It may have largely come against a backup quarterback but it looks all the same on the scoreboard. No sympathy from Pittsburgh. They know all too well about injuries to their QB. Survive and advance.
Ben Roethlisberger: The box score doesn’t look incredibly impressive, 30/39 for 282 yards, 0 TDs and 1 INT. And it’s true he came back to Earth a little bit after a scorching start. But it was that incredible, 8/8 beginning that got the Pittsburgh Steelers on top of the Cincinnati Bengals early, forcing them to play down at least two possessions for almost all the game. He made tight throws into windows, worked the scramble drill, and in vintage Ben form, even flipped the ball to Heath Miller despite having a defensive lineman on top of him.
Heath Miller: Like a fine wine, he’s getting better with age. Ten catches today and they were almost all of the hard-earned variety. He’s had the Bengals number this season and has acted as a security blanket for Roethlisberger, even more crucial without Le’Veon Bell.
William Gay: Gay had the signature play – and dance – of the day, picking off A.J. McCarron early in the second half and taking it to the house. It was capitalizing on McCarron’s hesitation, a must against a young QB. Though rarely targeted, making him easy to forget, Gay’s play has been stellar and he has a couple more years left in those legs.
Chris Boswell: The Boz continues to do his thing. 4/4 in field goals, including 3/3 from 40-49. The Steelers’ offense may have sputtered at times but Boswell was there for the rescue. Don’t overlook his impact on kickoffs, either. He recorded several touchbacks, keeping Brandon Tate from being a factor in the kick return game.
Third Down Offense: 8-14 today. Combine that with their 8-13 mark last week and you have the Steelers converting at a 59.3% clip over the last two weeks. For a team that hovered around the sickly 30% mark for a large chunk of the year – albeit partially with Roethlisberger’s services – it’s a huge step and a big reason why this offense, much like Stella, has their groove back.
David DeCastro: Across the board, the line should get love for keeping Roethlisberger mostly upright. Even Chris Hubbard represented himself well on the couple snaps he came in for Alejandro Villanueva. But I thought DeCastro shined even brighter, doing a fine job in the run game sealing defenders and creating lanes, even if the rushing totals are far from gaudy. DeAngelo Williams’ final touchdown was aided by DeCastro’s down block. We’ll have to look at the tape but this might have been DeCastro’s best game of the season.
Jordan Berry: All the specialists getting love. Berry only had to punt twice but they were both beauties, highlighted by his coffin corner Darrius Heyward-Bey downed at the two. His reps have been limited, I think it’s six punts over the last month, but a nice day in limited chances for the Aussie.
Antwon Blake: We meet again, old friend. Blake had the biggest negative play of the day, getting beat on an A.J. Green double-move for a 66 yard touchdown, missing the tackle downfield, just to twist the knife that much more. It was odd to see Blake get so much work in the nickel, keeping Brandon Boykin on the sidelines. After that, Blake only played in the base defense. As it should be.
Mike Mitchell: Mitchell wasn’t terrible but he has strung together a couple of “meh” games. He also failed to bring Green down on the aforementioned TD and has missed a couple more tackles recently while not providing many splash plays. He is playing almost exclusively as the deep safety, minimizing his box score impact, but he hasn’t had his best games. Today included.
Pass Rush: Though the Steelers will be officially credited with three sacks, one came in garbage time and overall, McCarron had too much time in the pocket today. The Steelers’ OLBs failed to record any sacks and their pressure was limited. Down the stretch, it’s going to have to get better.