Admit it... the Pittsburgh Steelers offense has been an impressive unit this season -- especially as of late. According to ESPN, the Steelers are the first team in NFL history with a passer that's thrown for over 4,500 yards, a receiver with over 1,500 yards and a runner with at least 1,300 yards rushing. It's extremely multidimensional that forces you to attack one, only to find yourself in a predicament. Attack the pass and get overpowered in the run. Attack the run and get burnt by the pass.
"Teams are obviously trying to slow down the run a little bit, but they can’t stop the pass when they do that. Pick your poison," said Le'Veon Bell to the Observer Reporter.
Despite logical hatred for the Steelers, even Bengals fans have to be impressed. Hell, we've seen it already.
When the Cincinnati Bengals hosted Pittsburgh on week 14 (Dec. 7), running back Le'Veon Bell rushed for 185 yards on 26 carries, scoring two touchdowns and adding 50 yards receiving on six grabs. Ben Roethlisberger completed 25 passes for 350 yards for three touchdowns and generated a passer rating of 118.5. Wide receivers Antonio Bryant and Martavis Bryant each had 100 yards receiving -- though 94 of Bryant's 109 yards came on one play (Leon Hall pelts this author with spitballs for the reminder). It was one of the more humiliating defeats that we've seen against Cincinnati's defense in recent memory, allowing 543 yards of total offense and 42 points.
Yet for all the praise given to Pittsburgh's why-bother-to-play-the-game offense, Cincinnati actually managed to hold their own. Pittsburgh punted on their first three possessions while only generating 205 total yards in the first half... that's a lot but not in the "let's make a big deal out of it" territory. In fact... that matches Cincinnati's defensive philosophy this year: You'll get your yards but good luck scoring. It's not that Cincinnati was overpowering Pittsburgh either, but they held their own and went into the lockerroom with a 14-10 half-time lead. Both teams exchanged touchdowns in the third quarter, leading to an exciting and unpredictable fourth quarter... right?
Actually it was a fumbled exchange between Andy Dalton and Jeremy Hill. Or was it that Dalton tried to take the football back on a read-option, accidentally tapping Hill's hip and forcing the ball loose? Who cares... Cincinnati was holding onto a 21-20 lead from their own 29-yard line with 12 minutes remaining in the game when Pittsburgh recovered the fumble and scored a touchdown to take a 28-21 lead (with the two-point conversion). Cincinnati couldn't recover and Pittsburgh piled it on with 229 yards and 22 points in the fourth quarter.
"It's disappointing, but the turnover hurt," Andrew Whitworth said after the game. "In this division, that's always been true. Fourth-quarter turnovers have probably told the story more than once. That one hurt, and then they caught fire."
They caught fire sure, but the winds were knocked out of Cincinnati's sails. Defensively, they were defeated, deflated and done like a cheap steak. Le'Veon Bell rushed for 185 yards in the game, but had only rushed for 75 yards on 19 carries (3.9 yard/rush average) in the first three quarters. Bell went for 110 yards rushing and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
"Lots of games have turnovers, you have to come back and respond," Iloka said on Dec. 7. "Last week we did it three times against the Bucs. Nobody should use the turnover the offense made to crush our spirits. We were still up at that point. Whatever the outcome, we as the defense need to get off the field and we didn't do that."
Nope. However, in defense of Paul Guenther's squad, it was a combined collapse. After the fumble, Cincinnati's offense went punt, punt, punt and then fumble.
Pittsburgh has had Cincinnati's number for... well, it feels like forever. It's why defeating Pittsburgh holds a bit more weight than most teams for me. Cincinnati will need a near-perfect performance this weekend to beat Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh on Sunday Night Football. But make no mistake... they have the talent and the will to do it.