The Steelers have an opportunity today that they have only had once before this season: to win two games in a row. And they spoiled their first chance. Coming off a dominant 41-17 victory over the Atlanta Falcons a week ago, they are in Cincinnati today to face the rival Bengals, who at 4-1 are on top of the division. The Steelers, however, have won the past six meetings between the two teams, and nine of the last 10.
The offense is intact, and the defense gets back Vince Williams this week, though they are down Morgan Burnett once again. As for the Bengals, their offense will be without John Ross and Tyler Kroft.
The Steelers won the coin toss and opened the game with the ball. James Conner got the first carry and was tackled behind the line of scrimmage by William Jackson III. Ben Roethlisberger pump faked and found Vance McDonald just short of the sticks on second and 11, the tight end backing his way upfield for a total of 15 yards.
Now at the 39, Roethlisberger eventually went back to McDonald again, this for seven, again with yards after the catch. On second and three, Conner was limited to about a yard and a half up the middle. On third and short, Roethlisberger kept the ball for the first down, but a timeout was called–by the Steelers–before the snap, negating their own play. On the second attempt, he took to the air, hitting McDonald, again, for the first down.
Conner was again limited to a short gain on the following play. Roethlisberger looked to go up and over to JuJu Smith-Schuster on second down, delivering a good ball that the receiver should have caught. Roethlisberger flipped a pass to Conner that went to the ground. Vontaze Burfict got a hand on it. Jordan Berry punted from the 45, fair caught at about the 12, but the the long snapper was flagged for holding, putting them at the 22.
Andy Dalton used play action but was under pressure on first down, resulting in a throwaway. A.J. Green dropped a pass on a post route on second down. Now third and 10, Vince Williams made great read on an inside screen to Joe Mixon, tackling him at the line of scrimmage. Kevin Huber’s punt rolled all the way back to the 16-yard line for 62 yards.
Continuing to look to get the ground game going, Conner was limited to only about a yard on first down. Back to the air, Roethlisberger stepped up in the pocket before looking to get the ball to Roosevelt Nix, incomplete. Quickly into third and nine, he threw short of the chains to Smith-Schuster, who dropped the pass anyway. Berry’s punt went out of bounds at just about the Bengals’ 46.
Dalton’s first pass was incomplete, but Joe Mixon found a hole for a 13-yard gain on the second play of the drive. After another incompletion, Mixon got another carry for a short gain. Now looking at third and seven, C.J. Uzomah caught a first-down pass in front of Cameron Sutton.
Now into field goal territory, Green dropped another pass with Joe Haden in coverage. Then he dropped an interception on second down. Now third and 10, Green this time actually caught a pass, working out of the slot for a big gain down to the nine.
On first and goal, Mixon was brought down after a yard up the middle. Dalton completed to his number three receiver to the two on second down. Now third and goal, Tyler Boyd caught the touchdown against Anthony Chickillo in the right corner of the end zone for the first points of the game.
Out of 22 personnel, Roethlisberger used play action but waited to throw to Conner, ultimately incomplete. On second down, he finally got some room to run, going for 26 yards up the right side with Maurkice Pouncey leading the way. Conner was tripped up on first down but was able to keep his feet for a six-yard run. Now second and four, they stayed on the ground, good for two yards. On third and two, Roethlisberger had an easy pitch and catch to Antonio Brown for a nine-yard first down.
At the Bengals’ 32, Xavier Grimble caught his second pass in as many weeks for another first down. Stevan Ridley was able to keep his feet for a five-yard gain, but Jesse James was was called for holding. Carlos Dunlap batted Roethlisberger’s pass up in the air, Roethlisberger himself eventually catching it himself for the loss of a yard. On second and 21, he connected with Smith-Schuster for a 23-yarder at the nine.
On first and goal, out of a run-heavy look, Conner got a good head of steam up the middle to the one. On second and goal, he punched it in for his sixth rushing touchdown of the season. He can over DeCastro.
Dalton completed an eight-yard pass under pressure on first down, Mixon gaining six on the following play. Haden came off the field with a seeming hand injury. From the 39, Williams got his first sack of the year. On second and 14, Mixon found a hole off the right side for first-down yardage. Near midfield, on Pittsburgh territory, Dalton found Mixon in the air for six, but he was stopped for a short loss on second down. Boyd couldn’t haul in a downfield pass against Mike Hilton, who got his arm in the way. Ryan Switzer called for a fair catch at the 10.
Roethlisberger very nearly threw an interception to Vontaze Burfict on first down. Conner was brought down after a two-yard gain the following play. Switzer caught the ball just short of the sticks, forcing a punt. Tomlin challenged the spot of the ball and lost. Berry got off a booming punt for once, driving the returner all the way back deep into his own territory, a 15-yard return negated by a hold. The Bengals start inside their own 10.
Starting from the nine, T.J. Watt was in coverage on Boyd, incomplete, the ball behind. Uzomah was good for eight on second down. Now third and two, Green made a nice snag to convert. Javon Hargrave picked up his third sack of the year for a loss of five. Uzomah picked up about nine yards to make it third and six. Cody Core dropped an easy pass on third down that would have converted.
McDonald continued his physical ways with the ball in his hands, breaking three tackles for a 26-yard gain. Quickly to the Bengals’ 49, Roethlisberger hit James for a quick four-yarder. Conner was stopped at the line of scrimmage on second down. Now third and six, Roethlisberger went back to McDonald for 11 yards.
Roethlisberger looked for it all on the following play, going for Brown down the right sideline, incomplete and long. On second down, Conner took a dumpoff for four yards. Now third and six, Smith-Schuster caught a deep ball around Darqueze Dennard’s head, marked down just short of the goal line. Now from the half-yard line, with 23 personnel in, Conner punched it in for his second touchdown of the game, his seventh of the year, and his third game of two touchdowns in the first six.
Alex Erickson returned the ensuing punt to the Steelers’ 49, a penalty adding five more. Green caught a short five-yard pass, Hilton making a nice tackle. Uzomah had an easy pitch and catch against Sutton for the first down. From the 30, Sean Davis missed a tackle to allow a nine-yard gain to Boyd. A quick floater to Green went for seven inside the 15. Artie Burns was embarrassed by Boyd for an easy touchdown. I have no idea what he was thinking, but the Bengals tied it up at halftime.