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Steel-belted rivalry

The Bengals continue their run into the NFL's elite defenses with backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and a buzz that has left the sawdust of an 0-6 record.

Going by this week's NFL stats, the Steelers' second-ranked defense is the fourth top six defense the Bengals have played this season.

Without convening a focus group, the roundtable puts a win in the Steelers column.

"I think if they had Carson Palmer at home they would have a decent shot of winning but you can't say that with him not playing," says The Guru, a former top football executive in the NFL. "It's a shame how badly the offense has played this year because with the way the defense has played, they really ought to be 4-2."

"Fitzpatrick did a better job of managing the game last week," says The Scout, who evaluates personnel in several pro leagues. "But they don't have a good enough defense that matches up with that kind of offense. The defense is keeping them in games. I think they are playing hard for (Marvin Lewis) ... but the offense needs to score and a backup quarterback against an aggressive pass rush is a tough matchup."

"The Bengals do have a good matchup against the Steelers in the sense that Fitzpatrick is a smart guy," says The Eye, an NFL scout familiar with the AFC North. "When you get into a game against a (coordinator) Dick LeBeau defense, it becomes a chess match and knowing who is coming and how many."

QB Ryan Fitzpatrick vs. Steelers S Troy Polamalu
! Fitzpatrick

After a couple of injury-riddled seasons and no interceptions in 18 games, Polamalu is back with three interceptions already and fueling the defense with his ubiquitous energy.

"He could be anywhere," says The Eye. "Lined up over the No. 2 receiver. Next to the linebackers. Deep middle. And I'm sure there is a rhyme or reason for what he does, but it's not apparent to the offense. But you do have to find him."

Fitzpatrick has been picking a pretty good brain in Carson Palmer, not only Polamalu's teammate at USC, but his housemate, in an effort to decipher the Steelers zone blitz that has yielded 18 sacks, six interceptions, and three fumble recoveries.

"Fitzpatrick has a good enough arm if he can figure out what they're doing," The Eye says.

"I'm not a fan of his accuracy and arm strength," The Guru says. "But he's a smart, athletic guy that can make some things happen for you."

Fitzpatrick wants to run less, but he may have to rely on those legs. He's making his sixth NFL start, so it figures LeBeau is going to go extra to confuse him as he goes for checkmate.

RB Kenny Irons vs. Steelers LOLB LaMarr Woodley

Irons, of course, is long gone after four preseason carries as a rookie and a devastating ACL injury. The Bengals took him with the 49th pick in the second round of a 2007 draft they wanted one of a pair of linebackers in David Harris and Woodley.

Woodley went 46th to the Steelers. Harris went next to the Jets at No. 47, and the Bengals had a heck of a time trying to block him last week in Jersey in a running game that barely averaged one yard per carry.

With Chris Perry sensing he's under fire, look for Kenny Watson and Cedric Benson (making his PBS debut) to get some looks.

"If the Bengals go out there and do another 12-for-35 or 13-for-40 day on the ground," The Scout says, "forget it. LeBeau will just pin their ears back and come every play."

Woodley, with 5.5 sacks, isnt going to be a day at the beach, either, with ROLB James Harrison's 6.5 sacks on the other side. It's days like this the Bengals could really use Irons's quickness and perimeter speed to counter what Fitzpatrick calls "a relentless" pass rush.

"Woodley is just so strong," The Scout says. "He can bull rush and he can take on blockers in the run game. He plays faster than he runs. They do a lot of zone blitzing because they believe that guys like Woodley are going to win their one-on-one matchups."

At 6-2, 265 pounds, Woodley is a different kind of pass rusher for tackles Levi Jones and Stacy Andrews (because they will flop).

"This guy is built like a fireplug and he's extremely strong," The Eye says. "He's not as lean and long as the pass rushers from Tennessee, the Giants and Dallas."

C Eric Ghiaciuc vs. Steelers NT Chris Hoke

Hoke, a seven-year vet, has played extremely well the past few weeks in place of the injured Casey Hampton. But he's a different kind of guy than Hampton and a better matchup for Ghiaciuc.

"At (305 pounds) Hoke isn't as big as (the 325-pound) Hampton," The Guru says. "He moves around a little more. Hampton is more of a two-gap guy and envelops two blockers."

Ghiaciuc struggles with the big 3-4 nose tackles (note what the Jets' Kris Jenkins did to the Bengals last week), but he's more athletic than Hoke and if Hampton doesnt go Sunday because of his hamstring problem that should help the Bengals.

WR Chad Ocho Cinco vs. Steelers CB Bryant McFadden
! Ocho Cinco

McFadden is starting now that Deshea Townsend is hurt, but does it really matter? The Steelers put their draft picks and scheme into their front seven so the DBs just have to be decent enough make sure teams don't run by them.

"They won't roll up on Chad and say, 'We'll take you away with this guy,' " The Eye says. "They'll just go about a yard behind the first-down marker and say, 'We'll let you do what you want to do in front of the stick, but then we'll come up and tackle you.' "

So Ocho Cinco (and T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chris Henry) can beat the Steelers DBs one-on-one downfield, but the protection has to pick up the blitz in order for it to happen. And the receivers have to win.

LE Robert Geathers vs. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger

Roethlisberger has been sacked more times than any NFL quarterback the last two and half years with 93 and some of that is because he holds on to the ball and some of it is because the trauma along the offensive line has caused lapses in communication.

And he's got a banged-up shoulder to prove it.

This year the Steelers have a new interior at both guards and center and the Bengals, with just five sacks in the first six games, have to capitalize.

But the problem is, Roethlisberger is at his best when he bolts out of the pocket, shakes off a sacker, and completes a broken play downfield.

"You have to get him on the ground," The Guru says. "He's nowhere near a backup QB. He likes to run around, but you have to make him stop by tackling him and making sure of it. The guy is so strong and great at breaking tackles."

Is a Big Ben broken play a recurring nightmare for Bengaldom?

"He does it against everybody," The Eye says. "Jacksonville had them beat two weeks ago. They had him sacked twice on the last drive. But he got away both times, made plays, and beat them instead."

DT Pat Sims vs. Steelers LG Chris Kemoeatu

The guy replacing Steelers Pro Bowler Alan Faneca is huge at 6-3, 344 pounds. He also makes up for his raw abilities with a tremendous toughness streak and to-the-whistle attitude.

He's got three years experience on Sims, coming off his solid NFL debut last week. This could be a snapshot matchup for the future of the rivalry as the Bengals try to establish some physicality against a team that has asserted its physical dominance against them since rookie head coaches Bill Cowher and Dave Shula teed it up in 1992.

REs Antwan Odom and Frostee Rucker vs. Steelers TE Heath Miller

Let's stick to the running game because that's what the Steelers are going to try and do all day against the Bengals. Even if Willie Parker isn't going to play, they could put Willie Cunningham in there and they're going to run the same zone play where Miller kicks out the end.

With fullback Carey Davis not looking like he can go, look for the Pittsburgh base offense to be 70 percent double tight ends. What makes Miller dangerous is if the Steelers can establish the zone play, they play-action off it and can hit Miller down the seam.

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