The timely plays and sequences you won’t find in the box score that led to the Pittsburgh Steelers Week 2 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Steelers decision to go for it on 4th and 5 with 6:30 left in the first quarter resulted in Ben Roethlisberger throwing his first interception of the game. The Steelers defense managed to keep momentum from swinging in favor of the Bengals by forcing an early 3 and out.
On the Steelers next offensive position on 3rd and 9 with 4:41 left in the 1st quarter Roethlisberger evaded Bengals defensive end Margus Hunt, kept his eyes down field and connected with Sammie Coates for a gain of 44 yards. It’s no secret 3rd and longs are hard to convert, especially against division rivals that are so familiar with one another. This conversion would setup the first touchdown of the day, a pass to tight end Xavier Grimble. Priceless.
With 1:06 left in the first quarter the Bengals were driving and had a 2nd and 6 at the Steelers 11. The Steelers lined up in their base look and sent 4 pass rushers, one being linebacker James Harrison, who was lined up on Bengals Receiver Brandon LaFell in the slot. LaFell ran a simple 5 yard out and is wide open as Steelers safety Robert Golden scrambles to cover him, but it doesn’t matter as quarterback Andy Dalton threw the ball at the ankles of the wide receiver leading to a one of those 3rd and longs that are so hard to convert. Zone coverage and pressure by Jarvis Jones on the next play forced Dalton to check down and settle for a field goal. Only giving up 3 points in the red zone? I’ll take it every time.
With 7:33 left in the first half the Bengals have a 3rd and 1 at their own 18. The Steelers blitzed inside linebacker Ryan Shazier, who is untouched, and he flashes his closing speed forcing Dalton to throw the ball away. While the box score shows the Bengals had more yards and first downs, 3 and outs and great situational punting by Steelers punter Jordan Berry were able to offset the Bengals offensive output. The Bengals had three straight possessions in the first half where their offense took possession at their own 10-yard line, 9-yard line and 2-yard line.
As the first half is coming to an end the Bengals are once again in the Steelers red zone. This time they are at the Steelers 15-yard line with 10 seconds remaining. Dalton throws to LaFell, who is matched up on Steelers 2016 first-round draft pick Artie Burns. Burns plays the route well, maintaining position between the receiver and the ball, and breaks up the pass. The Bengals offense once again has to settle for 3. It must be a great confidence booster for a rookie cornerback to have a pass break-up in the end zone.
On 3rd and 1 with 7:56 left in the 3rd quarter the Steelers came out in 13 personnel, after a play-action fake to DeAngelo Williams, Roethlisberger goes to his second option and connects with Grimble for a crucial 3rd down conversion that led to a new set of downs and a 53-yard completion to Coates on the very next play. The play after that? A touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to Steelers tight end Jesse James. Three big throws and catches by Roethlisberger and his various weapons.
After Steelers cornerback Ross Cockrell was called for pass interference against Bengals Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green with 3:52 left in the 3rd quarter the Bengals offense is once again deep in the Pittsburgh red zone. On 3rd and 6 Burns was beaten by LaFell in the end zone and grabs him resulting in a second pass interference penalty on the drive and the Bengals getting advancing to 1st and goal from the Steelers’ one-yard line. This is where the Steelers defense really showed some grit. Shazier made his 6th tackle of the day by stopping a 1st down running play. Bengals tight-end C.J. Uzomah jumped to make a catch in the end-zone and was forced out of bounds by Golden before he could get two feet in, resulting in a 3rd and 1 where Dalton once again targeted his young tight end but under-threw him. The Bengals had to settle for a field-goal from the 3-yard line, as you can see, these red-zone stands are adding up quickly.
On 2nd and 9 in the middle of the longest sustained drive the Steelers had all game, and with raining cascading down, Roethlisberger found the fountain of youth, evaded Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap and took off scrambling for 14 yards setting up the Pittsburgh offense with a 1st and goal from the 5-yard line. Two plays later Roethlisberger would take advantage of a blown coverage and throw a touchdown to Williams out of the backfield, cashing in on an almost 7-minute-long drive.
Lastly, with 1:50 left in the game and the Steelers clinging to a 24-16 lead, the Bengals offense was moving the ball when rookie receiver Tyler Boyd made a reception and turned up field only to have the ball punched out by Harrison’s knee. The subsequent fumble was recovered by Golden which essentially iced the game and the Steelers advanced to 2-0 for the first time since 2010.