PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 04: Mike Wallace #17 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates following his touchdown against the Cincinnati Bengals in the first half during the game on December 4, 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
That was easily the most dominating performance of the year for the 9-3 Steelers. All three phases of the game came up with big plays and they all fed off each other.
Championship football is what you see in the second quarter of this game (minus the Bengals only touchdown of the game). Definitely a step in the right direction, heading into the always-unpredictable Thursday Night game.
- There are far more knowledgeable Steelers historians on this site than I, but I think even they would have a hard time remembering a better overall special teams performance. Barely over two years ago, the special teams unit caved in, giving Kansas City a huge upset over Pittsburgh. Now, it won the Steelers a huge divisional game.
- I loved how physical this game was. A great late-season test of strength. The Steelers just had more of it later in the game. Early, though, Cincinnati was laying the wood, especially in their beaten-up secondary. Every pass Roethlisberger threw was contested.
- The Steelers blew the Bengals out mostly due to a few special teams plays and just an overall advantage in the talent department. It wasn't without a gutty effort from the the Bengals, though. On Antonio Brown's catch-and-run in the first quarter, two defensive linemen - Michael Johnson and Manny Lawson - are in hot pursuit of Brown 40 yards down the field, and Thomas Howard is right there as well.
- That being said, Steelers first trip in the red zone. Four plays, four rushes, 15 yards and a touchdown. Lemme repeat that. The Steelers did not throw the ball once in four plays inside the Bengals 20 yard line. Redman and Mendenhall ran hard, the line blocked hard. Seven-rip good guys.
- Even better, the next sequence of plays: Huge special teams tackle by Curtis Brown, great pass break-up by Ike Taylor, botched screen that Keenan Lewis would have stuffed for a yard or two, great coverage down field leads to Ziggy Hood tackling Andy Dalton for two yard gain. Get off our field. Don't think for a second playing strong, physical football does not have a trickle-down effect. That was possibly the best sequence of four plays all year, and from four guys you aren't typically talking about after the game.
- The Steelers take that momentum and go for the play fake. Doesn't look like the greatest pass, but ya know what? That works in today's NFL. Put it up every single time you see Mike Wallace in single coverage. The result of the play can end five ways: Incomplete pass, interception, pass interference, defensive holding, reception. There have been far more touchdown passes and penalties on the secondary than there have been interceptions this season. I'll take my chances down the field, provided I can get my guy into single coverage.
- The pass interference set up Red Zone Drive No. 2. Three plays, three carries, touchdown. Fourteen-rip good guys. I'm sensing a trend here. So did the special teams. Sly Sylvester makes Brandon Tate pay for not protecting the ball (and in a small way, for being drafted one spot higher than Mike Wallace. I love pointing that out).
- For those of you keeping score at home, it's now seven red zone plays, seven carries, two touchdowns, a special teams forced fumble and recovery and a defensive 3-and-out. After the turnover, an Antonio Brown run from the 21 (just outside the red zone) sets up the first red zone pass, a play-action that brought eight Bengals defenders within three yards of the line of scrimmage. There are four Steelers behind them running patterns. It doesn't take Johnny Unitas to throw for six on that play, and all of it was set up because of the Steelers willingness to run the ball in the red zone. Yes, I'm sure you're sick of reading me write that, but I feel my complaints last week were addressed in this week's game plan.
- You can't argue with 3-for-3 in the red zone, especially when there's 10 minutes left in the first half.
- You can see both the high level of focus of the Steelers as well as the return-to-earth dejection of the Bengals by this point in the game. The Steelers were obviously excited to have jumped out to such a big lead, but they're also fully aware the Bengals are perfectly comfortable being behind. They can come back on anyone. Pittsburgh ratcheted up the intensity even more, looking to finish their opponents off.
- That, by the way, is what championship teams do.
- Kudos to the Steelers coaching staff. From this point until the game was out of reach in the fourth quarter, they did not call the game like it was 21-0, or 35-7. They called it like it was 7-7. Stepped on their throats, made sure they were dead.
- Part of that was due to the fact they know Cincinnati isn't aware of the fact they're less talented. A beautifully executed 80 yard drive in response to the Steelers 21-0 run proves it.
- Pittsburgh's response? Great special teams tackle by Curtis Brown, poor throw by Dalton, big-time hit by Polamalu on Green (very close to a Clark interception) and Brett Keisel running Dalton down like he just stole his beard shampoo, forcing an awkward throw to complete the 3-and-out. Pittsburgh didn't use a timeout, and got the ball back.
- FYI, blocking in the back means exactly that. You have to hit the guy square in the back, and the shoulder is not a part of the back. Hit 'em outside the shoulder blades, as Coach Babich would say. Oh, and Antonio Brown wasn't touched. Great block by Bryant McFadden.
- I really don't want to get into this, but I absolutely hate watching Brown dance. Hood's Peewee Herman "Tequila" impression was enough to make me want to vomit too. Personally, I'm a fan of a good ol' 90 mph fastball into the back wall of the end zone. Dancing sucks.
- What is "stepping on the throat" in the non Suh-sense in the NFL? It's forcing a 3-and-out when up 14-0, running the punt back for a TD with under two minutes left in the first half, making yet another big special teams tackle, and getting a sack (Harrison, who was blocked by
Jermaine Gresham), and stuffing a screen for a yard gain (Timmons). It was about the equivalent of Drago throwing Rocky back in his own corner after round 1.
- Again, I'll nod to the historians to debate, but I'll submit Quarter 2, Bengals at Steelers, Week 13, 2011 as one of the best 15 minutes of execution in recent memory. And that includes them even allowing a touchdown. Any arguments?
- One of the more fun aspects of the Steelers defense is how offensive-based it is. On Harrison's second sack, he stunts to his inside, trying to draw a blocker away from James Farrior, who is on a delayed middle blitz. Farrior smashes into Harrison's back, and the added weight overwhelms LG Nate Livings, who lets both of them get to the quarterback. If you flipped it around, it was a great block by Farrior, allowing Harrison to run for an additional 10 yards.
- Turnovers and big plays highlighted this game, but quietly beneath that was a dominant running performance by both Mendenhall and Redman. Thursday night could very well see 40+ carries from Pittsburgh. Cue the slew of comments about Arians in 2009 against Cleveland from the Keystone Lighters on BTSC (Arians jokes are like Keystone Light. So cheap, so wrong, yet, so delicious and smooth).
- Four-for-four in the red zone, two rushing touchdowns, two passing touchdowns. So much good tape for opponents to digest, the Steelers offense is getting back to that level of balance necessary to keep defenses guessing. And right at the perfect time too. With four games to go - three of them at home - the Steelers are in a great spot as far as the post-season is concerned.