Well it wasn’t pretty, but the Pittsburgh Steelers’ winning streak stretched to five games after a hard-fought road win against the Cincinnati Bengals. The Steelers’ season sweep of the Bengals combined with Baltimore Ravens razor close victory over the Philadelphia Eagles sets up a winner take the AFC North game next week in Pittsburgh. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, these are my gut reactions to today’s win.
It’s become evident that even though the Steelers possess a potent running game Todd Haley loves his passing attack. There’s a time and a place for both, but I was shocked that the Steelers offense came out in five wide receiver sets looking to throw the football with regularity, as opposed to the power run game that carried the offense last week. Haley’s pass first offense didn’t present itself well in the first half as it only produced nine points, reached the red zone once, and let the Bengals’ offense dominate time of possession. There were some offensive changes at half time, and Roosevelt Nix helped get the running game going. Le’Veon Bell wasn’t ripping off long runs like last week against the Buffalo Bills but I only saw one running play the Bengals truly stuffed with Nix leading the way.
The Steelers again proved that penalties can be their worst enemy: A face masking penalty on Stephon Tuitt’s sack, a 39-yard pass interference call against Artie Burns, and an illegal chop block call against Bell all prolonged Bengals’ scoring drives or took points off the board for the Steelers. In the second half, the Steelers still committed penalties but they didn’t have such dire consequences and they were generally able to overcome them.
While the offensive was far from explosive, the Steelers receivers stepped up and made big plays when it counted, here’s a big play roll-call off the top of my head: Ladarius Green had a 23-yard reception on 3rd and 17 to keep a scoring drive going, and a 28-yard reception on 3rd and 8 to prolong the Steelers 13 play, six-minute drive that ended the game. On 3rd and 7 Cobi Hamilton hauled in a 21-yard reception with the first half ending. Eli Rogers had receptions of 28 and 24 yards, the second was the Steelers lone touchdown and came on 2nd and 16. While there was a few drops, a banged-up group of receivers stepped up when it was their chance to shine and made plays to keep the Steelers offense going even though they trailed most the game. A great sign of maturity from a young group.
Speaking of maturity, when the first half ended the Steelers’ defense was on pace to give up 40 points. Due to injuries, they had to make some adjustments, but the defense hunkered down and shut out the Bengals in the second half. The linebackers especially upped their game: Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Shazier combined for 13 tackles, a sack, an interception, two passes defensed and 3 hits on Bengals’ quarterback Andy Dalton. James Harrison led the Steelers with 9 tackles as the Bengals struggled to find traction running or throwing the ball down field in the second half.
These AFC North games are always physical and hard-nosed. The Steelers were already thin at certain positions and injuries stacked up again today. Stephon Tuitt left with a knee injury, and Ricardo Matthews injured his ankle. The Steelers need to find some defensive linemen and fast for their showdown against Baltimore. Also, Ladarius Green who has quickly carved out a place in the Steelers passing game, left the game injured. His timely 3rd down conversions were a big part of the Steelers win today and hopefully his injury isn’t significant. The Steelers honestly don’t have another tight end with his skill set and need all hands-on deck if they are going to beat a scrappy and relatively healthy Ravens team.
There’s no doubt that the Steelers’ star player today was Chis Boswell. He led the team in scoring with 18 points by converting six, yes, six field goals! They weren’t exactly chip shots either, for a kicker that’s not hailed for his leg strength Boswell put on a show today. He converted from 45, 49, 49 (again), 40, 49 (a 3rd time), and 30 yards. His field goals kept the Steelers in the game when the Bengals’ offense was marching up and down the field at will and the Steelers defense on the ropes. But Boswell’s biggest play of the game came on a kickoff. Bengals kick returner, Alex Erickson had gotten lose down the sideline and looked like he was going to score a touchdown. Boswell dove and slapped Erickson’s right leg causing him to trip and fall. While the play did result in a 72-yard return, Boswell’s diving tackle kept Erickson out of the end zone and the defense held the Bengals’ offense to a field goal. At the end of the day, Boswell’s tackle kept four points off the board; the margin of victory today.
The Steelers put together another big win, what are your gut reactions?