With the Pittsburgh Steelers Week 8 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals clearly in the rear view mirror, it is time to look back at the most recent game to try and find trends which appeared that could impact the upcoming game against the Oakland Raiders in Week 9.
With the help from our friends at Pro Football Focus, we are able to analyze several players and their performances against the Bengals.
Villanueva standing tall
All five offensive linemen for the Steelers gave up pressure vs. the Bengals. Cody Wallace, David DeCastro, and Marcus Gilbert each allowed four pressures a piece, but one lineman stood tall against the Cincinnati pass rush. Alejandro Villanueva finished with the second best grade on the offense at +1.8. He surrendered one hit and one hurry on 55 pass blocking snaps.
It seems Villanueva is starting to become comfortable at the left tackle position, which is a good sign for a team looking to replace one of the most underrated tackles in Kelvin Beachum.
Big Ben stuck with settling for short gains
The Steelers want to stretch the field on offense. After all, with players like Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant on the roster you would be foolish not to test the deep ball early and often. However, on passes thrown more than 20 yards downfield, Roethlisberger went 0/6 with one pick, and on throws within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, he completed 23 of 25.
The Bengals played a lot of two deep safeties to help keep Bryant and Brown in front of them, a philosophy which clearly worked. It will be worth watching if future opponents do the same in the coming weeks.
Welcome back Heath
Heath Miller had an impressive string of games with a reception snapped a few weeks ago, but with Roethlisberger back under center it looks as if Heath is ready to pick up where he left off before Roethlisberger went down with an injury.
Heath Miller was targeted 12 times vs. the Bengals, catching ten of them. His catches came against six different Bengal defenders in primary coverage for over 100 yards receiving. The Steelers will look to keep Miller involved against the Raiders often to keep defenses honest.
Cockrell finding his niche in the defense
When the Steelers acquired Ross Cockrell from the Buffalo Bills, most didn't know what they were getting out of the second year player from Duke. What they've gotten is a solid defensive back who is finding his way in the Keith Butler defensive scheme.
Although he allowed a touchdown against the Bengals, Cockrell allowed only 22 yards despite being targeted eight times, and got his hand on one of those incompletions. Cockrell looked to come away with an interception, but Mike Mitchell came over the top and took the pick away from the young cornerback.
Feast or Famine on the pass rush
It seems the Steelers' defensive line didn't miss Stephon Tuitt all that much in their last game, at least from a pass rushing standpoint. With Steve McLendon moving over to the DE position in certain situations, the line saw success getting to the quarterback. In fact, Cameron Heyward and Steve McLendon tied for the team lead with three pressures each, but it wasn't such positive news for all the Pittsburgh pass rushers. After notching six hurries in the previous game, Arthur Moats was blanked as a pass rusher on 16 pass rushing snaps.
The Steelers ability to pressure Derek Carr on Sunday will be a big key for the defense looking to stop the 'AC/DC' connection of Amari Cooper and Derek Carr.