Not much has changed in the three weeks since the Cincinnati Bengals lost a 24-17 decision to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Cincinnati. The Steelers have had a bye week and a lackluster win at the Kansas City Chiefs while the Bengals dropped another close one in Baltimore, but bounced back to defeat Cleveland last week. One major change that could affect this week's matchup though is the possible return of Lamarr Woodley to the Pittsburgh defense.
Woodley returned to practice this week after missing three games with a pulled hamstring. His disruptiveness at linebacker is a major factor in the Steelers' success.
Woodley began the season on fire. Through the first eight games he had already recorded 36 tackles and nine sacks. He also had an interception. Woodley's versatility, being able to aggressively rush the quarterback from the edge as well as cover backs and tight ends out of the backfield makes him, along with Troy Polamalu, the most indispensable of the Steeler defenders.
Woodley has specialized in giving the Bengals problems over his career. Drafted in the second round in 2007 out of Michigan, Woodley has suited up against Cincinnati six times. He has 20 tackles and eight sacks in those six games. He's also returned an interception for a touchdown and forced two fumbles. To say that Cincinnati will have to account for his presence on the field Sunday is an understatement.
The primary responsibility for that will most likely fall on Andre Smith. Smith struggled mightily last year in Pittsburgh containing Woodley, giving up a pair of sacks. Smith has certainly shown marked improvement this year, but Sunday's game will be his biggest challenge of the year.
In other Steeler injury news, Troy Polamalu was cleared to practice yesterday after suffering "concussion-like symptoms" against Kansas City. Ben Roethlisberger was limited in practice with a broken thumb suffered in the Bengals game, but will start Sunday. He didn't appear to be limited any by the injury against Kansas City. Center Maurkice Pouncey was also limited recovering from the flu, but is expected to be at full strength by Sunday.
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