Pittsburgh has talent everywhere on paper, but had also lost to the Bears and the Jaguars prior to this game. Ben Roethlisberger even questioned himself a few weeks ago. None of that mattered against their favorite division rivals.
I think it’s safe to say there were two different games in Heinz Field. One ended with the Bengals getting the ball back with a little under two minutes left in the first half, in which it was fair to believe Cincinnati had a shot at winning the contest, and the other one after they went three and out on that drive, which then made a loss seem inevitable.
The offense, after repeating the same script from the Packers loss in overtime, has taken most of the blame for the result, but a strong Bengals defense that was near the top of every ranking wasn’t able to stop the Steelers offense when it mattered.
Sure, they held Roethlisberger to 14 completions in 24 attempts, but that was mostly because they couldn’t contain Le’Veon Bell, and Pittsburgh wasn’t in need of many passing first downs. The Bengals defense allowed quick scoring drives in the first quarter, then in the beginning of the second, but then the Steelers’ running back took over.
Bell got 192 yards in 38 touches, including a bad screen pass he shouldn’t have caught that went for a seven-yard loss. He didn’t make much noise in the first 30 minutes, as Roethlisberger didn’t have much trouble moving the ball against the soft Bengals zone coverage, but did toy with them on a checkdown reception that put his team in field goal range with the game tied at 14.
In the second half he was completely unstoppable, not in the way that the Bengals were giving up 20-yard rush after 20-yard rush, but he kept driving the Steelers into field goal range and putting the game away against a Bengals offense that couldn’t do much after halftime.
Every time they managed to hold Bell to a short gain on first down, he would go on to gain eight, nine or ten yards on second down. In fact his longest carry of the day was only 15 yards, but he still rushed for 134 yards.
Would have it mattered if the Bengals defense stopped Bell and forced the Steelers to punt? I don’t really know. The offense got just one first down in the second half and also turned the ball over three times. The time they started their drive at the Pittsburgh 45-yard line they ended up punting on 4th and 34.
Bell has produced against other defenses before as well. The week prior , he rushed for 179 yards in Kansas City. He is the best running back in the league, and I wish the Bengals used Joe Mixon in the same way.
But with the game on the line and the offense needing a miracle from their teammates, they just couldn’t do it.
We can’t really put much blame on any specific player. The line didn’t get much penetration and didn’t get a single sack, although the defense did have five tackles for a loss.
The secondary busted a few plays, but William Jackson II had a very strong outing against Antonio Brown, the best wide receiver in the league. They had a few horrible ill-timed penalties, either neutral zone infraction or 12-men on the field or a defensive pass interference that gave the Steelers a six-point lead before halftime. They were tired too. Kevin Minter, their running game specialist, left the game early with an injury.
We’ve seen the past few years how the Bengals defense play much better with a lead than down in the scoreboard, as it doesn’t employ an aggressive scheme and tries to limit mistakes. That plan would have worked in the second half on Sunday. Other than the fake punt play, they only surrendered six points to an explosive offense and also stopped them on fourth down, but their counterparts on offense were just too disappointing.
We can’t forget how easy Pittsburgh scored their two touchdowns in the first 18 minutes or so of the game with Roethlisberger quickly finding receivers in the soft zone the Bengals mostly played. They just didn’t find a way to stop their passing game until Pittsburgh went run heavy to extend their drives and basically kill the clock.
They’re still good, but they looked far from special on Sunday. Unless you’re the Broncos or even the Ravens, you can’t survive against the good teams with a poor offense, and that is what happened right after the two-minute warning in the first half in Pittsburgh.
Easier games are ahead so they’ll have a chance to dominate again.