By Christina Rivers
Expected to fall apart (as they did last week against the New Orleans Saints) against a much better opponent and AFC North rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers instead took care of business against the Cincinnati Bengals. After both teams failed to score in the first quarter, it looked like the Bengals would own the first half. Pittsburgh used the fourth quarter of the game to annihilate Cincinnati, winning 42-21.
Overall, the Steelers coaching staff did a nice job of making adjustments throughout the game at Paul Brown Stadium to correct deficits in their team’s performance. Two questionable calls – declining a penalty that most-likely would have forced the Bengals to punt and instead gave them a third-down and long situation, and then not making a decision quick enough about whether to put their own kicking team on the field at another point in the game – could have turned out worse than they did. The five-yard penalty for delay of game didn’t result in any loss of effectiveness and the Bengals were unable to convert the third down. Allowing Ben Roethlisberger to use the pistol formation earlier in the game helped maintain a tempo that suited the Steelers well.
When beaten or out-manned several times in the open field, the Steelers coaches opted to pull Ike Taylor out of the game in favor of Antwon Blake at cornerback. The result was that Blake made some nice tackles, gave the defense a boost in their backfield and Blake scooped up a loose ball. While the offense appeared to hum, the adjustments on defense allowed Pittsburgh to flip the field several times and force Andy Dalton and the Bengals offense off the field.
The Steelers may have added another name to the list of what many are calling the “killer bees.” While (Ben) Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown continued to put together outstanding performances this week, Martavis Bryant is emerging as a strong number two receiver. His longest reception went for 94 yards and a touchdown. The play was the longest touchdown pass in the league this season. Roethlisberger had a few issues with throwing mechanics again this week, but quickly snapped out of it.
Bell continues to be a force to be reckoned with week-in and week-out. With his dual-ability to rush and catch, Bell scored three touchdowns in the second half, becoming the sixth player in NFL history to have 200 all-purpose yards in three straight games. He may not have had the numbers on the ground he was able to put together, this week, if it hadn’t been for exceptional play by the Steelers offensive line in what may have been their best unit performance this season.
Josh Harris saw his first action of his career, but only had four opportunities. He was able to gain nine yards and some critical experience.
The Steelers continue to have trouble in their defensive backfield. Andy Dalton was able to capitalize on a wide-open middle of the field to hit A.J. Green for an 81-yard touchdown. Taylor, in only his second game since being inactive due to a forearm injury and surgery, looked unprepared and was replaced by Blake. With less worry about coverage in their backfield, the Steelers began pressuring Dalton up front more often. William Gay was the benefactor of an interception that was taken away due to a hands-to-the-face penalty.
Where the Steelers really excelled on defense was in shutting down the Bengals’ rushing game. Giovanni Bernard was held to 17 yards on six carries. Dalton was the only rusher with any significance in a Bengals jersey, seeing an opportunity to make franchise history by using a play-action handoff fake to Jeremy Hill and find no one open. Instead Dalton tucked the ball and ran, untouched, for a 20-yard touchdown.
With the rotation of recently-returned Jarvis Jones, young Stephon Tuitt and nearly every player active on the defensive roster, the Steelers had issues communicating assignments. Once players got settled into their roles, they began to function as a cohesive unit, forcing the Bengals into desperate situations. Jason Worilds was the benefactor of a Bengals fumble as well.
Once again, the unit that had little spark to speak of in a great Steelers performance was the special teams unit. A positive is that with the Steelers scoring on offense, kicker Shaun Suisham wasn’t asked to carry the team with his leg. Brad Wing punted six times with an average yards-per-kick number of 47.5. Neither Brown or Markus Wheaton were able to gain much yardage in the return game. Another positive is that the Steelers coverage team didn’t allow Cincinnati return-specialist Adam Jones to bust any big-time returns either. If average play by the special teams means that the offense and defense are doing their jobs correctly, then the Steelers have this figured out just the right way for them.
The Steelers were not considered the favorites in this game. In fact, the reigning AFC North champion Bengals were supposed to have an edge overall and fell flat on their faces in front of the home crowd. The fourth quarter performance by Pittsburgh is arguably the best performance per quarter they have put together during the 2014 season. The Steelers needed the win and by taking control of the game and the time of possession, they ground Cincinnati to a halt. The run for the AFC North is now a foot race, making the final three games of the regular season that much more interesting. Overall grade: B+
For more Steelers news and updates, visit Steelers Central.
Christina Rivers has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and National Football League professionally as a reporter and photographer for over a decade. Rivers studied exercise physiology and sports psychology at Brigham Young University as a student-athlete. Christina is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. Her work can be found on