Ben Vs. Carson, Or Willie Vs. Rudi? - By Marc Simon

Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial

All week long, the media have focused on the opposing quarterbacks in the Steelers/Bengals first match-up of the season. Why not? On the Cincinnati side, we have QB Carson Palmer, who has stated unequivocally his hatred for the Steelers (Rumor has it he owns a Kimo Von Oelhoffen voodoo doll). And on the Steelers side, we have QB Ben Roethisberger. At this point, it's safe to say Ben hates the site of hospitals.

Both young quarterbacks are big, talented, and charismatic. Both have made it back from what could have been career-ending injuries in record time. And both have more money than you or I probably will ever see in this lifetime or the next, for that matter.

The outcome of Sunday's game could hinge on which of these young guns has the better game. Palmer has looked pretty good so far, albeit against opponents with a combined record of 0-4. As for Big Ben, after last week's shakedown cruise against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and a week of healthy preparation, he's ready to get back on his A-game.

But there's another battle going on that's just as interesting, and pivotal. In the Bengals corner, we have 5-foot-10 228 pound Rudi Johnson. And in the black and gold corner, we have 5-foot-9 209-pound "Fast" Willie Parker.

Like it or not, Big Rudi has an impressive resume. He has two 1400 yard seasons, and last year, he broke his own franchise record with 1,458 and 12 touchdowns. In 2004, he gained 123 yards against the best run defense in the league-Pittsburgh's-and in the second game last year, he churned up Heinz Field for 98 yards in the Bengals' 38-31 win.

On the other hand, in 2005, Parker's first season as a starter, he gained 1202 yards and had a better yards-per-carry average than Rudi. And FWP is no slouch against the Bengals. In the first game against Cincinnati last year, he dropped a cool 131 yards on the Bengals on their home field. In the second game, he had 71 yards on just 15 carries, as Ben was forced to pass a record 41 times. Sure, Parker had a downer of a game last Monday night, but who on the Steelers didn't?

Both coaches are acutely aware of how the battle of the turf may well dictate the final score. And although statistics don't always tell the story, here's one to keep in mind: Last year, the opponents averaged just 3.4 yards-per-carry against the Steelers. Flip that number around-4.3-and that's what the Bengals gave up. Going into this game, they're missing several of the best defenders from a mediocre defense, including linebackers Odell Thurman (suspension) and David Pollack (broken neck, injured reserve).

All of which dictates a game strategy for the Steelers: Run Parker early and often, and throw in a splash of Verron Haynes or Najeh Davenport just for good measure. Of course, if I know that, the Bengals know that. Or do they? They don't call them the Bungles for nothing.