The Cincinnati Bengals arrived at Heinz Field fresh off a bye week and on a 2 game winning streak intent serving notice to the Steel City that Queen City would not allow the AFC Crown to fall into Steelers hands uncontested.
- The record shows that Cincinnati and Pittsburgh opened the game by exchanging a pair of hard body blows.
But when the dust settled, the Pittsburgh Steelers prevailed, to the tune of a 29-14 victory. And what made the win impressive was the 2nd half defensive knockout delivered by the Steelers defense.
Steelers-Bengals Toe-to-Toe For Just Shy of Two Quarters
In is no secret that the Steelers offense has failed to live up to expectations this season. What fans envisioned as the NFL offensive equivalent of the Death Star has resembled the type of offense that we could have expected Ron Erhardt, Bill Cowher’s first offensive coordinator, to field.
And perhaps the Ron Erhardt metaphor is an apt one for the Steelers offensive effort vs. the Bengals. When asked to explain his philosophy to Bill Cowher, Ernhardt’s words were simple:
- Throw to score, run to win.
That’s exactly what the Steelers did at Heinz Field on this October day against the Bengals. The Steelers opened the game with a steady diet of Ben Roethlisberger handing off to Le’Veon Bell and throwing to Antonio Brown, and scored a touchdown on their opening drive, as Roethlisberger connected with Brown for a seven yard score.
After the Steelers and Bengals traded punts, Cincinnati got on the board with a efficient, if a little too easy looking, drive to tie the score.
- The Steelers offense offered a new answer that we haven’t seen yet this season.
While Le’Veon Bell carried the ball for one yard, the rest of the yardage on the drive came in the form of passes to Eli Rogers, Vance McDonald and JuJu Smith-Schulster, who scored from 31 yards out. Unfortunately, that was the last time the Steelers offense would see the end zone during the afternoon. To be sure, Todd Haley’s crew provided some fireworks, perhaps most noticeably in the form of Le’Veon Bell’s 42 yard catch and run:
— Jimmy Norkewicz (@dorkewicz) October 23, 2017
But the Bengals answered the Steelers touchdown with one of their own, and the Steelers could only managed a field goal in response, although the Todd Haley’s crew does deserve credit for moving 71 yards in 1:28 even if they did stall in the Red Zone to give Pittsburgh a 6 point advantage going into the half.
Special Teams Interlude
The Steelers special teams have run hot and cold this season, making a few big plays which contributed to Pittsburgh’s wins over Cleveland and Minnesota, while committing costly errors against Chicago and Kansas City.
- Against the Bengals, Chris Boswell was a perfect 5-5 including a pair of 41 and 49 yarders – which are not gimmies at Heinz Field.
But the biggest play of the game came from the punt unit, and it didn’t involve Jordan Berry, but rather upback Robert Golden and Darrius Heyward-Bey who hooked up for a 44 yard catch on 4th and 7. Fake punts are, by definition, do or die plays, and a failure there would have opened the door wide open to a Bengals last ditch comeback.
But the pair succeeded, and gave the offense a chance to burn more time off the clock and ended with Chris Boswell knocking in his 5th.
Steelers Defense Bludgeons Bengals
As noted previously on this site, commentators both inside and outside Pittsburgh have twice sought to elevate Keith Butler’s defense to elite status, only to see the Steelers defense give up yards in gobs on the ground against Chicago and then against Jacksonville.
- Last week, against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Steelers defense turned out almost excellent performance against what had been the NFL’s top offense.
So, when Cincinnati marched down the field and appeared ready to match the Steelers touchdown for touchdown, Steelers Nation’s collective sign of “Oh, boy here we go again. Everyone spoke too soon” was understandable.
But the Steelers closed the 1st half by limiting the Bengals to a one yard Andy Dalton scramble, things seemed to be heading in the right direction.
- Oh, if ever there was a first half close that signaled a second half turn around, this was it.
The Steelers forced a three and out to begin the second half, and ended the Bengals second possession with a Joe Hayden interception. The Bengals next possession ended like this:
- Sean Davis deflects a pass that William Gay intercepts
- T.J. Watt sacks Andy Dalton on third down
- Dalton opens his next possession with a sack by Tyson Alualu, closes with a sack by Bud Dupree
- Dalton fails to convert a 4th and 2 by under throwing A.J. Green
When it was all tallied up, the Steelers held the Bengals to a total if 19 yards of offense in the 2nd half.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, as a franchise, has undoubtedly had stronger halves in its history. It’s possible that one of those even came in the Tomlin era, during the 2010 win at Tennessee. But the work of Keith Butler’s defense against the Bengals at Heinz Field must rank up there with the great single half performances of Steelers defenses.
2017 Steelers a Work in Progress, but Making Progress
Mike Tomlin began the year by cautioning everyone that the 2017 Steelers were a work in progress. And thus far his team has vindicated him. The Steelers sputtered, surged and stuttered their way through the season’s first five games.
- Last week, the Steelers appeared to a step forward against the Kansas City Chiefs.
This week against the Bengals, the Steelers sustained that first step and then took another one forward. To transform itself into a true contender, the Steelers offense will need to do more than rely on Chris Boswell’s leg for entire halves of games.
But against the Bengals that was enough, as the Steelers offense delivered the body blows, while the defense landed a series of 2nd half knockout punches.