Week Eight Steelers Vs Bengals First Half Notes And Observations

The Pittsburgh Steelers dropped a pivotal game to the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, falling 16-10 in a loss that makes it virtually impossible for them to crawl back into the division race. Below are my notes and observations from the first half of the game.

  • The Steelers started heavy with their tight ends on the first two plays of the game, looking to get the ground game established.
  • On third and two, however, they borrowed from their earlier method before Ben Roethlisberger’s injury, attacking vertically. Roethlisberger connected with Antonio Brown on a corner route for 15 yards as he rolled out of bounds.
  • The now injured Le’Veon Bell looked the same mercurial back that he had shown in the first five games of the season, side-stepping one defender three yards in the backfield and then cutting inside of another on a five-yard passing play.
  • Right tackle Marcus Gilbert unfortunately had a bit of a down game in pass protection, drawing two holds, one declined, that he was forced into in order to prevent a sack or quarterback hit. The one accepted negated a 17-yard catch and run.
  • Fortunately, the Steelers got much of that yardage back with a 22-yard pass interference penalty drawn against Brown on the following play.
  • Roethlisberger was lucky that Martavis Bryant was able to adjust on his 10-yard pass a few plays later, and that the cornerback was playing the receiver, and not the ball. But he came back on the next play to find Brown for 12 yards between two defenders.
  • Following a five-yard draw to Bell up the middle to set up third and goal at the one, Brown motioned across the formation, getting a running start on what proved to be a pitch-and-catch one-yard score.
  • The Steelers were evidently dissatisfied last week with Cam Thomas’ showing, starting in place of Stephon Tuitt. On Sunday, they moved nose tackle Steve McLendon outside, making him the primary left defensive tackle in the nickel, in which they played for most of the game, and at the left end spot in the base, during which Daniel McCullers played the nose.
  • Though the Bengals did not have great success running the ball overall—and they haven’t much of the season—they managed to have their two longest rushing plays of the year against the Steelers, including a 12-yard run on second and nine. A nice cutback and overpursuit by both inside linebackers were the cause.
  • Thomas checked in on the following play, and Antwon Blake did a good job of reading a screen pass and holding it to minimal gain.
  • On the following play, Andy Dalton found A.J. Green for 20 yards on a soft zone read, with William Gay peeling off Green to stay in the flat, despite no receiver being in the area. Ross Cockrell was left to defend a vertical, from which he had to break in order to pick up Green.
  • Cameron Heyward was able to get a piece of Dalton’s arm to force an incompletion on the next pass, and three plays later, the Bengals settled for a field goal.
  • The Steelers got a break on third down, however, when Tyler Eifert was unable to hang on to a pass.
  • Pittsburgh responded with a three-and-out, though Roethlisberger had a near-completion to Darrius Heyward-Bey down the field on third and six. The safety did an excellent job of coming up and making a hit to dislodge the ball.
  • After a middling punt and a good return, Cincinnati took over at the Steelers’ 39-yard line, and ripped off a 15-yard run on the first play. Both inside linebackers got trapped on the wrong side of the hole.
  • But the Bengals were held to a net of -3 yards after that, including a Bud Dupree sack for no gain on third and 13, to force another field goal on a short-field opportunity.
  • Bell continued to run well, carrying four times on the following drive for 20 yards, rushing for at least five yards on three of those carries, but, with a false start mixed in, Roethlisberger was sacked for a 12-yard loss on third and seven. On the play, Alejandro Villanueva failed to pick up a T/E stunt.
  • The Steelers allowed another quality return on a punt, this one 15 yards, but the returner foolishly drew an unnecessary roughness penalty that negated his own gains, where the Bengals would have started at midfield.
  • The ensuing drive didn’t go any better, starting with a false start, a one-yard loss on second and 14, and then a sack, split by Ryan Shazier and Jarvis Jones, on third down.
  • The Steelers were gifted with a terrible punt right back, going out of bounds at midfield after traveling just 24 yards, but Roethlisberger and company failed to capitalize, responding with a three-and-out right back.
  • The first play of that series, of course, was the one that ended Bell’s season. There was nothing wrong with Vontaze Burfict’s tackle, but his post-play reaction has been highly criticized by Steelers players.
  • After that play, which went for eight yards, DeAngelo Williams lost a yard on his first touch, and Brown was tackled at the line of scrimmage on a screen pass on third down.
  • It was an up and down series for Mike Mitchell on the ensuing drive, knifing through a receiver to break up a pass down the field, but then drawing a taunting call on third down that kept the drive alive.
  • Fortunately for him, the Bengals’ drive ended rather unceremoniously—after three completions to Green for 24 yards—on third and one from the 29-yard line following a bad snap, recovered at the 38, knocking them out of field goal range.
  • The ensuing punt put the Steelers back at the five-yard line, with Roethlisberger finding Heath Miller for nine yards on third and four. The quarterback got away with a deep shot into double coverage on second down the play before.
  • The Steelers began to pick up yards in small chunks, with completions of 11 and 12 yards, but the drive stalled once past midfield with three straight incompletions, the final one under heavy duress. The Bengals took two knees to end the half.
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