Updated: 7:35 p.m.
Bengals-Steelers has a new subplot with the arrival of offensive coordinator Jay Gruden in Cincinnati welding pilot Andy Dalton. On Sunday at 1 p.m. in sold-out Paul Brown Stadium, The Red Baron faces The Grandmaster Charles Richard LeBeau, the Steelers defensive coordinator who has left a long line of rooks in his wake.
As in rookie quarterbacks. The Bengals have been knocking down historical milestones like an almanac this season and here's another chance.
Since LeBeau took over the Steelers defense in 2004, Elias Sports Bureau says rookie quarterbacks have beaten Pittsburgh just once in 12 games when Baltimore's Troy Smith won a 2007 game in the year before the Ravens drafted Joe Flacco.
In compiling the 11-1 mark, the Steelers have held the kids to a 62.8 passer rating with 12 interceptions against seven touchdown passes. And they are completing just 53.7 percent of their passes on 5.6 yards per attempt.
Dalton, who has coolly handled the NFL flak to become the first rookie quarterback to secure at least three game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or OT since Matt Ryan had four in 2008 (according to Elias) has only seen the Steelers from afar and like everybody else can't help but be impressed.
"I definitely know some from watching them throughout the years and they've got a lot of guys that are playing really well," Dalton said Monday. "It's going to be a really big test for us and it's going to be a big week of preparation."
Carson Palmer's '04 debut against the Steelers didn't count as a rookie, but the results were the same. The Bengals got beat in Pittsburgh, 28-17, in a game old USC housemate Troy Polamalu returned a pick-six. Palmer had a 52.1 rating on 20-of-37 passing for 164 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
One thing going for Dalton is he saw a lot of LeBeau's signature zone blitz while practicing against it every day at TCU, where head coach Gary Patterson mixed up his own baffling drops and pressures.
"I've feel like I saw a lot of things in college by practicing against our defense," Dalton said. "There is always going to be some new things, some things that are going to show up that maybe haven't been on film. It's just about making adjustments and making sure I'm seeing it."
STEELERS WEEK: The pundits said the Bengals were going to be so bad they were going to get Andrew Luck. Now the pundits are going to have the good luck of covering a Bengals-Steelers game at sold out Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday at 1 p.m. with first place on the line in the AFC North.
"We hate them and they hate us," said Domata Peko, the usually mild-mannered Bengals defensive tackle Monday.
That should give you an idea of the mindset this week as the Bengals bring their AFC-best 6-2 record into it with the 6-3 Steelers. The Bengals didn't have to report to work on a victory Monday (they need to get their lifting In Monday or Tuesday), but the locker room was a busy place with players that included quarterback Andy Dalton.
Left end Carlos Dunlap indicated he did suffer a hamstring injury Sunday and plans to have it examined later Monday, but said it felt better than it did after the game. Middle linebacker Rey Maualuga, going out for a run, hopes to do individual drills Wednesday while tight end Jermaine Gresham is hopeful he can play.
And head coach Marvin Lewis said all three will practice this week and that he felt better about the availability of Dunlap and running back Brian Leonard (knee). Tight end Donald Lee said he had a sprained foot and even though he was in a boot Monday he said he would play. He said someone fell on it during the third quarter but he didn't come out.
"Ford tough," he said with a wink.
At Monday night's Bengals Line, Leonard said he's OK and that he's ready for practice Wednesday after suffering only a tweak.
With a big game come the big media. Yes, The New York Times, in the person of NFL writer Judy Battista, is going to be here. Bengals PR chieftan Jack Brennan also has a full ESPN crew of Bob Holtzman, John Clayton and Jamison Hensley ticketed, as well for Sunday, as well as USA Today's Jim Corbett.
The players are clearly excited about the season's first sellout. "Let's get a blackout going in the stadium," Dunlap said. "Everybody in there wearing all black."
The word out of Pittsburgh is head coach Mike Tomlin is calling wide receiver Hines Ward's injury minor and that despite stinger and concussion symptoms it looks like he'll play. The scutlebutt is that linebacker LaMarr Woodley (hamstring) is going to miss another game, but wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders is going to be back.