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Willie Anderson

Posted: 9 p.m.

He is one the most qualified on the planet to talk about Sunday's 1 p.m. AFC North slugfest at Paul Brown Stadium between the first-place Bengals and the second-place Ravens.

Willie Anderson, looking into splitting his Twitter page with one side for Bengals orange and the other for Ravens purple, sees the game the same way. Even if it is from the one-sided perspective from an offensive lineman that craves the running game.

"It's the most even Cincinnati-Baltimore matchup I can ever remember," Anderson said Tuesday from a workout in Atlanta. "You see both teams with the formula. The Bengals are running the ball with one back like we did last year with two and three. And both teams are in the (top 5) in stopping the run. That's the formula that wins Super Bowls."

The Bengals could run it fairly decently but never stop it. The Ravens always stopped it but could never get it going consistently on offense to run it. Now both are doing both at a high level.

So Anderson, the greatest right tackle in Bengals history, is admiring the work of Dennis Roland, maybe the most improbable right tackle in Bengals history. He's also predicting a quick Pro Bowl for the man replacing him in Baltimore, rookie right tackle Michael Oher. Maybe as soon as this year.

Don't ask Anderson to make a call on this one. But he's interested enough in the game that he's thinking about moving back his trip to London this weekend to Monday.

"I don't want to get somewhere and they can't get it," Anderson said. "I think it will be a great game and it's going to come down to who runs the ball best and is going to allow their big-time quarterback the ability to make a couple of big-league plays."

Anderson played for both the Bengals and Ravens last year. At the end of his 13th preseason with Cincinnati and 181 regular-season games and four Pro Bowls, he refused a pay cut and the Ravens picked him up for what turned out to be a run to the AFC championship game and a loss to the soon-to-be Super Bowl champion Steelers.

Despite the Ravens' early-season injuries on the offensive line, Anderson chose to stick with his decision to sit out this year. The Ravens still have his rights and he wouldn't rule out coming back next season at age 35 in pointing out her hasn't filed any retirement papers.

"I told you last year that I think I still had three or four years left," he said. "It depends how I feel at the end of the year. In the middle of the season, it's easy to want to come back when you see everybody playing. The test is how you feel when it's over. I felt had to step away for a year and enjoy it and just get my body healed up. And it was important for my son and my family to take this year."

So he still texts quarterback Carson Palmer and left tackle Andrew Whitworth in Cincinnati and middle linebacker Ray Lewis and left tackle Jared Gaither in Baltimore. Anderson naturally likes the formula - smashmouth running the ball and stopping the run - in both places because it leads to success in the money days of November and December.

"Both head coaches talked about that. I remember Marvin (Lewis) and Coach (John) Harbaugh said it last year. We've got to be built for the stretch. The AFC North starts in a heat wave and it ends in blizzards. It's the teams with the best mindsets that get through November and December," he said. "That's when real football teams show up and that's the challenge for each of them."

Anderson agrees that the Bengals and Ravens are about as similar as you can get. Maybe not what he lived through this decade when it always seemed to be about the Bengals top 10 offense pitted against the Ravens top three defense. But similar with the strong-armed quarterbacks and the stingy defenses against the run.

"It's not my Bengals defense," said Anderson, whose defenses finished 25th or lower in eight of his seasons. "These guys do what defenses should do. They're doing what Marvin has been harping on for years. They're getting pressure on the quarterback and that leads to turnovers, bad plays by the offense."

But it is the Ravens defense that Anderson recognizes and he knows that the one that manhandled undefeated Denver last week is closer to the one that's going to emerge in PBS Sunday after a month of hearing its obituary.

"I think last week the real Baltimore defense showed up," Anderson said, "I don't think they've been challenged like that by the public and the naysayers in a long time and they really stepped up in the face of that. Now they've got one of their biggest challenges because this is a good offense that beat them at home."

And Anderson is fan of that offense. He's a formula guy. Run(Run) Run=Win. He thinks Lewis is, too, and he recalled some of the talks Lewis had with him when Anderson was hurt in 2007.

"He was kind of tired of the no-huddle because he felt it took away aggression from the big guys up front," Anderson said. "I think the more teams have the great quarterback, the more they get away from the formula. But you've got to remember that even though Tom Brady was throwing all the time, he needed Corey Dillon and how many 1,400-, 1,500-yard rushing seasons has Peyton Manning had behind him? That play-action has to mean something."

The Bengals replaced Anderson with Stacy Andrews, then Anthony Collins, and now Roland, a college free agent cut five times who is helping the Bengals to a No. 9 ranking in the running game.

"The 6-9 kid is playing pretty good," Anderson said. "You've got to applaud what they've done up front. No one would have predicted that they would be having one of the (line's) better years. The passing game is really balanced. I'm sure they make a lot of the calls for Chad (Ochocinco) and then Carson (Palmer) goes off the coverage and he can go to (Andre) Caldwell or (Chris) Henry or (Laveranues) Coles, and it's not telegraphed from one to two with T.J. (Houshmandzadeh). But the running game is what is getting them through with (Cedric) Benson. They've got the runner. Remember the formula."

In fact, Anderson says the head coach that is the most successful in staying on his offensive coordinator to stick with the run will win. But then, this is an offensive lineman speaking, and he likes the young big guys.

Anderson hasn't seen much of the man wearing his number 71 in Cincinnati, rookie right tackle Andre Smith, taken with the sixth pick in the draft. But he has seen plenty of the Ravens rookie right tackle, Oher, the 23rd pick.

"I haven't seen Andre enough. I'm hoping he'll do well and I've heard he's an excellent player," Anderson said of his fellow Alabama native. "But I've seen this guy (Oher) and he's a beast. He's going to be a Pro Bowler very soon. He could sneak in this year. He's that good. Right now, you'd have to say he was the best tackle in the draft. They couldn't believe he was there."

The irony would be quite tangy if Smith, his development marred by a month-long holdout and a broken foot, made his NFL debut against the Ravens. Anderson is looking forward to that, and everything else.

"I'm just going to sit back," he said, "and enjoy it. It should be fun."

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