Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport
A lacking offensive performance can't mask an outstanding defensive game from the Steelers in their Week 16 loss to Cincinnati.
LB Lawrence Timmons - The only bad thing to say about his performance was not getting a piece of a beautiful pass from Andy Dalton to Jermaine Gresham, and frankly, Gresham was wearing a Timmons suit down the field. Outside of that, he did an outstanding job against the run, in pass coverage and in pass rush. Two sacks, 10 tackles, and a ton of anticipation for a player who's had a career year and hasn't even put together a season that matches his potential.
CB Cortez Allen - If you can find the answer to this question, please let me know; when was the last time a Steelers cornerback was responsible for three turnovers in a game? This space has pushed the Allen Agenda from this time last year through training camp. While Keenan Lewis rightfully won the starting job and has performed brilliantly this season, Allen validated that potential in this game.
CB Keenan Lewis - In the battle of his career (and not exclusively shadowing A.J. Green), the Bengals could not have challenged this secondary more than they did. Lewis, like the rest of the cornerbacks, performed beautifully. They wish they could have that last completion to Green back, and those are the breaks sometimes, but top to bottom, it was an outstanding performance. Lewis did it when obviously injured, showing his toughness and grit in what could end up being a Pro Bowl season.
SS Troy Polamalu - The wild man is back. Polamalu even threw out a move we haven't seen since 2010. When showing man coverage and trailing an H-back or tight end, and when that player motions into the backfield, Polamalu is really simply taking what the offense is giving him. Since the H-back won't be set long, he knows the snap is coming, so he shoots the A gap at a speed even the quickest interior linemen can't stop. He got a sack of Dalton on a running play, and disrupted several running plays in the backfield. His best game in quite a while, for sure.
WR Antonio Brown - We're equal opportunity savagers here. We ripped Brown last week. We'll praise him this week. Beautiful route on the deep touchdown, completely fried Adam Jones. Fought against a very difficult defense and an erratic quarterback in a game in which the Steelers only had 14 completions. Brown had five catches on his six targets, and it was a battle for every yard.
QB Ben Roethlisberger - He's completed 54 percent of his passes since his return in Week 14. It's been written to death but it was his second straight game with a late interception that gave the Steelers' opponent a chance to win the game. He missed Mike Wallace on a deep throw that should have been made, and he was (understandably) spooked by the pass rush to the point he held onto the ball far too long, and reacted to it instead of throwing through it. Some have asked whether he's fully healthy. He looks fine physically - or did until Geno Atkins got his bear claws on him. Mentally, he hasn't healed.
P Drew Butler - He's edged this list a few times now, but the Steelers have played in multiple close games this season, and have never won the battle of field position. While he did bang a 58-yarder, he put two of his seven punts in the end zone, one for a net of 18 yards.
RG David DeCastro - I understand it was his second start. I know where he was drafted and what his potential is. I even know he was oftentimes put up against a player I feel is the best interior defensive linemen in football. None of that changes the fact DeCastro was DeStroyed in this game. He represents the roughest outing for an offensive line that appears to be ending worse than where it left off last season.
LS Greg Warren - One job, Greg. One job. To his credit, I can't remember the last muffed snap he's had, but that's the tough part of what he does.