he's a guy who has all the attributes and all the characteristics of these great receivers from years past, but he's doing it with his own flair."
RIVERS CLOCK: The Bengals started the clock ticking Wednesday on outside linebacker Keith Rivers's three-week window on the physically unable to perform list with a wrist injury, but head coach Marvin Lewis indicated at his Wednesday news conference that he's not ready to return to practice yet. After the three weeks are up, the club either has to put Rivers on the active roster, put him on season-ending injured reserve, or release him.
» Left end Carlos Dunlap, who injured his hamstring on Sunday's sack with seven seconds left, worked on the side Wednesday with rehab therapist Nick Cosgray. Running back Brian Leonard (knee), who says he can play, was also out. Cornerback Nate Clements (knee) and safety Chris Crocker (knee) looked to be taking their weekly constitutionals and weren't out there. Also out was tight end Donald Lee (foot), but earlier in the week he said he could play.
» Middle linebacker Rey Maualuga (ankle) hits the field Wednesday for the first time since suffering a severe sprain in the Oct. 13 practice. He says he's ready to play but it is up to the coaches. Also back is tight end Jermaine Gresham (hamstring) and cornerback Adam Jones (hamstring). All three were listed as limited, as well as right tackle Andre Smith (toe), wide receiver Andre Caldwell (groin), and outside linebacker Thomas Howard (knee).
Maualuga has missed three games with his severely sprained ankle and he's about done with all that. He's taking it slowly. He ran on it Monday and he went through individual drills Wednesday and he's hoping he'll be able to convince the coaches by Friday he's ready. He thinks he is.
"My mind will tell me one thing but my ankle will tell me another. I just want to make sure I come in at the right time and not get any setbacks with my ankle," Maualuga said. "And so, it felt good on Monday, took Tuesday off from being on the field. Had a little walkthrough (Wednesday morning), it felt good. I mean, the coaches will take care of me and limit what I do to any Wednesday and hopefully by Saturday I will be full speed and ready to go."
Maualuga has been watching and is thrilled the Bengals have won all three in his absence, but he's ready to get back in any role.
"One, it totally sucks, watching from the sidelines," he said. "Other half of things, it is just good to see the guys pull through and play great football and be very consistent week in and week out. You stand there and watch and it makes it seem, you know, do they really need you back. You know? I don't know. I just hope to come back to practice and wherever they fill me in I'll go. Special teams or backup row. We'll see. Happy to be back and happy to be able to be out there with the guys."
SLANTS AND SCREENS
» Dunlap would love to play and not just because it's the Steelers. The right tackle that he would be lined up against is a friend and former college teammate at Florida, Marcus Gilbert. And his workout partner in the offseason was Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey, another Florida teammate.
» Bengals running back Cedric Benson is still trying to get his arms around splitting carries with Bernard Scott. But in the spirit of this new egoless team spirit, he didn't elaborate Wednesday when asked if he thought the running game was more in sync last Sunday in Tennessee.
"It's tough for me to comment on that; things are a little bit different this season," Benson said. "We're doing a lot more rotating, so I can't really address the consistency. Whether it's there, not there, when it's there when it's not there. I just try to be as consistent as I can be."
» Clark has seen what everybody else has seen from the Bengals this season. They look to be revived by youth and the flushing of the locker room. The talent, he said, had always been there.
"You are shocked in the way or you are impressed in the way that your go-to receiver can be a rookie, your starting quarterback can be a rookie, all of the offseason turmoil goes on and they're able to overcome it," Clark said. "I think the big thing is once those things were handled, once they knew Carson (Palmer) wasn't going to start, once you get Ochocinco out, I think it became Marvin Lewis's team and he's been doing a great job leading them. The defense, which was very good, last year, is very good once again under Zim. You're just impressed with what they're able to do but not surprised because you always knew they had talent, they just had to get things together."
The Bengals went inside Paul Brown Stadium to work on the FieldTurf in the rain Wednesday.