Hold Down the North – Steelers in AFC North Poll Position Coming out of Bye Week

Are you wearing your Pittsburgh Steelers “Hold Down the North” AFC North Division Champions T-shirt (or, if you’re in Pittsburgh, long-sleeve shirt) today?

I realize “Hold Down the North” was last year’s slogan. I also realize we’re only halfway through the 2017 campaign, and things are far from decided in this season’s version of the notoriously rugged and hotly-contested AFC North Division.

  • But are things really far from decided?

As Pittsburgh, 6-2, enjoyed its bye week on Sunday, both the Ravens and Bengals, what’s left of the competition in the division (the Browns are 0-8), lost to fall to 4-5 and 3-5, respectively.

Antonio Brown, Steelers vs Ravens, Steelers vs Ravens Christmas, Tavon Young

Steelers Antonio Brown makes a first down in Pittsburgh’s Christmas win over the Ravens. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

What that means is the Steelers have a three-game advantage in the ever-important loss column with just a half-a-season to play (less than that for Baltimore). That’s a lot of ground to make up in such a short window, and if there’s anything the first half of the 2017 NFL campaign has taught us about the Ravens and the Bengals, it’s that they probably don’t have what it takes to make up so much ground in two months.

As I alluded to earlier, it’s a departure for the AFC North, as it’s notoriously been one of the toughest divisions in the NFL, with the winner often having to play the runner-up in either the wild card round, the divisional round or even the conference championship.

Even nine years ago, when the Steelers went 6-0 on the way to capturing their second-straight AFC North title, two of those victories were nail-biters over Baltimore, a team that would ultimately clinch a wild card spot, and then navigate its way through the first two rounds of the postseason and back to Heinz Field for the conference title game.

Yes, the Steelers vanquished Baltimore on the way to a record sixth Super Bowl title, but not without plenty of anxious moments that weren’t quite alleviated until legendary safety Troy Polamalu intercepted a fourth quarter pass from rookie quarterback Joe Flacco and raced 43 yards for a game-sealing score.

Even Pittsburgh’s last two division titles were contentious until the bitter-end, and one could argue that the team entered the postseason each time more battle fatigued than battle ready having lost Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell for stretches of those playoff runs.

You have to go all the way back Ben Roethlisberger‘s rookie year in 2004, when the Steelers finished with a 15-1 regular season record and clinched the North title by early-December, to find a time when the home team had such a clear-cut edge over everyone else in the division.

Speaking of that 2008 season that saw them go undefeated in the North, with a 3-0 divisional record currently through eight games, the Steelers have set themselves up nicely to repeat history; furthermore, two of their final three divisional games are at home.

And even if they lose one game and it happens to be against the Ravens, Baltimore would have to find a way to, again, make up three games in the loss column in less than two months–and even then it would come down to a third tiebreaker, as head-to-head and division records would be out the window.

The Steelers are far-and-away the best team in the AFC North, and unlike in previous years, there doesn’t even appear to be an annoying little brother that will hang around until the end of the season (or even the playoffs) and make their lives a little uncomfortable.

The Steelers will hold down the AFC North Division again in 2017 (and everyone else in it).

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Steelers Fullback Roosevelt Nix Has Put the “Full” Back in Fullback in Pittsburgh

About 10 years ago, when Dan Kreider‘s best days were behind him, and Carey Davis took his place in the Steelers backfield, the fullback was seen as a dying breed in the NFL, a dinosaur on-par with the rotary phone.

  • Bruce Arians in fact, liked to insist that his offense “didn’t have a fullback.”

True enough, while Davis did actually play the fullback position, he was known more as a receiver out of the backfield and a special teams ace, than as a true chauffeur for Fast Willie Parker, the team’s top tailback in the late-2000’s. One get the feeling that Arians designating Cary Davis as a “fullback” was more of a way of humoring factions within the Steelers organization that favored the fullback.

Cary Davis was gone by 2010, and the keys to the fullback position, when they weren’t collecting dust in some drawer on the South Side, were often handed off to tight end David Johnson, who certainly needed to find a way to make himself more useful while third on the depth chart behind Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth.

  • When the situation demanded a blocker out of the backfield, Doug Legursky would also do double-duty as a fullback.

But more often than not, one-back sets were the norm on most plays, especially after all-world running back Le’Veon Bell became a star and the team’s workhorse in 2014.

  • Besides, with passing becoming more and more prevalent in the NFL, why would anyone really need a fullback anymore?

But if you’ve been following the Steelers in 2017, while Antonio Brown shows no signs of slowing, the Ben Roethlisberger of today certainly isn’t the Ben Roethlisberger of 2014. As for Martavis Bryant? Well, there’s a reason why Mike Tomlin has benched Martavis Bryant.

  • All of this translates into a reliance on Le’Veon Bell, as well as utilizing him more as a true tailback, and not as a tailback who wants to be paid like a wide-receiver.

This leads us to Roosevelt Nix, one of the Steelers 2014 Undrafted Rookie Free Agents out of Kent State, who played defensive line in college, tried to switch to linebacker in the pros, only to switch sides of the ball and become a fullback in-order to make his NFL dreams come true.

Roosevelt Nix, Rosie Nix, Le'Veon Bell, Steelers vs. Bengals, Steelers fullback Roosevelt Nix

Steelers Fulleback Roosevelt Nix paves the way for Le’Veon Bell. Photo credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

Rosie Nix made the Steelers in 2015; in two-plus years in Pittsburgh, he doesn’t have a  single carry to his name, with his only offensive contributions coming on a combined four receptions.

  • But Roosevelt Nix, who is also a special teams demon, seems to be relishing his role as a blocking fullback.

And he’s already started two games this season, as Pittsburgh is now opening up in more run-oriented alignments.

Obviously, one-back sets and hand-offs to Le’Veon Bell out of the shotgun formation are still very-much en-vogue in Todd Haley’s offense, but the sight of No. 45 acting as the chauffeur or bodyguard for No. 26 is becoming more and more familiar.

And, as I said before, Nix doesn’t seem to care about his number of carries or any other offensive stats, than the ones that belong to Bell and the other tailbacks he seems to love escorting on long runs downfield.

Roosevelt Nix, Rosie Nix, Steelers Fullback Roosevelt Nix

Steelers Fullback Roosevelt Nix leading the way. Photo Credit: MSN Sports

Take last Sunday’s Steelers win against the Bengals, for example, and how Rosie Nix seemed to make it his personal mission to protect Bell from the very dangerous and factually dirty linebacker, Vontaze Burfict, who began the game by kicking Nix in the facemask, but ended it with just four tackles and certainly didn’t do much to slow Bell down on his way to 134 yards rushing.

Unlike some previous match-ups against the Cincinnati Bengals, Bell ended the day healthy and ready to do battle again. With Ben Roethlisberger slowly taking a backseat to Le’Veon Bell as the main cog in the Steelers offensive attack, the latter’s health is of the utmost importance.

  • The Steelers offense may go only as  far as Le’Veon Bell can take it in 2017.

It’s nice to know he’ll have his own personal bodyguard in Roosevelt Nix protecting him on his and the team’s journey.

 

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Le’Veon Bell Tops Steelers Game Ball Winner Poll for 2nd Straight Week

The Steelers game ball winners poll following the Steelers 29-14 win over the Bengals at Heinz Field generated a lot of participation, with votes being cast across both sides of the ball, including several write ins and with ties resulting across the ballot.

Scroll down below the photo of this week’s top vote getter to review the full results!

Le'Veon Bell, Vontaz Burfict, Steelers vs Bengals

Le’Veon Bell gets tackled by Vontaze Burfict en route to his latest 100 yard performance against the Bengals. Photo Credit: Barry Reeger, Penn-Live

  • And it should come as no surprise, that for the second straight week Le’Veon Bell led the voting.

Steelers vs Bengals, Steelers Game ball winners BengalsThe second slot yielded a pleasant surprise, as Roosevelt Nix tied with Ben Roethlisberger with 10 votes. Nix was instrumental in paving the way for Bell. The fullback is largely an anonymous (and largely disappearing) role in today’s NFL so it is nice to see Nix get recognition.

Fourth place brought yet another tie, with David DeCastro and Robert Golden netting eight votes (interesting that Golden would poll 4 times more votes than the guy who caught his pass). They were followed by yet another tie a slot below, as Bud Dupree and Joe Haden both polled 6 votes to split 5th place.

Antonio Brown drew 5 votes, followed by William Gay’s 4 votes. JuJu Smith-Schuster got 3 votes, Cam Heyward polled 2 tying with Darrius Heyward-Bey, with Tyson Alualu, Maurkice Pouncey and Ryan Shazier polling 1 a piece.

As always, Steel Curtain Rising thanks you our beloved readers for taking time out to vote and gives special nod to those who took the time to cast write in votes.

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Steelers Report Card for the Win over the Bengals – A’s for Defensive Excellence

Taken from the gradebook of a teacher who has a note from his mother excusing his middle of the week absences from sickness here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the win over the Bengals at Heinz Field.

T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward, Cam Heyward, Andy Dalton, Steelers vs Bengals

T.J. Watt jumps for joy after sacking Andy Dalton as Cam Hewyard looks on. Photo Credit: Barry Reeger, Penn-Live

Quarterback
This was Ben Roethlisberger’s best game of the season thus far, as Roethlisberger led the Steelers to two touchdown drives, managed to work an number of receivers into the passing game and did not turn over the ball. Big Ben’s day could have been even better had two potential touchdown not been dropped. Still, the Steelers struggled on third downs, and Roethlisberger must bear partial responsibility. Grade: B

Running Backs
Is there any doubt that Le’Veon Bell is back into form? Le’Veon Bell attacked the NFL’s number 2 rushing defense head on, and fought his way to 134 yards on 34 carries. He also made noise in the running game with a brilliant stiff arm of Dre Kirkpatrick. James Conner carried 3 times for 19 yards, while Terrell Watson carried once for no gain. Roosevelt Nix paved the way. Grade: Asteelers, report card, steelers grades, coaching, special teams, unsung heroes, steelers 2017 season

Tight Ends
Vance McDonald made two catches, including an impressive 28 yard catch. He also dropped a gimmie on the end zone. Overall however, his blocking was a key element to Bell’s success. Xavier Grimble also had one catch for 1 yards and blocked well when McDonald left via injury. Grade: B-

Wide Receivers
The Bengals have had a lot of success in containing Antonio Brown, but Brown did his damage in the first half with 4 catches for 65 yards including a touchdown. Still, the William Jackson put Steelers Nation on notice that AFC North as a corner that can go toe-to-toe with Brown.

JuJu Smith-Schuster had two catches for 39 yards including a touchdown. Eli Rogers reminded everyone why he’s still on the roster, while Martavis Bryant got everyone to ask “Just WHAT is he complaining about again?” Finally, Darrius Heyward-Bey caught what might have been the most important catch of the game on a fake field goal. Grade: B

Offensive Line
IF ESPN’s statistics are to be trusted, the Bengals only touched Ben Roethlisberger once. And while the offensive line wasn’t busying keeping Roethlisberger clean it was opening holes for Le’Veon Bell thanks to David DeCastro and Maurkice Pouncey’s pulling. This until established control at the line of scrimmage early on and never looked back. Grade: A

Defensive Line
Its some how fitting that Cam Heyward opened the Bengals final series with a sack, as the defensive line dominated the Bengals front seven from Cincinnati’s final possession of the first half onward. In addition to his sack, Heyward had two tackles for losses, and stopped several other Bengals for no gain. Perhaps most satisfying, late in the second quarter Heyward began punctuating his tackles with an extra backwards slam, and it was all down hill for Cincinnati after that.

Take out Joe Mixon’s 25 yard scamper, and the Steelers held the Bengals running backs to 2.8 yards rushing. That all starts up front. Grade: A-

Linebackers
Vince Williams had two tackles. Anthony Chickillo had a key pass defense. Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt both had sacks, while Ryan Shazier lead the team in tackles including one for a loss and was last seen chasing Andy Dalton in the backfield as the beleaguered Bengals signal caller opted to simply throw it away on 4th and two. A fine day by the linebackers. Grade: A-

Joe Haden, Joe Haden 1st Steelers interception, Joe Haden intercepts Andy Dalton

Joe Haden after intercepting an Andy Dalton pass intended for A.J. Green. Photo Credit: Barry Reeger, Penn-Live

Secondary
Andy Dalton passed for 140 yards and the Bengals only managed 19 yards of total offense in the second half despite playing from behind the entire time. Oh, and Cincinnati finished 3-11 on third down conversions. Oh, and A.J. Green was held to 3 catches for 31 yards or 1 grab less than the Steelers secondary as Joe Haden and William Gay nabbed their first interceptions of the season. Grade: A

Special Teams
Chris Boswell boots it well against the Bengals, as he knocked in 5 field goals, including one from 41 yards away and another from 49 away. The Bengals did have one long punt return, which is the second week in a row the Steelers have allowed one.

The biggest play of course came on the hands of Robert Golden who connected with Darrius Heyward-Bey for the fake. That was a gutsy and risky call, but the Steelers executed it and it ended the game. Grade: B+

Coaching
Todd Haley did his homework on this one, expertly mixing the pass and the run to get the Steelers on the board early with touchdowns, and then controlling the clock after that – all against the NFL’s number 2 rush defense.

  • Still, the Steelers Red Zone and third down performance need to improve.

Objectivity commands us to remind ourselves and everyone else that the ease with which the Bengals scored their first two touchdowns was al little disquieting. You can be forgiven if you forgot because from the Bengals final drive of the first half onward, the Steelers defense dominated as thoroughly as any unit fielded by Bud Carson, George Perles, Dom Capers or Dick LeBeau ever fielded.

  • Keith Butler’s defense was that good against the Bengals in the games final 32 minutes.

Cincinnati didn’t have a chance, and Andy Dalton’s final throw away on 4th and 2 in the 4th quarter perfectly symbolized the Bengals haplessness.

Mike Tomlin’s teams are sometimes prone to let down, and this was a possibility after a big win over the Kansas City Chiefs coupled with a Bengals team bringing a 2 game winning streak into Heinz Field on the heels of a bye week. But Mike Tomlin kept his team focused. And if his offense needs to improve in situational football and he does need to take care not to overwork his feature back, his Steelers put in a pretty good afternoon against the Bengals. Grade: B

Mike Tomlin, Steelers vs Bengals

Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin during the 2017 win over the Bengals at Heinz Field. Photo Credit: Barry Reeger, Penn-Live

Unsung Hero Award
A year ago after the Steelers loss at Miami commentators trotted out various statistics of the Steelers records with Cam Heyward and without Stephon Tuitt in the lineup together.

  • Now to be fair to the rest of Johnny Mitchell’s pupils, the Steelers defensive line righted that ship after Cam Heyward’s season ending injury.

But for as well as L.T. Walton, Ricardo Mathews and John Maxey might have played in Heyward’s absence, the Steelers brass went out and signed someone who could be a true 3rd defensive end in the rotation, and his name is Tyson Alualu and it was his playmaking as much as anyone else’s that lead to the defensive turn around and for that Tyson Alualu wins the Unsung Hero Award for the Steelers win over the Bengals.

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Steelers Bludgeon Bengals 29-15, as Defense Delivers 2nd Half Knockout

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.

Roosevelt Nix, Roosevelt Nix blocks, Le'Veon Bell, Steelers vs Bengals, Rosie Nix

Rosie Nix renders Bengals defenders in Le’Veon Bell’s way as road kill. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla

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:

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.

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Speak Out Steelers Nation – Vote Steelers Bengals Game Ball Winners

Its time once again to speak out Steelers Nation. The Pittsburgh Steelers hosted AFC North Rival the Cincinnati Bengals, and the Ben in Black and Gold walked away with a 29-14 victory, which brings them to 5-2 on the season and perhaps more importantly, 3-0 in the AFC North.

Antonio Brown, Darqueze Dennard, Steelers vs Bengals

Antonio Brown smokes Darqueze Dennard for a touchdown in the 1st quarter of the Steelers win over the Bengals. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune Review

As we always do after a Steelers victory, we invite you, the citizens of Steelers Nation to vote game ball winners for those who stood out during Pittsburgh’s. Here’s a look at this week’s ballot:

Steelers vs Bengals, Steelers Game ball winners Bengals

Ben Roethlisberger played what was perhaps his best game of the season, and Number 7 was particularly sharp in the first half, leading the Steelers to two touchdown drives on its first two possession, and adding a field goal drive inside the two minute warning.

  • Antonio Brown was Roethlisberger’s favorite target, having caught 4 passes for 65 yards including the Steelers first touchdown.

Le’Veon Bell earns a slot on this week’s ballot, thanks to his 135 yard performance in a game that saw Bell touch  the ball 35 times on the ground and 3 times through the air, including a 42 yard catch and run. David DeCastro also had an exemplary day, leading the way for Bell on run after run.

Their exploits need no introduction as Golden and Darrius Heyward-Bey hooked up on a key 4th quarter fake punt, while Boswell booted in 5 field goals to give the Steelers their margin of victory.

For as potent as the offense was in the early going, the Steelers defense stole the show in the second half, allowing Andy Dalton and the Bengals 19 yards from scrimmage. T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward, Bud Dupree and Tyson Alualu all sacked Andy Dalton, earning them ballot slots. Joe Hayden and William Gay also had interceptions, which secures their position on the ballot.

  • But remember, you my beloved reader, are the ultimate arbiter of who makes the ballot?

Think that JuJu Smith-Schuster,  deserves a game ball? Write his name in? Feel that Sean Davis or Anthony Chickillo deserve nods? Again, write their names in, or better yet write their names in and leave a comment stating your case.

Thanks in advance for voting, and be sure to check back for Steel Curtain Rising’s full game analysis of the Steelers 2017 Heinz Field win over the Bengals.

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Celebrate Good Times Come On! Antonio Brown’s Touchdown Celebrations Can Continue

Looks like you won’t have Steelers receiver Antonio Brown to kick around any longer–or at least his 15-yard penalty-inducing post-touchdown celebrations.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell published an open letter to fans on Tuesday which detailed, among other things, the league’s relaxation on the–at least in my opinion–rather absurd stance on post-touchdown celebrations.

Aside from his post-playoff victory Facebook Live feeds and his complaints about not getting enough passes thrown his way, if there’s one thing that has irked the fans about Antonio Brown in recent years, it’s his penchant for enjoying his touchdowns just a little too much. 

Antonio Brown, Antonio Brown celebration, Antonio Brown touchdown Redskins, Steelers vs Redskins

Antonio Brown celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Redskins. Photo credit: CBS Sports

Why was this a thing? Because most of Antonio Brown’s touchdown celebrations, such as twerking and making love to the goalposts, drew 15-yard penalties in 2016. And this led to Chris Boswell kicking off from his own 20, which often led to….nothing really.

  • But it could have cost his team some valuable field-position, and this is what always bothered the fans so much.

Or did it?

“We know you love the spontaneous displays of emotion that come after a spectacular touchdown,” said Goodell in his open letter. “And players have told us they want more freedom to be able to express themselves and celebrate their athletic achievements.”

  • In other words, no more No Fun League!……sort of.

Among the celebrations that will now be free of penalty are using the football as a prop, group demonstrations and going to the ground to celebrate.

Why were any of those things ever subject to penalty in the first place?

It’s hard to say. But there are Cardinals fans to this day that insist former Steelers receiver Santonio Holmes should have been penalized in the waning seconds of Super Bowl XLIII for using the football to do his LeBron Jameschalk toss” post-touchdown celebration after making one of the greatest catches in NFL history (thanks to a perfectly placed pass from Ben Roethlisberger).

That’s right, there are fans out there who wanted to potentially alter a championship thanks to a benign celebration by the guy who caught the game-winner.

  • But going strictly by the book, Super Bowl XLIII could have gone down differently, had the officials on hand called things to the letter of the law.

Thank goodness they didn’t.

However, there was a time, way back in Week 16 of the 2012 season, when an excessive celebration may have cost Pittsburgh a spot in the postseason.

  • As I said, going to the ground to celebrate will now be permitted in 2017. Unfortunately for Brett Keisel and the Steelers of five seasons ago, it wasn’t.

In the early moments of Pittsburgh’s crucial tilt with the Bengals at Heinz Field on December 23, 2012 (the Steelers had to win in-order to keep their playoff hopes alive), Brett Keisel recorded a sack on Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton and proceeded to do his signature bow-and-arrow post-sack celebration.

Sadly, since Brett Keisel went to one knee in-order to perform his celebration, the defense was hit with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty, and, instead of punting, Cincinnati was awarded a first down.

In a game that was ultimately decided by three points (the Bengals went ahead, 23-20, on a last-second field goal), this penalty on Brett Keisel could have been more costly than anyone is willing to admit.

  • All because The Beard was just trying to enjoy a special moment.

Anyway, back to the “sort of” part I alluded to earlier.

  • While the league has loosened its stance on excessive celebrations, ones that are sexually sugestive, such as twerking, will still be subject to penalty.

Why? Beats me, but given that twerking was one of Antonio Brown’s signature celebrations in 2016, the diva-live receiver may not yet be out of the woods.

But at least the NFL is making progress.

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He Boots It! Chris Boswell Dominates Game Ball Voting for Bengals Win

Boswell boots it! The game ball voting for the Pittsburgh Steelers win over the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium was perhaps as lopsided as it has ever been, with Chris Boswell dominating the balloting.

Chris Boswell, Chris Boswell six field goals

Chris Boswell kicks 1 of his six field goal during the Steelers win over the Bengals. Photo Credit: ESPN.com

Chris Boswell’s strong performance in the game ball polling is hardly a surprise, given his 18 points, several of them coming on long field goals, and his shoe string tackle of Alex Erickson. But no on expected such a landslide result.Chris Boswell, Steelers Bengals Game ball winner polls

After Boswell, James Harrison, Eli Rogers, and Lawrence Timmons were the next highest vote getters with each earning 3 votes a piece. They were followed by Ben Roethlisberger, Ryan Shazier and Ross Cockrell who each earned one vote. However, Artie Burns, Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, and Ladarius Green were shut out of the voting completely.

  • This has to count as a surprise.

None of these players had monster games, but all made important contributions to the win.

Tackle Edges Out the Six Field Goals

The Steelers game ball winners were the only poll we conducted here on Steel Curtain Rising. Our writer Tony Defeo raised the question as to whether Chris Boswell’s 6 field goals or his tackle was more important to the outcome of the game.

Armed with his essay, we took to Twitter to ask Steelers Nation what they thought. Here are the results:

By a bare margin of 2 percentage points, the fans have selected Chris Boswell’s tackle as the bigger play.

  • That’s a razor thin margin indicative of the chicken-egg nature of this question.

Chris Boswell scored 18 points, which is the equivalent of DeAngelo Williams or Darrius Heyward-Bey scoring three touchdowns. Yet his tackle prevented a touchdown on a drive where the Steelers defense held the Bengals to a field goal. That’s a 4 point differential in a game decided by 4.

Homer J. makes a strong case for the six field goals being more important over on Going Deep: An Introspective Steelers site. Regardless, we thank everyone who voted in this week’s polls.

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Decide Steelers Nation: Was Chris Boswell’s Shoe String Tackle or 6 Field Goals More Important?

It’s safe to say that, without kicker Chis Boswell’s six field goals–including an amazing three from 49 yards away–the Steelers may not have walked away with a narrow and important 24-20 victory over the Bengals‘ at Cincinnati’s Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday.

  • But it may be even safer to assume that, without Boswell’s tackling heroics late in the second quarter, those six field goals may not have led to a victory.

Shortly after Chris Boswell‘s second field goal of the day drew Pittsburgh to within 17-6, Bengals return man Alex Erickson pulled in the subsequent kickoff at his own two-yard line and proceeded to cut quickly to the left, where he found a lane down the sideline.

 Chris Boswell's shoe-string tackle Alex Erickson, Chris Boswell, Alex Erickson, 2016 Steelers vs. Bengals Paul Brown Staidum

Alex Erickson felled by Chris Boswell channeling his inner Ben Roethlisberger for a touchdown saving shoe string tackle. Photo Credit: Christopher Horner, Tribune Review

Alex Erickson showed a tremendous burst, and didn’t appear to be touched by a single Steelers special teams player as he broke into the clear. At this point, it sure looked like the rookie was about to turn a 17-6 deficit into the 24-6 variety for the Black and Gold visitors.

  • “What’s up with the special teams?” you may have been screaming to yourself or out-loud at that very second.

In fairness to Pittsburgh’s kickoff coverage, how often do players get to practice actual returns these days, with the vast-majority being downed in the end zone in the name of safety? (The NFL moved the kickoff up  to the 35-yard line in recent years, and starting this season, if a player downs one in the end zone, his offense gets the ball at the 25.)

Anyway, Alex Erickson had one man to beat, as he broke into the clear– Chris Boswell–and he actually did manage to maneuver past him; as kickers often do in that situation, Chris Boswell dived head-first in a desperate attempt to grab the returner’s leg, foot, anything.

  • And, lo and behold, it actually worked this time, as Chis Boswell got just enough of Alex Erickson to trip him up and bring him down at the 26.

For the record, Artie Burns did arrive on the scene but he likely would not have caught Erickson without Boswell’s shoe string tackle.

So what looked like a 98-kickoff return for a touchdown (something that’s becoming about as rare in football as hitting for the cycle is in baseball), became a 72-yard run that merely set up a Randy Bullock field goal and a slightly more manageable two-touchdown deficit for the Steelers, whose 18 unanswered points from that moment on proved to be enough for a victory.

So I leave it for you to decide, which was more important:

Chris Boswell’s shoe-string tackle of Alex Erickson may quickly be forgotten and will surely never be placed on the same historic level as Ben Roethlisberger’s official “The Tackle” in the waning seconds of the 2005 Divisional Playoffs against the Colts.

But if the Steelers go on to beat the Ravens to win the AFC North and then make a Super Bowl run, Chris Boswell’s overall performance vs. the Bengals (you can’t forget about those six field goals…obviously) may go down as one of the most clutch by any player in recent memory.

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Steelers Report Card for Bengals Win: Chris Boswell Kicks Cincinnati Bengals Buckett

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who seen his students ace 5 straight test-sections in a row but know that it’s the six one that will determine the grade of the entire exam, here is the Steelers Report Card for the win over the Bengals.

2016 Steelers win at Cincinnati, Le'Veon Bell, David Johnson, David DeCastro, Ben Roethlisberger

David Johnson and David DeCastro open holes for Le’Veon Bell in the Steelers win at Cincinnati. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Quarterback
Ben Roethlisberger probably didn’t make a lot of fantasy owners happy on Sunday, completing 21 passes on 36 tries for 286 yards. The truth is that Ben Roethlisberger was off a number of times, and had a few questionable balls. But Ben Roethlisberger protected the ball, the Steelers moved the chains, and his laser strike touchdown to Eli Rogers came at exactly the right time. Grade: Bsteelers, report card, steelers grades, coaching, special teams, unsung heroes, steelers vs. Bengals

Running Backs
Mike Tomlin had indicated the DeAngelo Williams might suit up for this game, but Williams did not dress, leaving it to Le’Veon Bell to carry the load for the offense again. Le’Veon Bell didn’t have the dominating type game that has been a stable of the Steelers previous four wins, but he found the tough yards on the ground to put the Steelers into manageable down and distance situation gaining 93 yards on 21 carries. As he as he always does, Bell also did his damage catching balls out of the air, catching 5 passes for 28 yards. Roosevelt Nix once again acquitted himself at fullback. Grade: B

Tight Ends
Against the Colts and the Giants, Ladarius Green showed he could be a “field flipping” tight end, which is a welcome sign. However, against the Bills he struggled a little, but bounced back against the Bengals making several tough catches in the middle, making 5 receptions for 72 yards. David Johnson had one catch for 12 yards. Chris Hubbard continued to work as an extra tight end, and Xavier Grimble and Jesse James both got extensive work as blockers. Overall, a strong performance from the tight ends. Grade: B+

Wide Receivers
Eli Rogers led the Steelers wide outs, making a number of key catches downfield including the team’s only touchdown. Cobi Hamilton made one 21 yard catch that help setup the Steelers last 1st half field goal, while Sammie Coates caught one pass for 10 yards on a scoring drive, but was targeted 3 other times, although he probably should have drawn pass interference penalties on at least two of those catches. A solid day by the receivers. Grade: B+

Offensive Line
In the first outing against the Bengals, Cincinnati sacked Ben Roethlisberger once, just as they did on Sunday, although Ben’s sack really came as the result of a bobbled snap. Other than that, the Steelers offensive line kept their quarterback clean. In the first outgoing against the Bengals, as a team the Steelers averaged 3.4 yards per carry, on Sunday that percentage dropped a hair to 3.3 yards, but the Steelers rushing average increases to 3.9 yards a carry if you discount Ben Roethlisberger’s kneel downs at the end.

It wasn’t a perfect day for the offensive line, as David DeCastro got flagged for a couple of penalties, but the Steelers offensive line improved in their second outing against the Bengals, and they needed it to. Grade: A-

Defensive Line
The Steelers defensive line lost Stephon Tuitt early in the game and then lost Ricardo Mathews later in the game, forcing L.T. Walton, Daniel McCullers and Javon Hargrave to go it alone. If this unit struggled a bit against the run in the first half, they more than made up for it in the second half as Bengals running backs ran for 8 yards in the second half. The trio might not have put up any dazzling stats, but if these men don’t do their job, the linebackers don’t look nearly as good. Grade: A-

Linebackers
Games like this show just how badly stats can mislead. One might look at James Harrison’s totals, and think that without any sacks or hits to the quarterback or tackles for losess, Harrison simply ran up a nice tackle count. Nothing could be further from the case. James Harrison was intremental in neutralizing the Bengals rushing attack. Lawrence Timmons continued to show that he remains a vialbe, play making linebackiner in this defense, pulling down another interception and helping sustain the momentum in the second half, momentum which Ryan Shazier started by ending the Bengals first half possession with a sack. Bud Dupree had a difficult time against the Bengals offensive line, showing the limits of his athleticism. Still, he made it into the backfield on more than one occasion. Grade: A

Secondary
Mike Mitchell led the Steelers defensive backs in tackles and got his hands on a ball that could have been an interception. Sean Davis was next including a tackle for a loss that he split with Timmons. The biggest plays however came on successive third downs as first Ross Cockrell and then Artie Burns batted way sideline passes that, had they been completed, would have kept the drives alive. As Steelers Digest Editor Bob Labirola argued, a year ago the Steelers cornerbacks fail to make those plays (think about it, does Antwon Blake defense either of those passes…?) Those were difference makers in this game. Grade: A

Special Teams
First, there simply aren’t sufficient accolades to praise Chris Boswell’s performance. How many NFL kickers have made three 49 yard field goals in one game? He also hit 45 and 40 yarders. All outdoors, in December in the AFC North. Boswell of course make a critical tackle that saved a touchdown (and Keith Butler’s defense worked the short field to force a field goal.)

  • Sammie Coates added some much needed sparkle by giving the Steelers a 44 yard kick off return that set up the Steelers first score.

While these positives carry the most weight in the final game for the special teams, Fitzgerald Toussaint’s poor decision making and poor returns must be taken into account. Moreover, Alex Erickson 72 yard return could have been a game changer for Cincinnati. Grade: B

Coaching

For all of its flaws, Cincinnati remains a talented team with a defense that has shown an ability to give the Steelers offense fits. While Todd Haley has a long way to go before anyone can say he’s mastered the Bengals defense, but on this Sunday, he found the right mix of ball control and vertical passing that allowed the Steelers to get enough points on the board to get out of Paul Brown Stadium with a win.

  • Keith Butler had a more complicated task, stop a talented Bengals offense short-handed on the defensive line.

As mentioned above, the Steelers completely shut out the Bengals in the second half, eliminating the run while the Steelers linebackers and secondary made Andy Dalton look like David Klingler on third downs.

Finally, Mike Tomlin and his staff took a lot of criticism here for abandoning the run against Miami; others critiqued them for sticking to the run too closely vs. Baltimore. The truth is that a good coach knows when to change things up in midstream (see last week vs. the Bills) and when to stick to his guns.

As the first half ended with Cincinnati scoring on each possession and the Steelers looking at an 11 point deficit Mike Tomlin told CBS Sports that there was nothing the Steelers needed to so much as to stop beating themselves with penalties.

  • And the Steelers did just that in the second half.

While it is impossible to credit Tomlin completely with that turnaround, the fact is that the Steelers never gave in to despair, and continued to chip away at Cincinnati’s lead until going ahead late in the 4th. That’s a sign of a well-coached team if there ever was one. Grade: A-

Unsung Hero Award
When was the last time that Antonio Brown didn’t lead Steelers wide receivers? I’m not about to do the research, but “a long time ago” will suffice. Antonio Brown didn’t dominate as he usually does, but he made critical catches that set up scores. He also had a touchdown negated by a penalty, and drew a holding call late in the game that iced the game for the Steelers and for that Antonio Brown wins the Unsung Hero Award for the Steelers 2016 win over the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium.

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