Neal Coolong (@NealCoolong), the site manager with Behind the Steel Curtain (@BTSteelCurtain), sits down with Scott Bantal to preview the Bengals and Steelers game on Sunday Night Football. If the Bengals win, they claim the AFC North Championship.
Q: In the first game (Week 14, Dec. 7), the game was close for 45 minutes before the Bengals imploded in the fourth quarter. In the two games since, the Steelers are 2-0 but have not been convincing in either win. In your opinion, are the Steelers playing better, worse or the same as they were three weeks ago?
A: I wouldn't say the Steelers didn't defeat the Chiefs convincingly. It was one of those games in which onlookers will be split on the team's performance. Sure, Alex Smith had 300 passing yards, but he barely challenged the Steelers down the field, and ultimately, led his team to four field goals. The Steelers didn't reach their average of 425 yards before that game, but they allowed one sack, didn't turn the ball over and got the touchdown drive the Chiefs could not.
Up 17-9 in the fourth quarter, the Steelers put together a 12-play, 70-yard drive that resulted in a critical field goal, making it a two-possession game.
Against Atlanta, they got a big defensive play (touchdown off an interception by William Gay) and in the fourth quarter, used a nine-play drive with just under five minutes to play (included in that was a huge third down completion to Heath Miller) to ice the game. That's a big road win.
Outside of the venue, both games were very similar. Their defense got stops in the fourth quarter and their offense moved the chains and protected leads they had built earlier in the contest. What's the difference between those games and the win over the Bengals? The Steelers put the ball in the end zone. A key difference, obviously, but I don't think denying credit to the Steelers' offensive performance in the second half against Cincinnati is justified simply because they only beat the Chiefs and Falcons by a touchdown. The Steelers wore down the Bengals' defensive front throughout the game, and ran over them late after a takeaway and a big splash play.
I wouldn't expect a similar kind of onslaught, but I don't think the Bengals will approach the Steelers' offense as some kind of a fluke or aberration either. This team has had the offensive success it's had for reasons other than Cincinnati "imploded" in Week 14.