Sunday’s matchup with the Bengals was a showdown that had many people focusing on the subplots, rather than the game itself. It was the Steelers’ first time seeing Vontaze Burfict since the playoff game last year. Randy Bullock, who filled in admirably for the Steelers two weeks ago, was now kicking for the Bengals. In the end, the game was what took center stage when the Steelers were able to mount an impressive comeback against their bitter rivals. It was a tale of two halves for the Steelers, who gave up 20 points in the first half, then none in the second as they held on for a 24-20 win. Below is a breakdown of the stats from another Steeler victory.
All stats are official and from the NFL unless otherwise noted.
Running Game: Le’Veon Bell didn’t come close to duplicating last week’s dazzling display against Buffalo, but he had another productive day running the ball on Sunday. Bell ran 23 times for 93 yards and added five catches for 38 yards for a total of 131 yards. Bell has gained over 100 yards from scrimmage in six straight games and in ten of the 11 games he’s played this season. Bell was the only Steeler running back to get a carry on Sunday.
Sammie Coates also had two rushing attempts Sunday afternoon, one of which gained 15 yards. Coates is still working his way back from his hand injury, which makes catching the ball difficult, so the Steelers tried to get their speedy playmaker the ball on two reverses, to mixed results.
Passing: Ben Roethlisberger didn’t have a perfect day on Sunday, but he did rebound nicely after having an atrocious afternoon against Buffalo. Roethlisberger completed 21 out of 36 passes for 286 yards and one touchdown. After turning the ball over three times last week, Roethlisberger didn’t commit any turnovers this week.
That one touchdown pass came at the right time, and ended up being the decisive score in the game. With just over seven minutes remaining in the game, Roethlisberger found Eli Rogers in the middle of the field for a 24-yard strike that put the Steelers on top 24-20. It was Rogers third touchdown catch of the season, and his first since the week ten loss to the Cowboys. The Steelers attempted a two point conversion but didn’t convert.
Besides catching the deciding touchdown, the leading receiver for the Steelers was Rogers, who had five receptions for 75 yards. This narrowly edged out Ladarius Green, who had five receptions for 72 yards. Surprisingly, Antonio Brown only had three receptions for 58 yards. It was an unusually quiet day for the star receiver, but Brown did set the record for most receptions in a four-year span in NFL history with his 470th reception since 2013 on Sunday. Brown has two more games to add on to that total. Seven different Steelers caught a pass on Sunday.
Defense: At halftime, with the Steelers trailing 20-9, it looked like the Steelers defense was going to be the scapegoat for a costly loss. Then the defense came alive and shutout the Bengals in the second half. The Steelers were able to hold Bengals’ quarterback Andy Dalton to only 16 completions for 157 yards and an interception. The Bengals were held to 75 yards rushing, but they were able to score two touchdowns on the ground.
At the end of the first quarter the Bengals went for it on fourth down and the gamble paid off as Andy Dalton scored on a one yard quarterback sneak to give the Bengals a ten to three lead. Early in the second Jeremy Hill found pay dirt on a four-yard run to give the Bengals a 17-6 lead. Twice, the Steelers were able to stand tall and limit the Bengals to two Randy Bullock field goals inside the five-yard line. Had the Bengals been able to put more points on the board, the Steelers might not have been able to mount their comeback.
The defense for the Steelers had one sack, three quarterback hits, and five passes defended (Artie Burns twice, Lawrence Timmons, Ross Cockrell, and Ryan Shazier). The leading tackler for the Steelers was James Harrison with nine combined tackles.
Efficiency: The Steelers were 5/13 on third down while the Bengals were 6/12. The Steelers didn’t attempt any fourth down conversions, but the Bengals were 1/1. The Steelers attempted one two point conversion, which they did not succeed on. The Steelers averaged 5.8 yards per play compared to 4.0 yards per play for the Bengals.
The Red Zone: The Bengals were 2/4 in the red zone. The Steelers were 1/5.
Turnovers: The Steelers had one takeaway Sunday afternoon, and zero giveaways.
Lawrence Timmons nabbed his second interception in three weeks when he intercepted Dalton at the 50-yard line and returned the ball 16 yards to give the Steelers’ offense good field position to close out the third quarter. The Steelers were able to capitalize on the field position and add a field goal to cut the Bengals lead to only 20-18.
Roethlisberger had an unforced fumble in the game, but was able to recover it immediately.
Penalties: Coming into the game, many fans and media members wondered whether this game between the Bengals and Steelers would be as heated as the two games these teams played late last year. There wasn’t as much bad blood this year, but both teams combined for 190 yards of penalties. The Steelers led the way with seven penalties for 104 yards, while the Bengals chipped in with 8 penalties for 86 yards. The Bengals gifted the Steelers seven first down through penalties alone, compared to just two given to the Bengals by the Steelers. If the Steelers had lost the game, penalties would have been the reason most would have pointed to. It’s easy to make excuses and say that the Steelers have young defense that’s still learning, but the self-inflicted wounds could end up ending the Steelers’ season much sooner than they want it to if they don’t get more disciplined.
Under Pressure: The Steelers were only able to get to Dalton three times, but they were able to make the most of it. Ryan Shazier had a sack and two quarterback hits. Lawrence Timmons also recorded a quarterback hit.
The Steelers’ offensive line continued its streak of stellar play as they surrendered only one sack and four quarterback hits to an aggressive Bengals defense. Geno Atkins led the way with one sack and two quarterback hits, while Michael Johnson and DeShawn Williams also had one quarterback hit each.
Kicking: Chris Boswell earned a game ball after the victory, and with good reason. Boswell, two weeks removed from having to sit out a game due to an abdominal injury, hit all six field goals he attempted to keep the Steelers in the game. The six field goals in one game tied a franchise record, one shared by Jeff Reed and Gary Anderson.
Boswell had three field goals from 49 yards, one from 45 yards, one from 30 yards, and one from 40 yards. As if the 18 points weren’t enough, Boswell also saved a touchdown by making a shoestring tackle on Bengals’ return man Alex Erickson just has he broke into the open field with nobody in front of him on a kick return. The Bengals were able to add a field goal on their ensuing drive, but by saving the touchdown Boswell may have saved the Steelers’ season.
The Steelers didn’t play their best game on Sunday, but they showed tremendous guts and confidence by not panicking and coming back to win. They were able to get out of Cincinnati with a win and eliminated their division rivals from playoff contention. On the downside, Ladarius Green and Stephon Tuitt were both injured and their status going forward is unknown. The Steelers face their biggest game of the year on Christmas day when they take on the Ravens at 4:30. A win would go a long way to securing their playoff berth. A loss might end their playoff chances. Every Steelers’ fan should hope they’ve been on the nice list this year and that Santa has one last gift for them.