You have to give the Bengals credit for getting themselves in position to win the game, but it was all-too-familiar a scenario. They fall behind, they play catch up, and then lose.
That isn’t the mark of a playoff team, and it’s safe to say right now the Bengals aren’t a playoff team. In fact, they’re probably the worst team in the AFC North, and in more than just record.
Things are looking a lot better for the Steelers, who coped with some reshuffling on their offensive line and did enough to take advantage of some Bengals miscues to win when not at their best. You get the feeling the best is very much yet to come.
Steelers: Three performances of note
The run blocking of the Steelers was not impressive. Each member (bar one) of the offensive line that finished the game ended with a negative score, along with both tight ends, but that didn’t stop Rashard Mendenhall (+2.2) from having a night to remember. Mendenhall has struggled to find the form of the opening weeks of the season recently but was at his best here, picking up 66 percent of his yards after contact and forcing five missed tackles when the blocking gave way.
If there is a position you can always rely on for the Steelers, it’s linebacker. The guy who most stood out for his all-around game was DPOY candidate Lawrence Timmons. He was strangely reserved in the pass-rushing game (his eight blitzes were 12 fewer than any of his colleagues) but was his usual assured self in the rest of his game. Three defensive stops highlighted his impact in the run game, but throw in an interception and pass breakup on four balls thrown at him and you have a complete player.
If there was a disappointing display on defense, it was that of Bryant McFadden (-2.7). McFadden got beat for a touchdown and gave up seven of the eight balls thrown his way, having particular difficulty with Terrell Owens, who caught all six balls thrown his way when going up against McFadden.
Bengals: Three performances of note
There were plenty of performances (especially on defense) to get excited about for the Bengals. Not least was that of S Chris Crocker (+4.0), who was probably having one of his best days as a pro until leaving the game after an awkward fall. Five times he was the primary man in coverage, and none of those balls was caught. He actually broke up three of those passes, with two of those nearly being interceptions. Great day.
And it was another great day for Owens (+2.5). He was targeted 14 times (that’s nine more than Chad Ochocinco, for those interested), catching ten and generally being too physical for the Steelers’ defensive backs. He isn’t as consistent as he once was, but give him the right matchup and he’s still tough to get to grips with.
On the negative side, we’re going to have to look at Nate Livings (-5.0). The Steelers like to bring blitzing linebackers from all over the place, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise to Livings to see them trying to shoot gaps throughout the day, but he was just too slow to react or deal with it. He gave up six pressures as the Steelers got constant and consistent pressure.
Center Maurkice Pouncey (+1.2) left the game injured for a period but returned and already looks like the most competent run-blocker for the Steelers. That doesn’t make him anywhere near an Offensive Rookie of the Year, however. … We’re seeing more of Emmanuel Sanders in three- and four-receiver sets, but he wasn’t thrown at once.
For Cincy, first-round pick Jermaine Gresham (-1.7) continues to struggle to adapt to life in the NFL, picking up just 11 yards and dropping another pass. … After a strong start, we’re less impressed with Jordan Shipley (-0.8) as the season goes on. He caught four of seven balls thrown his way but only picked up 8 yards after the catch. … Geno Atkins (+1.3) continues to impress. He picked up two pressures from his role in the nickel. … Carlos Dunlap (-0.2) wasn’t quite as impressive, but he did register a quarterback pressure.
Troy Polamalu didn’t blitz the quarterback once. … Three of Carson Palmer‘s best throws were called back on penalties.