PIT-CIN Grades: Dalton leaves game, Roethlisberger rolls
Here are the top takeaways and highest-graded players from the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 33-20 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.
– The passing offense may be the league’s most dangerous with QB Ben Roethlisberger is healthy, and they moved the ball with ease for much of the afternoon. Roethlisberger continually found open receivers on third down in the early going, including a beautiful deep ball to WR Markus Wheaton on 3rd-and-1, but a couple of poor second half decisions brought his grade down. He threw late over the middle in the red zone with 40 seconds to go in the third quarter, lucking out with a dropped interception then came back with an interception in the fourth quarter as he floated a deep ball, allowing free safety Reggie Nelson to make a play.
– Pittsburgh’s linebackers had their ups and downs as Ryan Shazier posted a season-high +3.1 grade while Lawrence Timmons came in at -0.8. Shazier made a few nice plays in coverage, attacking downhill on short passes for stops and deflecting one other pass. Perhaps most importantly, after missing nine tackles in his first four games, he’s yet to miss one over his last five. Timmons was better in coverage (+0.7) than he was against the run (-2.2) as he missed two tackles in the run game and was owned at the second level by right guard Kevin Zeitler on an 18-yard fourth quarter run. Timmons simply hasn’t been the same player this season.
– Up front, RG David DeCastro had a strong game for his 10th straight positive grade. He did give up a hit and a hurry in pass protection, but he had a few big blocks in the run game to post a +2.2 grade. He showed the power to move defenders backwards at the point of attack and his reach block helped spring RB DeAngelo Williams on his game-sealing, fourth quarter touchdown.
LB Ryan Shazier +3.1
QB Ben Roethlisberger +1.8
RG David DeCastro +1.7
CB William Gay +1.6
OLB James Harrison +1.2
– The Bengals’ season took a major turn early in the first as QB Andy Dalton threw a poor interception on a screen, and then broke his thumb on the tackle. Dalton has been playing the best football of his career, so a long-term injury could be detrimental to Cincinnati’s playoff chances. Enter A.J. McCarron, who had the usual ups and downs of a first-time starter. On the plus side, he threw a perfect deep ball to A.J. Green to kick things off and flashed an ability to make throws up the seam, working the back side of the play after looking off the safety on one play. As for the negatives, McCarron’s pick-six was a poor decision on a bubble screen that was thrown very late, while his late-game interception was overthrown on a deep crosser and never had a chance. If McCarron can cut back on the big mistakes, there were some positives to like going forward.
– Bengals defensive linemen, Carlos Dunlap (+3.3) and Geno Atkins (+3.4), continued their strong play, both against the run and rushing the passer. Dunlap jumped the snap for his 12th sack of the season, while Atkins picked up a hit and four hurries on 34 rushes, including one pressure that saw him hit Roethlisberger’s arm. In the run game, both players had the offensive line moving backwards with Dunlap owning TE Heath Miller on the edge multiple times and Atkins gave both guards all they could handle, particularly his play against LG Ramon Foster at the 8:35 mark of the second quarter.
– Left tackle Andrew Whitworth had rare struggles in pass protection, giving up at least five pressures for the first time since Week 10 of 2013. He gave up his third sack in five games to go with the first two QB hits of his season and two hurries. While most of the damage came against OLB James Harrison, it was DE Cameron Heyward who bullrushed Whitworth for the sack at the 10:50 mark of the fourth quarter.
RG Kevin Zeitler +5.7
DT Geno Atkins +3.4
DE Carlos Dunlap +3.3
WR A.J. Green +2.5
LB Rey Maualuga +2.5