Bengals take aim at Steelers up front
Cincinnati nose tackle Domata Peko made it clear the Bengals intend on exploiting the perceived weaknesses on the Steelers' offensive line.
Specifically, they are targeting second-year offensive lineman Kelvin Beachum. The versatile Beachum is listed as the starter ahead of newly acquired Fernando Velasco, but Velasco took considerable reps Friday with the first-team offense.
Beachum and Velasco are replacing three-time Pro Bowler Maurkice Pouncey, who was lost for the season with a knee injury in a season-opening loss to Tennessee.
If Beachum starts, he'll be in a tough spot against one of the NFL's best defensive lines. He'll spend plenty of time dueling with Peko and Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins in Monday night's AFC North tilt at Paul Brown Stadium.
“Pouncey means a lot to their team,” Peko said. “He's one of the best in the business, so it's a big blow to them.
“We'll have to take advantage of (Beachum's) inexperience at that position. It's always exciting when you go against a young person. We have to lick our chops and get after him.”
The Steelers, who have won 10 of their past 11 games in Cincinnati, will rely on Beachum to help restore order on an offensive line that surrendered five sacks and paved the way for only 32 rushing yards last weekend.
“Losing a center is a hard thing to overcome in the middle of a game,” Bengals center Kyle Cook said. “If he makes the protection calls, that'll be missed. But they'll miss him when things are tough. If he was the emotional leader, it'll be very hard to overcome that.”
Cincinnati defensive end Margus Hunt is familiar with Beachum's work. They were teammates at SMU for two years.
“I know him inside and out. I know his work ethic,” Hunt said. “I know he understands what to do, and he's strong.”
The Steelers have been making adjustments up front for the past several seasons. Now they are adjusting on the fly.
Beachum started at tight end Sunday before moving to center. The Bengals, coming off a disappointing loss in Chicago, figure they can get a big enough push up front to disrupt the Steelers' ground game and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's timing.
“We know they'll try to establish run, then air out with Big Ben,” Atkins said. “We have to make sure we handle them physically.”
The Steelers had one of the least productive run games in the NFL in 2012, but the offensive line punished the Bengals. The Bengals surrendered 167 yards — including a career-high 122 yards by Jonathan Dwyer — in a 24-17 defeat in the teams' first meeting.
The Steelers ran the ball relatively well in losing 13-10 in the rematch. They rushed for 95 yards, while the Bengals generated 14 rushing yards.
Running back Isaac Redman expects the Bengals to challenge the middle of the Steelers' offensive line.
“The Bengals are active up front, and (Atkins) can ruin a day,” Redman said.
However, Atkins said the Bengals aren't taking anything for granted.
“They still have a good line up front,” Atkins said. “For them, it's always the next man up. Even though they lost Pouncey, they'll come out fired up.”