ReFo: Bengals @ Steelers, Week 17
The Steelers beat the Bengals to wrap up the AFC North title in the final regular season game of 2014 and Ben Stockwell breaks down the big performances.
ReFo: Bengals @ Steelers, Week 17
The regular season drew to a close last night with the Pittsburgh Steelers clinching the tight race for the AFC North with a victory over the Cincinnati Bengals who have led the division for much of the season. Jumping out to a first half lead the Steelers always had enough in hand to keep the Bengals at bay through the second half with Antonio Brown emphasizing his position among the league’s elite with the score that capped off the win.
The Bengals prize for dropping to second place in the division is a trip to face a Colts team that beat them 27-0 in Indianapolis back in Week 7. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, but the combination of that and last night’s defeat along with their recent track record in the playoffs should see them enter that game as unfancied underdogs with something to prove.
Cincinnati Bengals – Performances of Note
George Iloka, FS: -1.8
Breakdown: This has been a strong second season as a starter for Iloka with clear progress shown on a solid first season in 2013 however it ended on a sour note for him and the team. Earning only his second game grade below -1.0 of the season. Iloka missed a trio of tackles (having missed only six in the first 15 games), two of them in the first 20 minutes of the game on Le’Veon Bell.
Signature Play: The third came on Antonio Brown’s game-clinching touchdown, getting beaten back to the inside to allow Brown to break upfield for the score.
Andrew Whitworth, LT: +2.3
Breakdown: Not many pass protectors have relished facing the Steelers over the years, but Andrew Whitworth has made a habit out of keeping the likes of James Harrison at bay. He continued last night, surrendering no pressure for the third time in 12 games against the Steelers since moving to left tackle in 2009. Whitworth finishes the season having surrendered only 9 pressures (1 Ht, 8 Hu) in 533 snaps in pass protection.
Signature Stat: In Whitworth’s 12 starts against the Steelers since 2009 (one at left guard last year) Whitworth has surrendered only 14 pressures and has a pass protection grade of +12.8 in those games.
Geno Atkins, DT: -0.1
Breakdown: Returning to his pre-injury form has been a tough ask for Geno Atkins this year, who has only flashed the sort of performances we saw from him as a matter of routine in 2012 and 2013. His characteristic performances are as a destructive interior pass rusher as we saw from Week 5 to Week 9, but since then he has graded above 0.0 as a pass rusher only once (at Tampa Bay in Week 13) and last night failed to replicate the strong game as a run defender that he produced first time around against the Steelers in Week 14.
Signature Stat: Even in a disappointing season by his recent standards Atkins still earned the 14th highest pass rush grade among defensive tackles with 40 total pressures (3 Sk, 4 Ht, 33 Hu).
Pittsburgh Steelers – Performances of Note
Kelvin Beachum, LT: +2.5
Breakdown: One of the league’s best this season, Beachum rounded out a strong second season as a full time starter with his fifth clean sheet of the season in pass protection. Beachum translated a strong second half to last season into a full season of top quality work playing his part in the improvement of the Steelers’ offensive line that has allowed the passing game to flourish.
Signature Stat: Finishes the regular season in fourth place in our Pass Blocking Efficiency metric and by grade in pass protection; the AFC North provides three of the top four (Beachum, Whitworth and Joe Thomas) in each category.
Brice McCain, CB: +2.1
Breakdown: Deputizing for Ike Taylor, McCain picked off more passes than he allowed A.J. Green to catch on targets into his coverage, winning that battle 2-to-1. There was an element of good fortune in both of his interceptions, particularly the second coming by way of an errant pass with Green open in front of him, but Green generated his production against other coverage defenders with only a 10 yard grab coming against McCain.
Signature Play: His first interception at Q1 8.35 owed much to A.J. Green and Andy Dalton not being on the same page but McCain still earns credit for staying disciplined against the double move to leave Green covered, contributing to Green’s decision not to continue the route.
Ryan Shazier, ILB: -1.0
Breakdown: The Steelers first round pick hasn’t started since Week 9 against the Ravens but since his return in Week 15 he has gradually increased his playing time and could be in line for a return to the starting lineup when the Ravens visit once against next Saturday. Though Sean Spence got the start Shazier played more snaps (37 to 27) for the second straight week with Vince Williams’ playing time reduced to seven snaps having played at least 30 in the previous three games.
Signature Stat: Shazier rounded out his injury hit rookie regular season having played 259 snaps, but a strong contribution to a Steelers playoff run could yet turn that around.
PFF Game Ball
With big plays at either end of the game Antonio Brown was ultimately the difference in the game capping off a spectacular regular season by powering the Steelers to the AFC North crown.
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Ben Stockwell | Director of Analysis
Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.