The sky is not falling, Steeler Nation. Pittsburgh can win outside of the Keystone State. The “must-win” challenge was before the Steelers, and despite some tribulations in the first half, they scored a huge road divisional 24-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. After watching the Baltimore Ravens get dismantled by the Houston Texans, there is now hope in the battle for the AFC North. Pittsburgh’s record now stands at 3-3 in second place (1.5 games behind Baltimore) as they return home for a game against the Washington Redskins.
For die-hard Steeler fans, tonight’s game may have reminded you of the Pittsburgh / Cincinnati 2005 AFC Divisional contest. Not only did this feature the same two teams, but also there was an amazing shift of momentum that occurred before halftime that made an apparent Bengal rout morph into a dominant performance by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Sure, Andy Dalton did not have his knee ligaments re-shaped as Carson Palmer did nearly seven years ago. But, we did see the Steeler defense stand tall, and thoroughly blanket the Bengals for the majority of the night.
Kevin Zeitler’s Helmet – With Cincinnati up 14-6 and approaching midfield, it appeared that the deficit was about to grow until Andy Dalton attempted to tuck and re-cock a pass with just under 90 seconds remaining before halftime. The result: a deflection off offensive lineman, Kevin Zeitler’s helmet and into the waiting arms of linebacker LaMarr Woodley. This set up Pittsburgh’s tying score – a fastball from Ben Roethlisberger to Heath Miller followed by a fade pattern to Miller for a successful two-point conversion to tie the game at 14.
You Win Some, You Lose Some
Jonathan Dwyer – Dwyer’s burst once he gets through the initial wave of defenders is constantly impressive. Tonight, he looked fresh and filled in admirably for the two guys ahead of him on the depth chart, Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman. 17 carries for 122 rushing yards ain’t too shabby. Plus, he did it when it counted – to kill the clock with a lead.
Heath Miller – For years, he’s been the steady-as-a-rock, lunch pail tight end that is beloved by Steeler fans. This year, he has become a feature component in Todd Haley’s offense. It is a welcome sight to see Miller used so effectively within the offensive game plan.
Chris Rainey – his kickoff returns set up Pittsburgh with fantastic field position…that is, when his blockers did not hold unnecessarily. When Cincinnati dared him to run with dropped safeties, Rainey obliged with a nifty 11-yard dart into the end zone for his first NFL career touchdown.
Keenan Lewis – he dropped into coverage and tipped away what looked like a second TD pass to A.J. Green. How often do you see two corners in that type of coverage in the end zone on the same guy? #1 – when it’s A.J. Green. And, #2 – when it’s Ike Taylor covering A.J. Green. Lewis played an all-around solid game.
Ike Taylor – Speaking of Ike, he takes a lot of criticism. Today, Taylor did a fine job at taking away Cincinnati’s only true weapon, Mr. Green (1 catch for 8 yards). Last week, he deserved to be lambasted. This week, I give you the praise that you deserve, #24.
3rd Down Conversions – 10 of 16 (62.5%). Amazing…simply amazing, and this is a full-fledged trend.
Cincinnati’s conservative playcalling – Where was the deep aerial assault that the Bengals showcased early in the season? Hmmm…maybe an early Christmas present from Marvin Lewis, Jay Gruden, Andy Dalton, and company?
Drops, drops, drops – Mike Wallace dropped two balls that my five-year old could catch (and a third that was a little less catchable, but still…), including a sure third down conversion on Pittsburgh’s first drive – a possible loss of four points because Pittsburgh was forced to settle for a field goal. The next critical drop was even more costly. Antonio Brown took a WR lateral and lofted a perfect pass to Baron Batch, who had nary a Bengal in the same zip code. Batch watched the ball sail between his arms and fall harmlessly to the synthetic turf. Seven points missed.
Ben’s Bad Brain – Two awful turnovers really allowed the Bengals to take control of this game in the second quarter. These were of the “brain cramp” variety. The Steelers QB attempted to look off the safety and threw blindly to Heath Miller, who was double-covered. This resulted in a Chris Crocker interception in the end zone. The next offensive play, Roethlisberger was under duress due to a blown assignment by Mike Adams and double-clutched while having Devon Still and Robert Geathers hanging on him. Predictably, the ball popped loose and the Bengals recovered. One play later, Andy Dalton hit A.J. Green on a short slant for an eight-yard touchdown pass.
Costly penalties in the return game – On four returns, the Steelers lost 106 yards of field position due to yellow hankies on the field. 23 yards lost on Chris Rainey’s second kickoff return due to hold on Stevenson Sylvester. 43 yards lost on Antonio Brown’s stellar 2nd quarter punt return due to holding by Demarcus Van Dyke. 30 yards lost on Antonio Brown’s stellar 3rd quarter punt return due to holding by Ike Taylor. Can you sense a pattern here?
Pittsburgh’s defensive interior – The Bengals gameplan was to run right down the Steelers’ throats, and they were effective in doing so. Double teams often swallowed up nose tackle, Casey Hampton. Cincinnati’s scheme allowed an additional offensive lineman to occupy Steeler linebackers. This happened far too often, allowing BenJarvus Green-Ellis to reach the secondary.
About the Author
Written by Rob Stroup
I grew up in western Pennsylvania, so I have followed the Pittsburgh sports teams (Steelers, Penguins, Pirates) since the womb. It has become a tradition to make the yearly trek to a Steelers and Penguins game each year despite the distance. I hope to make writing a profession because I thoroughly enjoy attempting to paint a picture with words.