With their 33-20 win, Sunday, over the Cincinnati Bengals, the Pittsburgh Steelers have moved to within two games of the AFC North division lead with just three weeks left in the regular season.
Throughout much of Sunday’s win, the Steelers received a handful of “splash” plays from individual players leading to the 13-point win over the rival Bengals, namely some key defensive players in the second half.
Quarterback – Ben Roethlisberger didn’t put up his usual numbers in Sunday’s win, but he started the game with the hot hand, going 8-for-8 to lead the Steelers to an early 13-0 lead, forcing the Bengals to play catch-up early on.
From there, Roethlisberger cooled off and missed a few throws, including an interception throw to (who else) Reggie Nelson on a deep throw to Markus Wheaton midway through the fourth quarter.
Roethlisberger finished 30-for-39 for 282 yards, but he missed a few throws and had one potential touchdown dropped by Martavis Bryant. Against a banged up Cincinnati secondary, Roethlisberger was expected to torch them, but he did just enough to help lead Pittsburgh to a big win. GRADE: B-
Running Back — For the third time during the 2015 season, DeAngelo Williams recorded a multi-touchdown performance on the ground, scoring from one-yard out to start — and end — the scoring for the Steelers offense, Sunday.
Despite finishing with just 3.3 yards-per-carry, Williams was very effective on the ground, receiving 23 carries in the win, one of which went for a long of 15 yards.
Around the goal line, Williams was decisive and ran hard, refusing to go down at first contact. The 32-year old veteran also jumped into the pile late in the game to defend his offensive linemen during a skirmish. Teammates love to see that from a skill guy. GRADE: B+
Wide Receivers — Although none of Roethlisberger’s receivers put up eye-popping stats, Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton all had very productive days as Brown (7-87), Bryant (7-49) and Wheaton (4-65) hauled in 18 of Roethlisberger’s 30 completions.
Wheaton started off strong hauling in a 31-yard pass down the left sideline on the first drive of the game, while Brown beat Leon Hall soundly in the middle of the field to set up Williams’ first rushing touchdown.
Bryant did drop a touchdown, but he was shifty in the open field and nearly broke off a long touchdown on a screen pass in the second half.
When this group is clicking like they are right now, Pittsburgh’s offense is so hard to stop. Cincinnati found that out Sunday. GRADE: A-
Tight End — The Bengals are probably happy to be done with Heath Miller for the rest of the regular season.
In two games against Cincinnati this season, Miller has hauled in 20 passes (two games with 10 receptions each) for 171 yards. Sunday, Miller was once again a major factor in the middle of the field, repeatedly getting open and showing Roethlisberger his numbers underneath Cincy’s Deep Cover 2 shell.
Coming off of a rib injury, Miller showed no signs of that injury, continuously taking shots in the middle of the field while picking up chunks of yardage. GRADE: A+
Offensive Line — Although Marcus Gilbert allowed his first sack of the season, the Steelers offensive line turned in a strong performance, Sunday, against a tough Bengals front seven.
Alejandro Villanueva had to leave the game for a brief stretch, forcing Chris Hubbard into action at left tackle, but the backup lineman did a nice job in place of Villanueva for seven snaps.
Once he returned, Villanueva did a nice job of pulling (yes, you read that right) to the right in front of Williams as the Steelers looked to eat clock. Villanueva moved very well for a big guy. Each and every week he seems to get better and better, which bodes well for Pittsburgh moving forward.
Outside of Villanueva and Gilbert allowing sacks, the Steelers offensive line seemingly won the battle on the interior. Cody Wallace, Ramon Foster and David DeCastro held their own against the duo of Domata Peko and Geno Atkins, allowing the Steelers to run the ball effectively while also providing Roethlisberger with a clean pocket to step up into for much of the game.
Atkins and Peko combined for just three tackles while being held off the board without a sack or even a quarterback hit. GRADE: A
Defensive Line — Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and Steve McLendon returned to their disruptive ways by shutting down the Bengals’ running game outside of one long run from Giovani Bernard.
Heyward recorded a big sack on A.J. McCarron in the redzone, while Tuitt came up with his first career interception early in the first quarter to hold the Bengals off the board.
McLendon added half a sack on McCarron and had a strong game on the interior, as he was able to push around Russell Bodine. GRADE: B+
Linebackers — For the first time all year Lawrence Timmons missed a few defensive snaps, but he still led the Steelers in tackles with eight. Timmons’ best play of the day came just two minutes into the second quarter when it looked like Jeremy Hill had a shot at busting off a big run from the shadow of his own goalpost.
Timmons was able to shed the blocker and slow down Hill, allowing Ryan Shazier to scrape across the field to make the tackle, forcing the Bengals to punt from their own 5-yard line.
Along with Timmons, Shazier had an impressive game with seven tackles and one pass deflection while also lighting up Clint Boling on Robert Golden’s interception return.
Vince Williams had another strong game as a subpackage linebacker, recording five tackles, half a sack and a quarterback hit in limited defensive snaps (12 of 58).
James Harrison, Arthur Moats, Bud Dupree and Jarvis Jones were relatively quiet, Sunday, as Harrison accounted for both QB hits from outside linebackers in the win. GRADE: B
Defensive Backs — William Gay and Robert Golden recorded big interceptions, Sunday, including Gay’s big pick-six to start the second half, but the rest of the secondary turned in a “meh” performance, headlined by missed tackles and poor coverage at times.
Antwon Blake continues to struggle mightily late in the year, allowing a 66-yard touchdown from McCarron to A.J. Green in the second quarter in which Blake was beaten cleanly by a double move and then subsequently missed the tackle, allowing Green to walk into the end zone.
Along with Blake, Mike Mitchell also missed the tackle on Green’s touchdown and turned in another subpar game, taking a costly personal foul penalty on a hit against Tyler Eifert across the middle. He continues to celebrate plays in which he really does nothing productive to disrupt the play, but to each his own. He’s been important all year to the defense, but he hasn’t done anything of note over the last few games.
Gay continues to be the best player in the Steelers secondary week after week. On his last five interceptions Gay has returned each for a touchdown, which is pretty impressive for an aging cornerback who was thought to be on his last legs.
Not so fast.
Although two interceptions were recorded in the secondary, the coverage and tackling in the open field has to get better. Maybe the coaching staff moves on from Blake permanently, but don’t hold your breath. GRADE: C+
Special Teams — The special teams play couldn’t have been better, Sunday, as Chris “The Boz” Boswell nailed four-of-four field goals and Jordan Berry punted the ball very well against Cincinnati, dropping an early punt inside the 5-yard line on a coffin corner.
Berry has been asked to punt just three times in the last two weeks and boomed one for 53 yards yesterday. Not bad for a guy who has been chastised a few times over the year.
Along with a strong kicking game, the coverage units were very strong. On kickoffs the Steelers coverage held the Bengals’ average starting field position to their own 21-yard line.
Special teams play has gotten much better over the last two weeks under Danny Smith. GRADE: A