Steelers NT Steve McLendon vs. Bengals C Kyle Cook
Cook will be making his ninth start against the Steelers, but his first opposite McLendon, a 6-foot-4, 280-pound fourth-year player who is stepping into a new role.
McLendon had just one career start in first three seasons because five-time Pro Bowler Casey Hampton had a lock on the position for 12 seasons, and Hampton was a huge reason why the Bengals repeatedly struggled to run the ball agains the Steelers, averaging 3.5 yards per carry in the last 18 games against their division rivals.
Cook (6-3, 310) missed most of last season with an ankle injury, and he still wasn’t fully healthy when he made his first start off the year in the Dec. 23 game in Pittsburgh where the Bengals’ run woes hit a new low as they managed just 14 yards on 16 carries. Completely healthy now, Cook can help offensive coordinator Jay Gruden open the entire playbook if he can keep McLendon from being a factor in the middle.
“They’re kind of a plug and play defense,” Cook said. “Casey had a long career with the Steelers, and he did a good job. I think (McLendon) is the same way. He’s a big, strong guy., They know what they want out of the guy, that guy knows what he has to do. It’s going to be a challenge. The next guy in is younger, strong, quick, athletic, just like Casey. Except for the young part.”