In a disappointing season for the Pittsburgh Steelers they could at least put a smile on their fans faces by inflicting some misery on their divisional rivals, the Cincinnati Bengals. In an advert for the importance of special teams the Steelers took advantage of some mishaps with their opponents snapping, catching and coverage units to score 14 points that would prove too big a gap for Andy Dalton to eat into.
For Mike Tomlin and his men this is a chance to end the season with some momentum, while Marvin Lewis will have to look at this as a severe wakeup call as we approach the business end of the year. They may get away with making them in December and live to fight another day, but performances like this in January might lead to another one and done postseason.
Bengals – Three Performances of Note
Impotent Pass Rush
You won’t often see Ben Roethlisberger given as easy a ride as he was on Sunday Night Football. Heading into the game he’d been pressured on 186 of his 549 dropbacks (33.9%), but the Bengals (who blitzed only five times) got pressure on just 15.4% of passing plays. Some of this was down to the conditions that saw the Steelers go screen pass happy, but with an average time to throw of 2.46 seconds, there was time to get at Big Ben.
Instead premier pass rushers Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap converted just three of their combined 50 pass rushes into pressure, with Dunlap the only player to have multiple quarterback disruptions with one of those on a stunt the Steelers were slow picking up, and the other one where the Steelers QB held onto the ball for over 7 seconds before finding Antonio Brown in the endzone (2:24). This isn’t to slam either player who both walked away with positive grades thanks to what has become their calling card (excellent work in the run game), but if the team wants to progress they need these two to step up and make life hard for opposing quarterbacks.
Playing like a Backup
It’s easy to forget that Dre Kirkpatrick (-4.5) is a former first round pick. Most teams are desperate to get their high selections on the field but it’s taken injuries to Leon Hall and now Terence Newman to force the Bengals to start him, and it’s not hard to see why they’re so reluctant. Although his day in coverage wasn’t a disaster (4-of-5 for 47 yards and a touchdown) you wonder how much the Steelers game plan protected him in that regard. His work in the run game saw him miss four tackles. Time is on his side as a second year player but patience will start wearing thin if he doesn’t start repaying the investment in him.
Invariably the Bengals’ fate tends to be tied to the play of Andy Dalton. When he’s good they’re unstoppable and when he’s bad they’re on the ropes. Or something along those lines. Well not in this game as he was something of a peripheral figure in deciding why the Bengals lost this one. He was accurate enough with an adjusted accuracy percentage of 73.2% while it was his receivers who need to hang their heads as they combined to drop five passes and as they struggled holding onto balls when hearing footsteps from Steelers defenders. He was never going to challenge Pittsburgh downfield with the wind as it was but if anything the team should come out of this game more confident in him than when they went in.
Steelers – Three Performances of Note
Linebackers Step Up
When you’re starting inside linebacker pairing earn a combined +5.4 grade, things tend to go well on defense. Sure Vince Williams was limited to 29 snaps, but in their base package he combined extremely effectively with the superb Lawrence Timmons to impact the Bengals’ ability to run the ball. Any hesitation from the Bengals’ linemen was pounced upon by Timmons especially, who was quick to dissect and attack the ball carrier, as evidenced by his tackle for a loss with 7.15 to go in the game as Mike Pollak spent a fraction too long helping out on a double team. It’s not been his most consistent year but Timmons can still produce the goods like few linebackers out there.
Engaged in a power struggle with Brandon Thompson for most of the game David DeCastro (+4.0) just about came out on top, though the strength of his grades owes more to the work he did against other players. In truth he and Thompson exchanged blows throughout, with Thompson looking the more powerful man when it came to holding his ground, while the athleticism of DeCastro saw him get the win when he was sealing off the Bengal. Others didn’t have quite so much joy as DeCastro showed off his full repertoire, such as when he pulled to the second level and wiped out both Rey Maualuga and Wallace Gilberry with a cut block (Q2, 2.14) or when he took over a double team on Domata Peko and drove him downfield and to the ground (Q2, 5.06). For a line that has needed retooling for some time the play of 2012 first round pick DeCastro in his first full year has been a massive bonus, with only his recent form before this game taking the shine off a possible Pro Bowl year.
Two Sides of Jarvis
While Lamarr Woodley got the start it was first round pick Jarvis Jones (-0.5) who saw the majority of action with 69 of 71 snaps played. Again he flashed at times but, as has been the case for most of the year, left you with the impression he’d been on the field far less given how anonymous he was at times.
On the plus side he did handedly beat Anthony Collins for a pressure (Q2, 14.41) but thereafter rarely threatened to hassle Dalton, with the closest he would get coming when Collins would trip over the ankle of Andrew Whitworth. In the run game there was more to like, as he displayed a quick inside move to twice get the kind of penetration that would force backfield cuts from Bengals backs, but again you couldn’t help but want a little more from him. A tad disappointing in year one so far and a big leap will be expected in year two.
– It was a rough night for Kevin Huber. He botched a snap that would leave the Steelers offense on the field on the Bengals 1-yard line, hit a poor kick that was returned for a touchdown, and in the process took a big hit that knocked him for the game.
– Emmanuel Sanders forced an incredible six missed tackles, including three on one play (Q4, 5.38).
– All game long both quarterbacks combined to attempt just two passes over 20 yards in the air. One was picked off, the other was incomplete.
While he’s done more as a receiver this year, his punt return touchdown was key in the Steelers building an insurmountable lead. Hence we’re giving it to Antonio Brown.
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