On the Steelers: The spinning records
Bengals rookie receiver A.J. Green has been a large part of Cincinnati's surprising success with 40 receptions for 599 yards and five touchdowns.
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The Steelers will take the field Sunday and the best record in the AFC will take it with them again, only this time it belongs to the Cincinnati Bengals.
One of the surprise stories in the NFL resides in Cincinnati, where coach Marvin Lewis' team has won five consecutive games and is tied with Baltimore at 6-2 for both first place in the AFC North Division and for the best record in the conference. The Steelers, who held the conference's best record before their loss Sunday night to Baltimore, are 6-3.
The Bengals already have surpassed their victory total from last season when they were 4-12. They have done so behind rookie quarterback Andy Dalton in a lockout season in which he could have no contact with the team that drafted him until the labor issue was settled a week before training camp opened.
What was supposed to be the start of the soft underbelly of the Steelers 2011 schedule has turned to stone.
"We acknowledge that if we are going to make a run here in the second half, it has to start now," coach Mike Tomlin said. "It has to start on the road, as it should."
Paul Brown Stadium has been a second home for the Steelers recently. They have won nine out of their past 10 in Cincinnati. The Bengals are not far removed from competing for a playoff spot. Before they hit rock bottom last season, they won the AFC North in 2009 when they swept the Steelers in both games.
This is a different Bengals offense, too, without Carson Palmer, Chad Ochocinco and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. They rely on a new generation, led by the rookie duo of Dalton to wide receiver A.J. Green, who leads the team with 40 catches for 599 yards to go with the power of Cedric Benson, who has rushed for 536 yards.
"Offensively, the story is their young talent, no question," Tomlin said. "Andy Dalton is doing an awesome job for these guys. When you talk about a young guy, I think you start [with] first and foremost he's doing a nice job of taking care of the football. He's not turning the ball over. He's doing a nice job of making quick decisions. That can be measured simply by the fact that he's only been sacked 12 times so far this season."
Dalton has completed 61.5 percent of his passes with 12 touchdowns, seven interceptions and an 85.0 passer rating. As a comparison, Baltimore's Joe Flacco picked apart the Steelers Sunday night, and he came into the game completing just 53.9 percent of his passes and a 75.4 rating.
But it is on defense where the Bengals are winning games. Their veteran defense, coached by Mike Zimmer, ranks fourth overall in the NFL, second against the run.
"Coach Marvin Lewis and coach Mike Zimmer have done an awesome job with that group, developing them over the last number of years," Tomlin said. "They are No. 2 in the league defending the run. They have what you would consider a run front."
Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders had arthroscopic surgery on an injured knee Monday and will miss a "couple weeks," according to Tomlin.
Linebacker LaMarr Woodley, however, could miss his second game with a hamstring injury, and linebacker James Farrior could miss his third with a calf injury. Tomlin said they will have to see how/if they participate in practice to determine their status.
The coach said Hines Ward, who has "concussion-like symptoms," should be good to go this week and will not be slowed by the injury that knocked him from the game Sunday. Ward did not have a catch for the second game since the middle of his rookie season in 1998.
Another receiver, Jerricho Cotchery, and linebacker Stevenson Sylvester, have swollen knees and will be limited in practice, at least today.
Punter Daniel Sepulveda, placed on injured reserve Saturday, had surgery on his right knee to repair his meniscus.
Ben Roethlisberger, in the midst of his most prolific season as a passer, became the second fastest to reach 25,000 yards in terms of attempts. Roethlisberger got there in 3,109 passes and now has 25,134 yards in 3,121 attempts. Only Kurt Warner got there faster(3,076 attempts). No. 3? Pittsburgh native Johnny Unitas in 3,117 attempts.
Roethlisberger became the first quarterback in franchise history to pass for 300 yards in three consecutive games and has 2,632 yards passing this season, on pace to break his team record of 4,328 in 2009.
First Published November 9, 2011 12:00 am