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A Tale of Two Teams - The 2010 Pittsburgh Steelers, Game 8

This is #8 in a recap of the 2010 season.  There is a list with links at the end of the post for those who may have missed some or all of the previous posts and would like to check them out.  But now it's time for the first game vs. the Cincinnati Bengals.  

This was our Monday Night Football game, and was a game both the Steelers and the Bengals really needed to win. The Steelers needed the win so that they would not fall behind the Baltimore Ravens, who were 6-2 and had beat us in Week 4. It was a much more desperate and embarrassing than that for the Bengals - they needed the win so as not to fall behind the Browns, which is just as bad as it sounds.  The problem was, the Bengals defense came prepared to play. But apparently no one had mentioned this issue to the offense or special teams, because they seemed prepared to hand the game over to the Steelers until the beginning of the fourth quarter, when they started showing signs of life and almost scared the pants off of the Steeler faithful. Carson Palmer was asked after the game if it felt like 2009, like they were going to come out and win the game in the fourth quarter, and said "Yea, I thought, and everybody in the huddle thought, that we were going to go down and score. Obviously, and unfortunately, that's not the case." But on to the game:


Game 8 @ Cincinnati Bengals - Final Score Steelers 27, Bengals 21

General Game Overview:

If the Steelers were showing signs of a split personality, the Bengals had Multiple Personality Disorder during this game, and that's before we even discuss Chad Ochocinco.  The Bengals defense was getting pressure on Ben, forcing him to audible runs on some plays, and were doing a pretty good job of pass protection. They controlled a lot of the run game, although they allowed enough long runs that Rashard Mendenhall turned in a 99 yard game.  Ben Roethlisberger, on the other hand, only completed 17 of 27 attempts for 163 yards, a TD, and an INT. They weren't fantastic, but they were competent.  

The truly disastrous part of this game from the standpoint of a Bengals fan was the special teams blunders - they handed the ball over to the Steelers several times, and we were able to capitalize on it. It didn't help that their kicker missed both field goal attempts, one 51 yards and one 45 yards. (Jeff Reed very kindly shanked a 46 yard field goal attempt, presumably in an effort to make Nugent feel better. Reed did nail both a 25 yard attempt and a 53 yard attempt.)

The offense didn't help - Terrell Owens appeared to be trying to win the game by himself, and that's pretty hard for a lone WR.  He gave it his all, though - something that you couldn't really say about most of the rest of the offense.  Chad gave Carson his all - all of his annoyance for not being thrown to more often, that is. It was a bit rich, as he didn't manage to catch anything thrown his way in-bounds until near the end of the third quarter, and just to make a point he spiked the ball and drew a Delay of Game penalty.  Chad definitely wasn't at his best that evening.


Well, this was the game that the rubber really hit the road for the O line, and it wasn't pretty. The game began with all five starters in place - Max Starks, Chris Kemoeatu, Maurkice Pouncey, Trai Essex, Flozell Adams. Savor that lineup - maybe read it through again, slowly this time, because this is the very last time you will see it for the remainder of the season. Kemoeatu was injured on the second play of the game and was eventually taken away on the Little Cart O' Death, and Doug Legursky came in at LG. With about 5 minutes to go in the first quarter, Max Starks left with what was said to be a foot injury, and Jonathan Scott came in at LT. About 2 minutes into the second quarter Maurkice Pouncey was injured and taken away.  The Steelers had only dressed 7 offensive linemen, and in what surely has to be one of Ben Roethlisberger's worst nightmares, Matt Spaeth was seen on the sideline being given pointers on playing left tackle.  In the end,  Doug Legursky moved to center, Jonathan Scott moved to LG, and Max Starks came back in. (Knowing as we do in retrospect that Max actually had a crushed vertebrae in his neck, I can't imagine how he came back in.  But then I can't imagine how James Harrison played half the season with a piece of disc rubbing on a nerve.  The stuff these guys endure to play is unbelievable.)

At some point later in the game Starks had to go out for good with what Tomlin called a stinger, so they sent Pouncey back in, Scott moved back to tackle and Legursky to guard.  This makes it blindingly obvious why the Steelers staff values people with positional flexibility.  Mewelde Moore was injured early in the game and didn't return. Isaac Redman was shaken up near the end of the game and was escorted off the field after being down for a couple of minutes. And that was just the offense.

On the defensive side, Brett Keisel started the game, but re-injured his hamstring near the end of the second quarter, and Nick Eason came in for him. James Harrison was shaken up after taking out a runner about halfway through the third quarter, but was back in by the next series.  Considering that the defense was the oldest starting group in the league, they seemed a lot more resilient than the offense. On Special Teams, Will Allen was injured.

As we all know, Max Starks was put on IR later that week.

Game 8 Notables:

  • At the beginning of this game, the 2010 Steelers were the 1st team in NFL history to hold its first 7 opponents to 75 or less rushing yards. During this game Cedric Benson gained 54 hard-fought yards on 18 carries. He was the only rusher for CIN, and so the legend continued.
  • Hines Ward's first catch in the game meant that he had played 186 consecutive games in which he had at least one catch, beginning in 1998. It was the third longest such streak in NFL history. Unfortunately, the machinations of the Evil Empire would end Hines' streak the following week. 
  • Lawrence Timmons ended another streak, for Carson Palmer. Palmer had thrown 197 passes in games vs. Pittsburgh without an interception - the longest such streak against Pittsburgh since Frank Ryan. Timmons intercepted Pass #198.
  • The Bengals are the only team in the NFL during the past 23 years that have come back to beat the Steelers when they were up by more than 10 points.  They did it once in 2001 and once in 2009. Fortunately, they didn't manage it during this game.
  • No team in the NFL, ever, since 1933, has come back to beat the Steelers when they had more than a 20 point lead. Even during the many years that they were really bad. (Although I suppose that means that they weren't likely to have had many 20+ point leads...) At times it was looking as if the Bengals might be the first, and that definitely would have hurt.
  • Antwaan Randle El threw his fifth TD pass in the NFL, a 39 yarder that will be featured below. Randle El now has a breathtaking record of 21 completions in 26 passes, for a completion rate of 81%. He has no interceptions. This is the highest rate in NFL history for players who have thrown at least 6 passes.  Frankly, I'm surprised that Al Davis hasn't tried to pick him up.
  • Randle El has a career total of 15 touchdowns, including the five he has thrown. This is a TD 6% of the times he touches the ball.
  • Terrell Owens caught a touchdown pass partway through the second quarter.  It was his 150th TD reception, putting him in third place in NFL history, behind Jerry Rice and Randy Moss. He got his 151st TD at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
  • Owens apparently decided to sacrifice a security guard in thanks to the football gods for his second TD.  The guard, however, was fine.  Clearly the Bengals' security staff is made of tough stuff, and I suppose they would need to be...
  • When the score went from 27 - 7 at the beginning of the fourth quarter to 27 - 21 with nine minutes left, the commentators went wild with predictions of doom and rehashes of 2009 fourth quarter collapses, but rumors of the Steelers' demise were, as Mark Twain would say, greatly exaggerated. 
  • Mike Tomlin Quote of the Week: (When asked how much of a concern was it to him that the Steelers weren't able to put the Bengals away near the end of the game) - "As I sit here right now, it's not a concern at all, because we won. When we get back home and watch film, I might be concerned by it." 
  • Bonus Quote of the Week, also from the inimitable Mike Tomlin: (When asked what he thought was going through James Harrison's mind on the final play that iced the game: "I don't think anything goes through his mind. He's just trying to make plays to help us win. He's kind of a flat-liner." (To be fair to Tomlin, I trimmed that quote - MT went on to say that Harrison is "very cerebral." I would say that, too, if the image of Harrison looking offended were to flash through my brain.)  

    Team Jeckyll Play of the Week:

    On the offense, I have to go with the Randle El touchdown pass, because it was so cool, and because of how Mike Wallace caught the pass. It was the very end of the 3rd quarter, the score was 20-7, and a poor punt had given the Steelers good field position at the PIT 44. Mendenhall had a 7 yard run on 1st and 10 that probably shouldn't have gone anywhere, but he changed directions faster and more frequently than a politician two days before the election.  He then had a 2 yard run on 2nd and 3, and Ben ran it 1 yard for the first down. This was notable in that it was, I believe, the first and last mention of his suspension during the entire game. It is now 1st and 10 on the CIN 46, and Ben was feeling the pressure and shot a quick pass up the middle to Heath for 7 yards. At this point the 3rd quarter was over and they switched ends. They then lined up like so - Hines and ARE are lined up to the right of the shot:


    Just prior to the snap ARE goes in motion towards Ben, and Ben hands off to ARE and starts running right while Wallace heads at top speed for the end zone::


    ARE gets ready to unload and Ben throws a sweet block - the Bengals are still mostly confused about who has the ball:


    Ben seemed to really enjoy taking a little pain to the defense for once.  Wallace has to jump for the catch to protect the ball:


     and then has to fight for it with the DB as they plummet to the ground: Picture_3_medium

    And just like that, it is 27 - 7, and we've put the Bengals away by the beginning of the fourth quarter. (Cue ominous music in the background...)

    But before we look at what almost went wrong, let's look at a Special Teams play made by Big Play Willie Gay. It was 10:09 in the first half. The Steelers already have a touchdown from a series that began at the CIN 25 after the Bengals returner fumbled the ball.  The fumble was courtesy of Emmanuel Sanders, who knocked the ball out, and Jason Worilds grabbed it. Four plays later Mendenhall punches it into the endzone, and the ball is kicked off to the CIN 2 and returned to the 25. The Bengals manage a first down, but then falter on a third and one, and they punt, or attempt to do so.  You can see that Gay is ready for business:


    Gay comes in completely unblocked while the punter is still struggling to get the punt off:


    That ball ain't going nowhere:


    And Ben gets the ball back at the CIN 30.

    The Good from Game 8:

  • Astonishingly, given the O line situation, Ben was only sacked once. 
  • The defense racked up four sacks of Palmer - 2 by Woodley, 1 by Harrison, and 1 by Father Time himself, aka James Farrior.  He had Palmer down within 2 seconds of the snap.
  • The Steelers won the TOP battle, with 32:19 total.
  • The Red Zone and Goal to Go efficiency was much improved, at 66% for both. 
  • Mendenhall gained 99 yards, with a long of 22 and a touchdown.
  • The officials actually called holding on the O lineman that almost reversed the direction of Harrison's uniform.

  • Team Hyde Play of the Week:
    There are several candidates for this play, most of them happening after 14:45 in the fourth quarter, when the Bengals were trailing by 20 points. They get the ball on their own 34, and 1:20 later Palmer throws it to Owens in the end zone, touchdown.  Now the score is 27 - 14. But it's okay, the Bengals are still 2 scores down, right? The Steelers line up at their own 14, and 5 plays later Ben throws a pick which is caught at the CIN 49, Redman is shaken up and leaves the game, and Flozell gets an Unsportsmanlike Conduct Penalty which gives the ball to the Bengals at the PIT 34.  Let's have a look at that play.  It is 2nd and 7 on the PIT 35, and they are lined up thusly:
    That's Rashard in the backfield. In the next shot you can see Bengal #91 in the process of trampling Mendenhall's internal organs on his way to Ben:
    Ben throws the ball to Heath Miller as he was being hit, and it wobbled like a wounded duck before being snatched by the DB, Roy Williams:
    Isaac Redman tries to tackle Williams, and whacks his head on Williams' shoulder, then slides to the ground. Meanwhile, Ben is busy getting hit in the backfield by Geathers, and Michael Johnson, #93, comes in with a late hit on Ben and almost kicks him in the head:
    As the announcers are speculating that Johnson is probably going to get a Unnecessary Roughness call, the Ref turns on his mic and announces that Flozell gets an Unsportsmanlike Conduct Penalty, to be enforced at the PIT 49.  No one ever explained, nor was it shown, what Flozell did.  I'm guessing he went mad with grief when Redman went down and ran amok.  Whatever the case, the Bengals got the ball at our 34 yard line, and it was not good. 
    Ben told reporters afterwards that the pick was his fault, and that it made the game close, which it never should have been, but that the defense bailed him out. Which they did eventually.  But they let things get a bit too interesting in the meantime.  Now let's look at the Bengals series:
    It is 1st and 10 on the PIT 34, and Hampton runs right through the middle and tackles Palmer at the knees as he throws to Ochocinco, who doesn't manage to catch it anyway. Palmer is not amused, and Hampton gets a 15 yard Roughing the Passer penalty. So now it's 1st and 10 and we're at the PIT 21. Palmer chucks it into the end zone, where Terrell Owens is waiting, but Ike breaks it up. Strangely, the side judge standing 2 feet away seems to think it was just fine, but the back judge throws a flag about 30 seconds after the play is over and calls PI. So now it is 1st and goal at the 1 yard line.  They run the ball for no gain, and hope rises up within me as I think of the amazing goal line stand in the Saints game. But alas, they bring about 2500 pounds of man-flesh onto the field, including Peko at fullback (6'3", 320 lbs. or so), and smash the ball into the endzone.  And now it is 27 - 21, with 9:05 left in the fourth quarter. 
    A series of Mendenhall runs gets the ball into field goal range, and Jeff Reed shanks the 46 yard attempt, thus giving the Bengals the ball back at their own 36 with almost 4 minutes to play. Visions of 2009 were running through all of our heads, but 14(!) plays later the clock is at :40, the ball is at the PIT 12, and it is 4th and 5. Palmer passes it to Shipley, Harrison knocks the ball out with a little help from Ike, and the Bengals drop to 2 - 6.

    The Bad and the Ugly from Game 8:

  • Penalties Kill. Specifically, 7 penalties for 73 yards. There were no penalties on the Steelers until after the 2 minute warning in the first half, but that seemed to unleash the great deep. The Bengals had 3 for 30 yards.
  • I believe that this was the first game of the season in which the Steelers did not generate a positive number of turnovers. In addition to the Roethlisberger pick there was a fumble by Ward which was recovered by CIN. Despite their general incompetence, especially on Special Teams, they only lost 1 fumble and Palmer was intercepted once.

    Random Stuff That Interested Me: 

  • Apropos of nothing that I could see, they played a montage of the Harrison hits that were fined during the season. (This came at the end of a PIT offensive series.) I was getting geared up to be seriously irritated, but to their credit the announcing crew discussed the hits and basically defended Harrison. They even demonstrated a receiver dropping his head and creating the H to H contact when the defender is targeting his chest, and asked "How is that the defender's fault?" 
  • Speaking of Harrison, after the game he sought out the LT, Andrew Whitworth, and talked to him. Whitworth was asked about that, and said "I think that's the first time I've had one of those elite guys like that come up and find me...he told me 'great job and stay healthy.' So it's definitely a good feeling to play an elite guy like that and play well."
  • As Ben said when asked whether it is ever easy to play at Paul Brown Stadium: "Never, never. In the AFC North, it's never easy." 

To see the rest of the series:

2010 'Tale of Two Teams' Game Reviews

  • Game 1 vs. Atlanta
  • Game 2 vs. Tennessee
  • Game 3 at Tampa Bay
  • Game 4 at Baltimore
  • Game 5 vs. Cleveland
  • Game 6 at Miami 
  • Game 7 at New Orleans