New Players -For-Hire, Proving Their Worth

New Players -For-Hire, Proving Their Worth

Wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh will miss his third straight game with a bad hamstring this Sunday against Pittsburgh. The Bengals were hoping that Houshmandzadeh would be able to return to practice this week but instead the third-year player from Oregon State will sit for at least one more week.

The Bengals are still doing relatively well in the health department, however.

Backup linebacker Riall Johnson suffered a strained right calf in last Sunday's 23-20 loss at Oakland and he is expected to be out for as many as three games and may not be in uniform in a game again until after the Bengals' bye week on Oct. 12… Running back Rudi Johnson (thigh), offensive lineman Victor Leyva (chest) and tight end Matt Schobel (hamstring) are all listed as questionable but Johnson and Leyva both practiced on Wednesday for the first time since the end of the preseason… Running back Corey Dillon (knee) is probable for Sunday. Dillon and cornerback Tory James did not practice on Wednesday. Marvin Lewis said Dillon's absence is strictly precautionary and that he should be ready to play against the Steelers. The head coach did not comment on James, who is not listed on the injury report, other than to say James is fine and will play on Sunday.

PAYING OFF – ESPN the Magazine made a reference in its NFL preview issue that Bengals middle linebacker Kevin Hardy was nothing more than an "MLB-for-hirer." Hardy made Cincinnati his third different team in three seasons when he came over from Dallas by signing a four-year free agent deal in March.

Two games into this season, Hardy and several other offseason acquisitions are proving their worth for the Bengals.

Hardy, a former No. 2 overall draft pick by Jacksonville, shares the team lead of 10 tackles –eight of them solo – with cornerback Jeff Burris, safety Rogers Beckett and defensive end John Thornton. Beckett and Thornton are among the 20 current Bengals who did not wear a Cincinnati uniform in 2002. Twelve of those 20 can be considered as significant contributors, six on defense.

"I'm glad we were able to rent (Hardy) then," said head coach Marvin Lewis. "We have his rental for longer than that year, so we'll be fine. I'm so pleased to have Kevin and what he's meant to this football team and our defense."

He could say the same thing about Thornton, Beckett, cornerback Tory James and defensive ends Carl Powell and Duane Clemons. James has four passes defensed to go along with an interception, while Powell and Clemons have been part of an effective seven-man rotation on the defensive line. Clemons has the lone sack on the team but it was his hit on Oakland quarterback Rich Gannon in the first quarter of last week's game that had many observers believing Gannon began to rush some of his throws.

Gannon, last season's NFL MVP, was 13-of-28 for 103 yards and many of his throws went high or wide of their intended targets. While the Bengals didn't get any sacks, they accomplished their goal of keeping Gannon in the pocket and making him throw the ball before he wanted to.

OFFENSIVE FIREWORKS AHEAD – Sunday's game against Pittsburgh will feature the NFL's Nos. 7 and 8 ranked offenses, with the Steelers averaging 359.5 yards in their two games to 355 for the Bengals. Pittsburgh is ranked No. 2 in passing offense, while Cincinnati is No. 6.

Steelers quarterback Tommy Maddox is tops in the AFC in passing yardage (596), while the Bengals' Jon Kitna is second with 567. Pittsburgh wide receivers Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress have the top two yardage marks with 237 and 231, respectively, while Cincinnati's Chad Johnson is third with 226. Ward is No. 2 in receptions with 18, while Johnson is third (14) and Burress is tied for fourth (13).

NOT SO FAST – The two teams also have been strong defending the pass. Cincinnati's pass defense is ranked No. 2, while the Steelers are fifth. Overall, Pittsburgh's defense is ranked No. 5 and the Bengals are 10th.

The rush defenses have been lacking for both teams, however. The Steelers are ranked 23rd against the rush, giving up a total of 246 yards on the ground through two games, while the Bengals are 28th with 318 yards allowed.

The Steelers have faced Jamal Lewis of Baltimore and Priest Holmes of Kansas City in their first two games, while Clinton Portis of Denver did most of the damage against the Bengals in Week 1.

Kevin Goheen
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