The Pittsburgh Steelers face a pivotal AFC North showing against the division-leading Cincinnati Bengals, who are 6-0 coming off a bye, and three ahead of the Steelers in the loss column. Without a victory today, Pittsburgh would have an improbable hill to climb to defend its division crown.
Fortunately, the Steelers will regain the services of Ben Roethlisberger today, which is as significant an addition as just about any other possible around the league. The Steelers managed to go 2-2 without him, but at 4-3, their aspirations must be higher today. A full complement of skill position players must be the recipe for success today, the first time all the pieces have been in place this season.
Defensively, Stephon Tuitt remains out, as does Will Allen. Robert Golden has played admirably at safety in place of Allen, but the Steelers must find an answer to replicate Tuitt’s pass rushing, a tall order against one of the very best offensive lines in the league, on a team that is about as healthy as it gets.
Inactive for the Steelers today:
QB Mike Vick
DE Stephon Tuitt
S Will Allen
LB Terence Garvin
TE Jesse James
T Byron Stingily
QB/WR Tyler Murphy
And for the Bengals:
WR Mario Alford
CB Chris Lewis-Harris
LB P.J. Dawson
TE C.J. Uzomah
DT Marcus Hardison
DT Brandon Thompson
DE Margus Hunt
The Bengals won the toss and deferred. The opening kickoff went for a touchback as Roethlisberger took the field for the first time in a month. The Steelers, however, began on the ground, with a one-yard carry from Le’Veon Bell on first down. He went for seven on the second down to make it third and two. Roethlisberger’s first pass went to his favorite target, Antonio Brown, for 15 yards and a first down.
Roethlisberger then got Bell going in the receiving game with a short pass that went for five yards. After a 17-yard pass to Will Johnson was negated by a hold, a defensive pass interference penalty on Dre Kirkpatrick gave the Steelers 22 yards. Two carries of four and six yards from Bell brought the offense to the Bengals’ 30.
On first and 10 from the 30, another Bell carry netted two yards. Roethlisberger on second down fired to Martavis Bryant for the first down on an off-target pass. Inside the red zone at the 18, Roethlisberger threaded the needle between two defenders to find Brown for 12 yards.
On first and goal from the six-yard line, his pass intended for Heath Miller flew out of the back of the end zone, sending five targets on the play. On second and goal, a draw to Bell brought the ball down to the one, who took a hard hit, but popped up. On third and goal, Roethlisberger got Brown back into the end zone for the score, an opening-drive touchdown as Brown motioned stretching to the right pylon before the snap.
Chris Boswell‘s first kickoff of the day was fielded nine yards deep in the back of the end zone as the returner settled for a touchback. Andy Dalton lined up in the shotgun on first down, firing to Marvis Jones for six yards to the right sideline as he was quickly met by Antwon Blake. On second and four, it was A.J. Green for about six, with Robert Golden making the tackle. cam Thomaas continued to start for Tuitt.
Jeremy Hill was wrestled out of bounds for a big loss, but Andre Smith was flagged for a false start before the play. Now first and 15, Tyler Eifert picked up six yards over the middle, met by the Steelers’ inside linebackers. On second and nine, Hill just picked up the Bengals’ longest run of the year for 12 yards, due to missed tackles and a rugby scrum.
From the 46, Blake did an excellent job of reading the screen and avoiding the block to catch Mohammed Sanu on a screen pass, limiting him to three yards. On second down, Green made an excellent stabbing grab down the field down to the 31. Dalton’s pass was battled down at the line by Cameron Heyward, putting on the pressure. On second down, a five-yard scramble from Dalton cut the distance in half. The Bengals burned a timeout before third and five. An incomplete pass forced the Bengals to settle for a field goal.
Courtesy of the NFL:
— NFL (@NFL) November 1, 2015
Dri Archer tried to return the opening kickoff, but was tackled at the 10-yard line. Roethlisberger’s first completion to Miller went for four yards. On second and six, Roethlisberger grounded the ball after the play action failed to open down the field. Now third and six, Darrius Heyward-Bey got a hand on a deep shot down the field, but safety George Iloka came in late with a hard hit to break it up. Jordan Berry‘s punt was fielded at the 32, returned to the 43, but offsetting penalties resulted in a re-kick. Berry’s second punt was far worse, shorter and allowing a 19-yard return well on the Steelers’ side of the field.
From the 39, Hill picked up 15 yards off the left side, the Bengals now posting their two best runs of the season today. Lawrence Timmons was blocked out of the hole on that play, but made the tackle after a short gain on the following play. On second down, Dalton fired incomplete to Jones in the deep left corner of the end zone. A false start prior to the third down gave them 13 yards to go. Bud Dupree chased Dalton from behind for his fourth sack of the season to end the first quarter.
— Steelers Depot (@Steelersdepot) November 1, 2015
Mike Nugent‘s second field goal made it 7-6, but the Steelers are probably grateful to still be holding a lead after allowing the Bengals offense to start a drive at their own 39. On the ensuing kickoff, Archer was brought down again by Cedric Peerman, this time at the 16. Disappointing after he had been improving on the returns.
Bell skipped through contact for a six-yard gain on first down after he received no carries on the Steelers’ last drive, a three-and-out. On second and four, he duplicated the yardage. After a rare Miller false start, Bell was nearly stuffed at the line twice but ended up gaining two yards. On second and 13, another six yards for Bell gave Roethlisberger a third and seven. Roethlisberger was sacked on third down, going down in a manner in which he was clearly limited by his knee.
Adam Jones returned the ball to midfield on the punt, but he foolishly threw a push that drew a personal foul, pushing the Bengals back to the 35. After a false start, Dalton was flushed out of the pocket and scrambled for about a yard. A floating Dalton pass was met by a swarm of defenders and blown up for a loss. On third and 15, Dalton went down again, with Jarvis Jones and Ryan Shazier getting the credit for a sack, but it was the penetration from Timmons that created the sack.
After a shanked 24-yard punt, Roethlisberger took over at midfield, firing off a short pass to Bell, who twisted his knee as he was tackled out of bounds. He remained down. DeAngelo Williams was stopped for a loss of two, and then Brown could gain just one yard on a screen pass. Berry’s punt was fielded at the 10 and returned to the 15.
On first and 10, Green was dropped after a two-yard gain on a screen pass as Bell was carted off the field. On second and eight, Jones picked up seven, but Blake was penalized for a hold in the secondary, an automatic first down.
Mike Mitchell put a big hit on Jones going up for a ball down the field, right to the midsection, as the big receiver stayed down. A seven-yard pickup to Green set up third and three. Timmons broke up the pass intended for Eifert, but Mitchell was flagged for taunting, a huge, boneheaded mistake for the veteran safety.
Now from the 44, Dalton and Green connected for seven yards. Another quick pass to Green went for a first down. From the 38 of the Steelers, after a bunch of motion before the snap, Jones was stopped after a short gain. On second down, Dalton fired again to Green, who was held a yard shy by Timmons. On third and one, a bad snap from the center squirted far behind the line, recovered by Bernard yards down the field, knocked out of field goal range. But the Bengals pinned the Steelers down at the five.
Williams got the call, but was stopped after a yard as the Steelers are likely just looking to get out of the half with the clock winding down. On second and nine, an offside call gave Roethlisberger a free play to chuck the ball down the field, though it was incomplete. Two Bengals collided with each other. Roethlisberger went deep to Bryant again, but this one was forced, and should have been intercepted. Bryant nearly caught it on a deflection. On third and four, he hit Miller in stride for the first down to hit the two-minute warning.
Roethlisberger’s pass intended for Markus Wheaton bounced off his chest. From the 20, on second and 10, Roethlisberger dumped it over to Williams, who picked up first-down yardage with Cody Wallace getting out in front.. From the 31, Miller escaped the first tackler over the middle for another first down. The Steelers used their first timeout as they look to score before kicking off to the Bengals to start the second half.
Wheaton was stopped after a five-yard gain on first down. Another quick pass to Miller put the ball past midfield, the Steelers using their second timeout with 1:11 to play. Bryant could not snag a deflected pass, bounding off his facemask and nearly intercepted. On second down, Roethlisberger’s pass was too high, taking a shot after the throw. On third down, Roethlisberger just barely got rid of the ball for an incompletion, but it stopped the clock. Berry’s punt bounced upfield and out of bounds at the five.