What is more natural than traveling to Cincinnati and defeating the Bengals in their own self-styled jungle? The Pittsburgh Steelers have played the Cincinnati Bengals 21 times at Paul Brown Stadium since it opened in 2000. The Black & Gold won eighteen of those contests. The Bengal’s last win at home against Pittsburgh was a Monday Night game in 2013.
There was a different vibe in Cincinnati coming into this game. They were leading the division and had beaten the Baltimore Ravens convincingly earlier in the season. The same birds that beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh a few weeks ago. Vontaze Burfict was back from a four-game suspension and Andy Dalton had led them to three 4th quarter comeback wins. They earned themselves some swagger.
Pittsburgh came into the game after a complete win against the Atlanta Falcons, but questions remained after uneven performances in their other games. Steelers fans were looking to continue their dominance over the Bengals. A team that has tried to physically intimidate the Steelers in the last few meetings.
I watched this game from my little table at the Outta the Way Café in Derwood, Maryland. It has been a Steelers hangout on game days for two decades. A few folks came to chat and sent their greetings to all the Steelers Depot contributors. They appreciate the in-depth coverage of their favorite football team. The consensus of these Maryland-based Steelers fans before kickoff was the Steelers would win if James Conner played well and the defense limited the Bengals offense.
Early in the game, the Bengals limited James Conner to short gains. Receivers dropped passes that appeared catchable. The Bengals appeared intent on shutting Conner down. The man who got the Steelers on track was Vance McDonald. He was bowling Bengal defenders over like so many ten pins. It was already becoming a chippy game. Xavier Grimble caught a ball and went to the ground. Instead of simply tagging him down, Burfict had to add an elbow strike to Grimble’s helmet. No matter, the Steelers completed the drive to tie the score. James Conner started churning out yards. JuJu Smith-Schuster somehow wrested the ball from a defender to bring the ball to the one-yard line. James Conner punched it in.
In the second half, the offense settled for two field goals from the red zone. One three-pointer was particularly frustrating since the Steelers had a first and goal from the one. The loss of four points almost came back to haunt the team. Joe Mixon scored a go-ahead touchdown late in the 4th quarter. Would this be their 4th comeback victory? The Bengals made one critical error in an otherwise masterful drive. They left 1:18 on the clock and Pittsburgh had all three of their timeouts.
Ben Roethlisberger then led a drive down the field. Ben completed only two of his first six passes on this drive, both completions to JuJu. The sixth pass was incomplete, but the referees called Dre Kirkpatrick for defensive holding. Twenty-nine precious seconds and still not past the 50. JuJu then caught a pass for 23 yards to the 31-yard line. Steelers take their first time out. The Steelers are in field goal range. It would be a 49-yard attempt by Chris Boswell to win it, but we can get closer. With fifteen seconds left and two timeouts in the pocket, Ben fires a short pass to Antonio Brown who races into the endzone. Justin Hunter makes the block or legal pick if you prefer that springs Brown into the open. The natural order of things is restored.
My offensive player of the game was the entire offensive line. The Bengals did not sack Ben and the linemen blew some huge holes open for Conner to run through. Early in the game ‘Farmer’ McDonald kept the offense motivated.
The defense held the Bengals to three touchdowns. Two in the first half were shorter drives of 54 and 44 yards, respectively. The Bengal receivers aided the Steelers defense with several dropped balls. The first scoring drive started off with a 13 yard run by Joe Mixon. Andy Dalton then converted two third downs.
A pass to A.J. Green on 3rd and 10 was particularly damaging. Tyler Boyd scored both of their touchdowns. The second was embarrassing with Artie Burns backpedaling halfway into the endzone before breaking too late to cover an easy uncontested touchdown pass. Instead of making a stand to hold the Bengal to a field goal; they tied the score and were to receive the ball to start the second half.
The Steelers defense played the 2nd half very well up until the Bengals final scoring drive. They forced the Bengals to punt three straight times. On the first series, the defense stuffed Joe Mixon for no gain on third and one. Cameron Sutton defended a pass on third and ten on the second series. Stephon Tuitt sacked Andy Dalton and then Joe Haden defended a pass intended for Green to force a punt on Cincinnati’s third series. The fourth series did not go so well. Referees whistled Artie Burns for pass interference that cost the Steelers 14 yards and brought the Bengals to midfield. Tyler Boyd then caught a 16 yard pass. A.J. Green caught two for 30 yards which set-up Mixon’s go ahead touchdown.
It was frustrating that Joe Haden had two opportunities to intercept balls but could not produce the turnover. However, he covered Green who only had 85 receiving yards. In fact, there were no turnover in this game. Still, the defense kept good pressure on Dalton. Vince Williams appears fully recovered and led the team in tackles and had a sack. Holding any team to 21 points should be good enough especially when faced with short fields. The Bengals longest drive was 75 yards. The next longest 54 yards. While Pittsburgh had scoring drives of 75, 75, 85, 82 and 77 yards.
Steelers Special Teams
Last week I thought special teams were great. This week they stank. Chris Boswell did fine by converting both his field goal and point after touchdown attempts. We were moaning why he was kicking off so short. I am convinced that was part of the game plan to keep the Bengals short of the 25-yard line. The plan backfired as the Bengals averaged 40.7 yards on three returns. I don’t blame Boswell since his last two kicks were deep for touchbacks. Not sure what the breakdown was but Danny Smith must fix it.
Jordan Berry punted four times and the Bengals returned only one for six yards. However, his first 32-yard punt should have had the Bengals starting from their 12-yard line. But Kameron Canaday had a 10-yard holding penalty. Berry then punted from his own 18-yard line but only managed 36 yards giving the Bengals a short field. They took advantage and drove the ball 54 yards to take the early lead in the game. He boomed his third punt 69 yards from Pittsburgh’s 19-yard line. Although it was returned 19 yards a penalty brought the ball back to the 9-yard line. He flipped the field. Berry’s final punt was in the 4th quarter. A 35 yarder that Canaday marred by holding again. Instead of the ten yard line the Bengals got the ball at the 20. One bad punt out of four but that is one too many.
Ryan Switzer had a nice 15-yard punt return that saved the Steeler from starting deep in their own territory. However, there was a long Kevin Huber punt that flipped the field that he was unable to recover that gained the Bengals 62 yards of territory. Not sure what is happening with the kick returns. The Steelers just seem to have a tough time getting past the 25. Danny Smith may have to tinker with the blocking schemes on kickoffs. But, the coverage units need major repair. Those returns were potentially devastating.
Yoi. Dave Bryan documented Burfict’s thuggery in this game. In a court of law any reasonable person would conclude that Burfict violated NFL sportsmanship rules beyond a reasonable doubt. With his past history, any reasonable person would conclude that he is an unrepentant repeat offender who should be given the maximum sentence. In this case, a suspension anywhere from four games to a full year. But this is the NFL we are talking about. According to Ian Rapaport’s sources, the NFL is not considering a suspension but would review the plays and possibly fine him.
#Bengals oft-suspended LB Vontaze Burfict is not expected to be suspended for his actions on Sunday, but I’m told there are several plays that will be reviewed for a potential fine. Presumably, one is an elbow to @AB84’s head.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) October 15, 2018
The NFL fined T.J. Watt for an inadvertent but admittedly low hit on a quarterback. NFL also fined Mike Tomlin for saying he was pissed and that officiating must improve. In one game, Burfict forearmed or elbowed two players in the back of the head/neck; lowered his helmet in contravention to current rules against another and threatened JuJu Smith-Schuster with a menacing, “you’re next” after Antonio Brown went to the medical tent. If he is not sternly reprimanded, this league has made a mockery of player safety issues they claim to support.
The Prodigal Son
Unsurprisingly, Le’Veon Bell did not show up to the Steelers complex this week.
So far, he has forfeited around $5 million in pay by not reporting. The Steelers fanbase is still divided. He does not have to report until week 10 to sign the franchise tag offer but many thought he would arrive during the bye week. Bell is gambling that by not signing his franchise tag some team will eventually pay him a huge contract that has large guarantees that will make up for the money he has left on the table so far this year. He would describe it as a business decision. Nothing personal just business. His teammates recognize this and will welcome him if he ever does show up.
That said, those teammates are human, and it is hard not to have some personal feelings. His argument is I want to save my body this year to cash in next year. That would be hard to take for the 63 players that have gone through training camp together and played six grueling regular season games together. They will welcome him, but it is no longer a matter of him taking over his position that another has held down for him. James Conner has proven his worth to this team and Bell will have to earn their trust all over again. I do not believe it is a given any longer.
As an average Steelers fan, my loyalties are with the team first. The Rooney family is not perfect, but they have earned my trust from their decades of stewardship. A term you are likely to hear more of is the so called “crossover player.” These are players such as Aaron Rodgers that are perceived to have fans from across the NFL, just not Green Bay Packers fans. The marketing idea is that fans will follow the individual players regardless of what team they play for.
Like the spike in Lakers jersey sales once LeBron James went to Los Angeles. Now, NFL fans typically have a closet full of jerseys with the names of players from their favorite team. Instead, fans might latch onto Ryan Fitzpatrick and have a Rams, Bengals, Bills, Titans, Texans, Jets and Buccaneer’s jersey with Fitzpatrick emblazoned on the back of all of them. I’m just an average fan and will stick with my Pittsburgh Steelers and their Black & Gold jerseys.
The “best” of the 799 comments in the 1st Half thread included admiration of Vance McDonald with Pittfan exclaiming, “Vance made Burfict his bitch!” Chris asked late in the half, “Bad coaching, why would you short kick the kickoff with 1-minute left?” to which BurghBoy412 replied, “Because you expect your D to do its job” But GrumpyHighlander was having none of that: “Steelers always trying to get too cute. Kicking it short to try and burn a couple seconds. Just kick it into the endzone.” Chris92021 had other concerns in the 1st half; “(Artie) Burns has to go.”
984 comments in the 2nd Half Thread opened by Beaver Falls Hosiery with “We will find out how much the Steelers want it this half.” JSteeler concluded, “JuJu saved the day.” Kevin Schwartz was philosophical, “All in all, this is still a much better performance than most Steelers first halves this season. I’ll take it.” Chad Sanborn was incredulous, “Tomlin is a bonehead challenges a first down but not a TD?” And Mister Wirez agreed, “Tomlin is the WORST clock management and challenge coach of all time! Period.” Kevin Schwartz generated a lot of discussion about the Steelers player evaluation approach. “I’ll repeat this, since it seems like a fundamental issue with how we draft. I’m becoming more and more convinced that corner, particularly, is a position where you can’t just stick raw athletes and expect them to do well. It requires too much mental aptitude and technique.”
For the second week in a row, we did not meet the standard of 1000 comments in either half. However, we did improve from the previous week. The Steelers played well enough to win the game. It could have been an easier victory if the Steelers had scored touchdowns instead of the two field goals or if Joe Haden had intercepted one of the balls that ended up in his hands. Regardless, the record book will show it as a win. Now there is time for the team to correct some of their issues during the bye week. We should find out how the organization will handle the prodigal son once he finds his way home. Finally, let’s see what the NFL does about the thuggery taking place in front of their cameras.
Your Music Selection
In the 2018 Memorial Day Weekend: Steelers Friday Night Five Questions, I committed to play songs that Steelers Depot respondents suggested might be the new Steelers anthem if Renegade by Styx was ever replaced. Here is entry 26 of 45 from Wreckless & SkoolHouseRoxx: I’ll Whip Ya Head by 50 Cent.