Short week not for weak

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VS.

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KEY MATCHUPS
NOVEMBER 20, 2008

Maybe you can throw out the records but you can't throw out the offensive line in the Bengals-Steelers blood feud that has gone from Carson Palmer's knee to Keith Rivers' jaw and Troy Polamalu's concussion and Bryant McFadden's arm.

The Bengals.com roundtable gives the edge to the home-standing Steelers in what will be a battle of attrition Thursday night, four days after the Steelers won the first 11-10 slugfest in NFL history over the physical Chargers and the Bengals played their longest game ever in a 13-13 NFC East smashdown with the Eagles.

"I really like what the Bengals defense is doing. I see a light at the end of the tunnel with those guys," says The Guru, a former top football exec in the NFL. "They get the quarterback back healthy and the offensive line straightened out next year and they should be able to be pretty good. But Thursday night is going to be tough against that defense."

The Eye, an NFL scout familiar with personnel in both conferences, says that the defense will have to do something other Bengals defenses have never done consistently:

Slow Fast Willie Parker.

Parker has four 100-yard against the Bengals and has averaged 4.3 yards against them in his career.

He didn't play against Cincinnati last month after he aggravated a knee sprain stepping in a hole at practice. No such luck now.

"He looks as quick and as explosive as he's ever been. There seems to be no problem with the knee," The Eye says. "Now it's just a matter if his shoulder holds up."

In this game of attrition, the team that holds up physically wins. The Hines Ward block that broke Rivers' jaw last month stole the thunder from the havoc Bengals running back Cedric Benson wrought on the Steelers secondary that day. Everyone saw him knock out Polamalu with a bruising run but Benson not only broke one of McFadden's tackles, but also his forearm and McFadden hasn't played since.

The Steelers already have a leg up on the body count with the Bengals apparently losing their top players on the left side of their line in tackle Levi Jones and guard Andrew Whitworth. And with Whitworth's replacement, Scott Kooistra out, that could mean both tackle Anthony Collins and guard Nate Livings make their first NFL starts against the Steelers No. 1 defense and legendary zone blitz of defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.

WHEN THE BENGALS HAVE THE BALL
* center>WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh vs. Steelers CB William Gay*

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Houshmandzadeh

"With Tomlin being there now, they play a little different now. They now drop back while a couple of years ago they were playing more man-to-man and fire-zone," Houshmandzadeh told the Steelers scribes this week. "I think that with Tomlin coming in, and him being under Tony Dungy and the Tampa 2 scheme, they play a soft two. I don't think that it matters if you flip-flop the corners anymore because they play so soft in the Cover 2 shell that they are playing a zone. But if they want to put him on me then that would be fine."

"He stays low and I have to get lower and I have to have his intensity."

But Ghiaciuc is a smart guy and his biggest challenge is probably keeping things sane up front in a joint where it's going to be death on the ears. If Collins and Livings do indeed start, Ghiaciuc and the right side are going to have to communicate seamlessly or else it's going to be a long night against the team tied with the most sacks in the NFL with 35.

"That's because they watched film," Watson said. "We've been able to watch film (of the last Pittsburgh game), so we know what we have to do."

"Ward intimidates some corners in this league and you can't let him do that because he'll eat you alive in the running game and passing game," The Eye says. "But the Bengals have guys like Hall and (Johnathan) Joseph that aren't afraid to be physical and to mix it up. You have to tackle Hines because he's so good at yards after catch, and Hall, especially is a good tackler."

Starks may have some company blocking Rucker at times. Tight end Matt Spaeth has caught 12 of his 15 balls in the last two games to underline the shift to the short passing game and he grabbed two against San Diego when he leaked out of the backfield blocking at the last minute.

Crocker credited his knowledge of Zimmer's system. He also has knowledge of the Steelers running game since he played against them as a member of the Browns from '03-'05 and knows all about Fast Willie.

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