The Steelers and the Bengals are two teams heading in opposite directions this season. When the Bengals finished 10-6 last year and went to the playoffs Bengals fans everywhere slithered out from under their rocks and barstools to declare (once again) that the balance of powers in the NFL had changed.
When the offseason saw the Steelers lose a pro-bowl wide-receiver and the Bengals pick one up analysts were quick to agree. More seasoned followers of the AFC North, were skeptical. After all there was a reason that Steelers legen Myron Cope had dubbed the team from Cincy, the Bungles. Somehow, someway, the Bengals just find ways to lose.
On this rainy Sunday on Hines field, we saw the Bungles in all of their glory. Cincy came out and dominated the first quarter on both sides of the ball. They scored early, looked solid on offense, had some success running and passing. On defense, by hook and by crook, they harassed, hassled, hit and hurt Ben Roethlisberger. More on this later, but suffice it to say that the Bengals, aided by a stunningly myopic set of officials took so many free shots at Ben that one had to wonder if the league had gone Ravens on us and issued a bounty on the quarter backs head.
Having said that, all is well that ends well. Ben is Ben - and there is no question that he is the toughest QB in the league, not to mention one of it's best. Carson is Carson and there is no question that despite having talent, and an arm, he has consistently found ways to lose big games. Today the two QBs were a big part of the difference, but so were their receivers, the DB's and LB's on both sides of the ball.
If I had to find a story line to this game it would be this: When they needed too, the Steelers players made plays. The Bungles had their chances, but failed to convert.
As I mentioned above, the game did not start out well for the Steelers. The Bengals moved down the field with ease and took advantage of a couple of costly Steleers penalties to jump out to a 7-0 lead. What's worse is the Steelers looked out of rhythm on offense. Steeler Nation was chattering once again about BA and our DBs. The truth is though, that both would go on to have very solid games.
I especially want to give a shout out to BA. I know this is not going to make me any friends, but I thought our much maligned offensive coordinator dialed up a heck of a game plan. That is hard to say when the offense doesn't find the endzone, but I think for the most part, BA put together good looking calls in clutch moments. What's more there was a ton of creativity in the design of the bubble screens, QB runs and gadget plays. BA was working with a wonky QB, an O-line whose blocking looked a little like the Benny Hill opening montage, except with a whole lot more holding. Props to BA and Ben for overcoming the O-line and stringing together some solid drives.
One drive in particular stands out in my mind. It will go down as a 50 yard drive that ended in a punt. The truth is that the Steelers gained over 100 positive yards 50 of which were reversed by 3 holding calls and 2 sacks. It showed the absolute best and worst of who the Steelers are this season. On the one hand the inexcusable 3 holding calls on one drive, a sign of a team that is undisciplined and outmatched at the point of attack. There was also the missed read by the otherwise reliable Maurkice Pouncey on the 3rd blitz by Dahni Jones. That blitz and the one before it where Ben held on to the ball for a too long resulted in points being taken of the board. On the other hand there were amazing plays by Ben and his receivers on that drive. Ben took the gloves and the visor off and managed to convert a second and 30 into a first down, with the help of an amazing grab by old man Ward down the middle. Mendenhall eeked out tough yards after contact, keeping plays alive.
All in all that drive went for nearly 10 minutes absolutely sucking any life out of the Bengals offense that sat soaking in the rain and the cold. After 10 minutes on the Bench Carson Palmer came out and threw one pass - that resulted in the second pick six of the game and essentially ended any hopes of a Bengals comeback. People will congratulate the defense on that effort, but if this was a hockey game, I give an assist to Ben and the offense on those six points.
Other Pros & Cons
The Pass Catchers:
This was a great game by the wide receivers. With the exception of a big drop by Matt Spaeth our guys came up with some absolutely huge catches at critical moments. Antwan Randle El's one handed grab of a Big Ben pass over the middle for 23 yards was one of the best catches I've seen this season. The grab by Hines Ward, mentioned above was huge and came at a big moment. There was also a sweet grab by Mike Wallace on a 33 yard hook up with Ben.
What's more the guys really moved well after the catch and without the ball. Wallace had a couple of nifty catch and runs as did Rookie Antonio Brown. Emmanuel Sanders kept off the stat sheet, and coming up gimpy in the second, follows the example set by Ben, Troy and Flozell, and shakes off the injury. He joined the rest of the guys with great blocking down-field on the screens.
When he was interviewed by BTSC contributor John Stephens last week, Mendy was asked what nickname he preferred. He said that in college he was called RAC. That means run after contact. His stat sheet for today reads a workman like, but unimpressive 16 carrys for 66 yards, good for a 3.7 yard average. I think all of those 3.7 yards however came after contact. Many have already noted that Mendy leads the league in this category, this game however was a tour de force. The holes were not there today for Mendy. Very often, his 4-5 yard runs included a broken tackle for every yard gained. Without that heroic effort we do not win this game. Players make plays. Mendy made them today.
I've decided that he and Wallace should know be known as YAC and RAC.
What can you say about this guy after today's performance? First you can say that the league hates him. I have no other explanation for the double standard. Late hits, punches to the face, rib shots, horse collars and no flags. This is ridiculous, absurd, and simply wrong. Ben took yet another punch to face at the end of the second quarter, a brutal late hit in the ribs, another horse collar. All this coming a week after the league ignored a flagrant punch to the face by Ngata, that broke Ben's nose so badly the Doctor marveled that it looked like Corn Flakes. Let's be clear it is a penalty to hit the Quarter Back in the head. For some strange reason it's not a penalty if the QB's name is Ben Roethlisberger.
The other thing you can say about Ben is that he is an absolute warrior. Play after play. Hit after hit. This guy is playing ridiculous football right now. Once again he extended plays, found guys down field after contact. If Wallace and Mendy are YAC and RAC - then he is PAC (Man?). His ability to pass after contact is simply unparalleled. It's been the difference in many of our games
Having said all of that, Ben threw at least three balls that should have been interceptions. The difference in this game is that the Bungles bungled and the Steelers made the plays when they had too.
Although the Bengals are not a great team, they have the potential to be dangerous on offense. TO and OchoCinco have combined for more yards than any other WR tandem in the league. Benson is having a resurgence and guys like Shipley and Grisham are real players.
With the struggles that our secondary has had this season there was reason to be wary. Instead the defense stiffened up after a disappointing start to put together a dominating game, complete with 3 sacks and two pick sixes. Not bad at all.
As always it began with the big boys upfront. The D-line played a full rotation with Kiesel, Eason, Hood, Hampton and Hoke all seeing significant playing time. The result was a fresh and disruptive set of guys (helped by an offense that controlled the clock) that managed to keep the Bengals to 34 yards on 14 carries. Ziggy was once again penetrating into the backfield. It was a treat to see Kiesel making big tackles.
Woodley and Timmons:
It was a relatively quiet game for James Harrison, who did not record a tackle or a sack. The rest of the linebackers sure made up for that. Father time, who played his college ball against a guy named Mike Tomlin, looked fresh and young recording 10 tackles. Lawerence Timmons looked like a guided missile. Sometimes when I see the guy close, I think I am watching Troy Polamulu. When I see hime tackle though, it feels like a Ryan Clark highlight reel. Somebody in the game thread suggested the name Lawrence "Cowbell" Timmons, cause you can never have enough of him. ( :
Still one LB obviously stands out today. Lamar Woodley broke out of a mid-season slump to record two sacks and a pick six. He was disruptive all day long, consistently bringing pressure on Palmer. His pick six was a thing of beauty, which will require more analysis, but it was his next play that really made me smile. Fired up after scoring the Steelers D took off after Palmer on the first play after the interception, a delayed hand-off down the middle saw Benson looking at a huge hole with only one guy to beat. He barely stutter stepped only to find himself wrapped up from behind by lightining fast Lamar Woodley. It was a heck of a two play run for the big linebacker.
What else can you say about Troy. Week in week out? We need a different post to analyze what he brought today. All I can say is that I agree with the announcers who said following the interception "you just have to appreciate brilliance when you see it." I think we appreciate it.
All in all a nice game called by Coach Dad, great use of the corner blitz again to confuse and confound Carson. This is from Bobpurkey34 on the game thread. It made me laugh.
If I have any complaint about this game, it's the Special Teams and the continued ineptitude of the O-line.
Special Teams, does not look good right now. Keyaron Fox, the leading vote getter in the league for Special Teams (good job nation), not only didn't make big plays, but had a big 10 yard holding penalty in the 3d quarter. Suisham, while looking generally very solid on field goals - nailing two down the uprights in the rain, sent a kick out of bounds. Coverage was not great, although I don't have the stat, I think the Steelers gave up much more on returns than they got. Returns were not impressive either.
Clearly the worst play came in the fourth quarter when Antonio Brown makes a poor decision to filed a bouncing ball on a wet field. That is just poor recognition by the rookie.
When you have your foot on your opponents throat in the fourth quarter you don't try and lift it off so you can kick them in the balls. That's stupid and can cost you games. Not only did Brown make a stupid play, which almost resulted in a turnover, but Will Allen committed yet another special teams penalty on the same play, something which has become a regular occurrence for the Steelers. The result was another big swing in field position.
I already mentioned a bit of the O-line struggles up top. Right now though, I would say that the Steelers are a gutsy but undisciplined football team. Unless things get a little tighter, I could see that costing us against elite teams.
Having said that, let's celebrate a nice gut-check win by a beat up team that showed great heart and made the plays that needed to be made. Well done 10-3 and sole possession of first in the AFC North!