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Steelers Versus Bengals: An All-22 Primer

All-22 primer of the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-17 victory against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Ben Roethlisberger was dealing with a stomach bug that didn’t help matters but there were moments of “bad” Ben. Times where he was locking onto his first read – usually Antonio Brown – and flat out missing some open throws.

His interception was puzzling and I have to think there was some miscommunication that caused it. Anxious to see what the problem was. Heard some say on Twitter the receiver stopped on his route when he should have ran through.

Still, there was enough good from Roethlisberger. The 63 yarder to Antonio Brown was a thing of beauty and like David Todd, that doesn’t appear to be a pre-planned route. Just two of the best, winging it, and bringing home an AFC North title.

– I am a bit perplexed as to why Dri Archer got first crack over Josh Harris following Le’Veon Bell’s departure considering Harris was the first man up since his promotion. Archer whiffed in pass protection on Roethlisberger’s INT. Harris was a tough runner between the tackles, shaking defenders off and providing a splash play that was called back because of holding. A fairly obvious statement but Harris is the next man up *if* Bell can’t go.

And what they’ll do with Archer? I’m not sure where the fit is at. He can’t take on a blitzing C.J. Mosley or Daryl Smith next week.

– As many have noted, Martavis Bryant’s explosion is special. It was his burst that sprung him (plus two excellent blocks) on his 21 yard TD. Long striders don’t hurt, either.

– Someone else put it well. There are no words to describe Antonio Brown. It’s the route running that I might admire most. So crisp on some of these deep outs and comebacks.  Explosive out of his breaks. One of the many reasons why he’s special.

– Kudos to Matt Spaeth for getting out on the field. Dealing with an elbow injury, being forced to play with a heavy wrap, but with Michael Palmer down, Spaeth was needed. He’s asked to do quite a bit on the line. Combo blocks, base blocks, pass protect by himself at times, and run the occasional route. One of many players on this squad that has hidden value.

– In pass protection, the entire Steelers’ line did a tremendous job. Bengals threw a lot of tackle/end stunts that were picked up flawlessly. Perfect communication all around. Roethlisberger was afforded a clean pocket with the line keeping Carlos Dunlap in check and the interior line (Ramon Foster notably) not getting bull rushed into the QB.

Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro continued to show their athleticism in the open field, especially early in the game.

– Schematically, the Steelers pulled DeCastro as the front side guard on at least one occasion. A G-Lead, pin and pull concept I’ll be interested in checking out.

– There were multiple instances were Roethlisberger needed to check out of runs. Two Power O’s with eight in the box and backside safety George Illoka makes the tackle from behind. That kind of stuff frustrates me. Too slow developing of a play to get away from backside flow.

– Steelers used a ton of return motion early in the game to identify man/zone. Send the player in motion and then send him back to his original spot. If the corner follows, it’s man. If not, probably zone. Easy way to figure it out though do it enough and defenses will do a better job of trying to disguise their coverage.

Stephon Tuitt is still showing the ability to get off blocks and make tackles. It might not always be pretty but it appears we’re seeing him continuously grow each week.

Cameron Heyward is hitting his groove at the right moment. 3.5 sacks and two pass deflections in the month of December. Nasty swim move to beat rookie center Russell Bodine on his sack yesterday. Becoming that dominant force many of us, including me, expected him to be in 2014. And as usual, the hustle was shown in spades.

Daniel McCullers got an uptick in snaps with Steve McLendon fighting through injury. His snaps have been hard to come by. Will try to take advantage of the pocket of plays he got and see what we’ve learned, if anything.

– Don’t laugh. Cam Thomas may have been ok tonight. Give him a fair shake in a reduced role. It’s helped keep him fresh and play a little better. Did register a QB hit tonight. For all the issues he’s dealt with in 2014, getting something out of him is a win.

Ryan Shazier dominated the second half snaps. Not really sure how much Vince Williams played. Will be interested in the snap counts, which will probably be handed out by the time this article is posted. Can judge Shazier in consistent work both in base and sub-package and see how he matched up.

– A red-hot James Harrison against Andrew Whitworth, an All-Pro left tackle. Whitworth definitely won the matchup but that’ll be a fun battle to check out.

Jason Worilds lone sack came when right tackle Eric Winston was tripped by his own player. Wanted to see a better day against a player like Winston, who was recently signed off the street. Pressure just isn’t there from 93 even if he does have 7.5 sacks.

– Although I have spoken pretty glowingly of the Steelers’ front seven, they did get gashed on several runs. Bengals have a solid rush offense and they will make plays but it’s still not something you’re happy to see.

– That’s where the secondary stepped in. Cleaned up messes and didn’t allow any good runs turn into great ones. William Gay, Will Allen, and maybe even Mike Mitchell had fine open field tackles.

– Allen was a monster, playing ten years younger. All around the ball and finished with seven tackles. Big finishes and he got freedom in coverage, playing some deep zone and “sky” coverage, responsible for the flat.

Like any good strong safety, willing to get his nose dirty in the run game. Force defender who kept Jeremy Hill contained up the gut.

Brice McCain had two easy interceptions. But credit is due on his first. Didn’t bite on a double-move working against A.J. Green. Tough task. Green peels off, Dalton throws long, and McCain is rightfully awarded. He was challenged against their best WR – including on the first play of the game – and held up.

Props to him on the season. Played so many more snaps than anticipated. Logged time outside and as the nickel corner. Not to mention serving as the jammer and gunner on special teams throughout the year. Wore a lot of hats.

Antwon Blake is quickly gaining a cult following. Little dude, big hitter. Ripping the ball out clean of a WR with half a foot on you, then recovering it? That’s Blake in a nut shell. There’s so much to like about this kid. Physical, fearless on special teams (number one quality according to former Steelers’ ST coach Bobby April), fast straight-line speed, fluid hips, quick click and close, can play the ball in the air. Someone please make him 5’10. Figure it out, science.

– Credit to Brown’s blockers for not committing on a block in the back on his punt return TD. Easy to do when the return man flows laterally like AB did.

– The fake punt was an objective mess. I wouldn’t have run a fake no matter what but then to tip your hand by motioning Ross Ventrone? You want your fakes to look the same as your actual punts. Element of surprise is what makes it work. Not when the defense checks out ten seconds ahead of time.

Does Robert Golden have the ability to check out of it? The upback is the QB of punts. Not sure if we’ll ever get an answer.

– Last but certainly not least, Adam Jones had five kick returns tonight. None farther than 29 yards. This is a guy who came into Sunday averaging 33.2 yards per kick return.

Not sure how good of a number that is?

To put it in perspective, it’s the third best figure by a KR since the 1970 merger. And the Steelers kept him in check. Whether it’s Vince Williams laying a big lick, Jarvis Jones concussing the upback on the first kickoff, or Shamarko Thomas’ wonderful open field tackle, special teams did their job in that phase. A near perfect season, Jacoby Jones’ TD the only blemish. Danny Smith has coached that area up extremely well.

– This is irrelevant to the game but I wanted to mention it now before I forgot. There will be a lot of Steelers playing their first playoff game Sunday. But I don’t know if anyone is more worthy than Arthur Moats. From what I can tell, a great human being who takes the time to interact with fans. Gave away two tickets to Sunday’s game. After toiling with the Buffalo Bills, he deserves a chance at the big stage. Hopefully, he’ll be active for it.

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