So other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?
Too early for that, I suppose, but capturing both the exuberance of the division championship-clinching win as well as the potential loss of running back Le'Veon Bell is a mixed bag of emotions.
Unfortunately, this will be one of those things that plays out on the ugly side of a rivalry that's been defined almost entirely through injury. Kimo Von Oelhoffen is known outside Pittsburgh for one thing in the NFL. Kimo was doing his job and perhaps lost his bearings a bit after being blocked to the ground in the AFC Wild Card playoffs in 2005. Bengals safety Reggie Nelson was avoiding the head-jarring hit of Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell by making sure he was low to the ground.
As Paper Champions said after the game, perfectly, I might add, no one teaches a player to launch oneself into the knee of an opposing player. The two will be linked forever in a disgusting, vengeful sort of way. Chalk it up to laziness, and a horrendously ominous cloud over Nelson as he was the guy who hit Steelers tight end Heath Miller in the knee, ending his 2012 season.
That should cover the ugly, so let's move on.
The Good and the Bad
Of all the things that were going to do in the Steelers in the course of the 2014 season, the cornerbacks were by far and away going to be the most costly. Ike Taylor is too old, William Gay is beaten deep too easily. Brice McCain is too hated by Pro Football Focus and Antwon Blake is too unknown and too undrafted and too terrible to even make the Jaguars' roster.
What a performance they all just had on the Cincinnati Bengals.
Keep in mind, this is a well-balanced and powerful passing offense. A.J. Green is one of the few truly elite who fall one step behind Antonio Brown in terms of the best in the game at his position. Green had to work every last inch of the one and eight on his jersey to make plays against Pittsburgh. The Steelers' cornerbacks did an excellent job of funneling Green away from the outside numbers and back toward the middle of the field, forcing him to take on the role of more of a possession receiver, and earn yards after the catch.
For all of those who bemoan the "tackle the catch" philosophy, let Blake serve as reason why that strategy can be effective in a league that largely protects its receivers (from head shots, not shots to the knees). The Steelers forced the inside routes Green was running, and like I mentioned before Sunday's game, the best thing the Steelers can do is play him aggressively, don't allow the big play and hit him hard and often.
Upon second review, the Steelers' secondary put in one of their finest performances this year. Hats off to an excellent game plan and outstanding execution. In a completions league, defenders can seize the opportunities they get, and McCain and Blake did just that.
Big kudos should go out to Antonio Brown, as always. That could have been the most impressive touchdown he's scored this season. Not the vision and anticipation he showed on his punt return, but rather, the knee-buckling move he put on Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. Brown knows the ball is coming to the outside from Ben Roethlisberger. He got Kirkpatrick to lean inside, and the ball arrived just as Kirkpatrick showed him his back.
Clear sailing the rest of the way. Coach's film will show us where Reggie Nelson was on that play. I'm excited to see it, because I'm sure he was hustling the whole way, and not short-cutting anything.
I loved the hustle of Martavis Bryant on that play, even if it did result in him bumping into Brown and falling over. He's just another guy Brown juked out this year. But watch Bryant's touchdown, and cheer for Heath Miller and Markus Wheaton effectively creating a lane through which for Bryant to run. As you're cheering that, leave your mouth agape for the acceleration Bryant displays in getting up the field - again, it's curious where Nelson was on the play. He puts his foot and and explodes. Perfectly executed play on the part of the Steelers.
Getting back to shoring up the run defense, though...the Bengals did an excellent job of working over rookie defensive end Stephon Tuitt. They isolated him with trap and power runs, mixing the two of them evenly, and kept him guessing. His reaction off the snap slowed down as the game progressed, and the Bengals really were making some noise with their running game toward the end.
Tuitt is going to be a good player, but hand usage and technique playing against the run is an art difficult to master, especially with so little experience. Expect a bounce-back week for him against Baltimore - another good run-blocking offensive line. His flaws are fixable.
Whatever noise James Harrison was not making against Andrew Whitworth, Jason Worilds was making on the other side of the ball. While many like to give Tuitt a pass on just about anything and blame Worilds for every run that goes past the line of scrimmage, Worilds was bringing a high level of intensity in this game. His sack of Andy Dalton was the most noticeable aspect of it, but the Bengals struggled mightily with him off the edge. That's good, too, because his biggest nemesis - any offensive tackle in a Ravens jersey - is on deck, and if he can contribute that level of a performance, the Steelers may be in good shape.
He often does not against Baltimore, though. Hopefully he remembers the amount of money ex-Ravens OLB Paul Kruger earned by a big playoff run.
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