“I’m glad Troy’s on my team.” – Mike Tomlin
If it is true that the Steelers have dominated the Bengals in the post Paul Brown era, this trueism comes with an inconvenient corollary – the Bengals have had a nasty little habit of upsetting the Steelers in Pittsburgh.
So, with what Steelers Digest editor Bob Labriola described as their “signature win” over the Ravens, came the question, “will the Steelers let their foot off the gas?”
The answer to that question is a definitive “no” as the Steelers improved their record to 10-3 and while their play might not have been pretty, it did harken back to some positive precedents in recent history.
Picking Up Where They Left Off
When these two teams last met at Paul Brown Stadium, the Steelers built up an enormous lead only to let the Benglas back in it by giving up big plays and penalties.
And so began the first quarter, with the Bengals marching straight down the field, with the help off an off sides penalty that nullified a stop on third and short and a pass interference penalty that gave it to the Bengals possession at the one.
After two ineffective drives by the Steelers offense, the Bengals ended the first quarter with Byron Scott ripping off an 8 yard run, causing Dan Dierdorf to exclaim that the Bengals were “dominating the line of scrimmage.”
The Steelers, it seems, should request that Dierdorf call more of their games, and they should explicitly ask him to laud their opponents.
The 8 yard run was the Bengals longest run of the day, and in fact, was more yards than Scott would gain during the rest of the game.
Almost if on cue, the Steelers defense picked up forcing a punt, and the Steelers offense began to move the ball even if it did not score.
43 Rhymes with “MVP”
Troy Polamalu is a devoutly religious man, having converted to Greek-Orthodoxy as an adult.
It would appear that Polamalu has taken it upon himself to exorcise the demons of the multiple 4th quarter leads that the 2009 Steelers let lapse.
For three straight weeks Polamalu has come up with an interception at a critical juncture in the 4th quarter, and this week was no exception – he picked off a pass in the end zone in the 4th quarter, just after our friend Dierdorf was explaining that the Bengals could still win the game.
Except that this week Polamalu did not wait until the 4th quarter to make his magic, drawing blood with a 45 yard pick six that tied the game, and firmly put the Steelers in the drivers seat.
The pundits have all but awarded the league MVP title to Tom Brady. No real argument against the body of work Brady has assembled, but what other player has made game changing plays on such a consistent basis this season?
Much was made going into the game about how T.O. torched the Steelers defense for 10 catches 141 yards and two touchdowns back in November.
Dick LeBeau took note, and the results speak for themselves, limiting T.O. to one catch. The Steelers defensive dominance was not limited to T.O. as the Steel Curtain limited Cedric Benson to 19 yards on the ground or 35 less than his total from ealier this year.
They also picked Carlson Palmer off twice, more, LaMarr Woodley, who added his own pick six, sacked Palmer twice, and James Farrior now has a sack in four consecutive games.
Echoes of …’08
The Steelers defense turned in what was arguably its best performance of the season against the Bengals at Heinz Field.
The offense on the other hand, left a lot to be desired. Ben Roethlisberger put on a gutsy performance. He faced constant pressure and did what it is that he does, he made plays at key moments, except while in the red zone.
Hines Ward had another hundred yard catch game, and Ward, along with Wallace and Randal El, made some phenomenal catches. Rashard Mendenhall and Mewelde Moore ran hard, and ground out just enough yards to move the chains and keep the clock moving.
The Steelers offense certainly did not lack from performance from its key players.
The issue was consistency, as the offensive line could not protect its quarterback, nor could the unit avoid encumbering itself with costly penalties. Scoring in the red zone remains a score bone of contention — the Steelers defense out scored the Steelers offense.
The combination of dominating defense and sometimes spectacular, sometimes bumbling offense was standard fare for Steelers Nation in the fall of 2008, and we know how that one ended.
“Past performance is no guarantee of future results.” Yes, the offensive line must play better. Yes, the Steelers offense must score touchdowns. But hearing echoes of 2008 at this point in the season is pure music to the ears.