PRELUDE TO STEELERS VERSUS CINCINNATI BENGALS
The Steelers remain undefeated. The Bengals are on the upswing despite a 2-5-1 record. Cincinnati defeated Tennessee Titans 31-20 last week. Joe Burrow is the source of the Bengals confidence with some saying he is the best quarterback in the AFC North.
Vance McDonald tested positive for Covid-19 and is unavailable for the game. Ben Roethlisberger, Vince Williams, Jaylen Samuels, and Jerald Hawkins quarantined this week due to close contact with McDonald and could not practice until Saturday’s walkthrough.
The other factor going into this game was the availability of Tyson Alualu and Mike Hilton to help bolster Pittsburgh’s run defense.
Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty, my high school classmate described what playing the Steelers means to the Bengals in one of his columns leading up to the game: “Either way, Pittsburgh’s always the measuring stick, the litmus test, the (mostly unmet) aspiration.” After all, the Steelers are 27-5 against the Bengals when Ben is quarterbacking.
The Bengals were feeling mighty good after defeating the Tennessee Titans last week. Their official twitter account tempted fate by reliving a clip of a player disrespecting the Terrible Towel. Previous versions of the Bengals learned it was not wise to dis the towel. Current and former Steelers expressed displeasure. Would that translate on the field?
THE STEELERS FORECAST
Steelers Depot gives us specific things we should look for during the game. I always read these articles prior to kickoff:
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Matthew Marczi describe what to watch for in the game. Matt says watch the personnel groupings on offense. Will the Steelers be successful passing the ball in schemes other than 01 personnel? Also, can the running game get on track? On defense he directs our attention to T.J. Watt’s matchup with rookie tackle Hakeem Adeniji. Finally, watch the special teams. They need to improve on last week’s horrible showing.
Tyler Wise identified the key matchup to watch this week. Tyler identifies Joe Burrow and the Bengals offensive line against the Steelers defense on passing plays. Can the Bengals avoid sacks and complete passes on blitzes? If not, should be a good day for Steelers fans.
KEYS TO VICTORY
Dave Bryan identified the five keys to a Steelers victory. First, Steelers play three or more wide receivers a lot. Second, Steelers rush for 150 yards. Third, hold Tyler Boyd to six receptions under 70 yards. Fourth, blitz early and often. Fifth, stop Bengals running game.
Alex Kozora forecast what would happen in his Steelers versus Bengals prediction. Alex foresaw victory if Steelers pass deep successfully, running backs gain yards after contact, defense buries Burrow. On the other hand, the Steelers lose if Tyler Boyd has big day, Bengals familiar names produce, and Steelers offense not balanced. Alex predicted the Steelers winning 26-17.
You can compare these pregame guides to Alex’s analysis of the game’s winners and losers which came out within minutes of the final whistle. How does his analysis compare with your view of the game?
Steelers offense scores on five of eight first half possessions.
OFFENSE FIRST POINTS OFF TURNOVER
The Steelers began their opening drive from the 15-yard line. Diontae Johnson took the ball to the 28-yard line on a 13-yard reception. The wind looked very wicked at the beginning of the game. James Conner runs five yards on first down. Ben misses Eric Ebron for second time to set up third down and five. He throws deep to Claypool but incomplete. Steelers punt.
The Steelers get the ball right back as Ola Adeniyi punches the ball out from the punt returner. Benny Snell recovers the fumble. Conner runs twice for eight yards. It’s third and two from the 24-yard line. Ben throws to JuJu who cannot reach the sticks. Chris Boswell kicks 41-yard field goal and the Steelers lead 3-0.
STEELERS ADD NINE MORE IN FIRST QUARTER
The Steelers next possession starts badly with Ebron called for holding on first down. Diontae picks up ten yards. On third and nine, the ball bounces off Diontae’s hands and nearly intercepted. Should have been a first down but Steelers punt again.
Defense force Bengal three and out. Offense has ball on Cincinnati 46 following Ray-Ray McCloud returning punt 15 yards. Steelers use reverse with McCloud lateraling to Chase Claypool who gains 14 yards. James Conner rumbles 16 yards entering the red zone. Bad snap on first down. Ben makes it back to line of scrimmage. He is slow. Ben connects with Conner who smashes into Bengals defender Mackensie Alexander who leaves game and does not return. Ben misses Ebron for third time. This time he was in end zone. Steelers kick field goal its 6-0. I don’t like this. I want touchdowns not field goals.
Steelers start final drive of first quarter at the 46-yard line. The wind impacting passing for both quarterbacks. But Ben drops a beauty to Diontae Johnson who races for 46 yards to the Cincinnati 28. James Washington snags a ball out of the air for 16 yards. Ben connects with Diontae on a slant and six more points on the board. Ben misconnects with Claypool on the fade on the two-point conversion attempt. Steelers up 12-0. I am waiting for the other shoe to drop.
STUMBLE THEN TWO SCORING DRIVES
The defense takes the ball away near midfield at the end of the first quarter. Steelers have a chance to extend the lead. On first down, Conner stumbles and Bengals tackle him for a six-yard loss. James Washington gains 14. On third and two, Ben targeting Diontae, but Sam Hubbard bats the ball down. Why can’t the Steelers convert third and short plays? Could have been an interception. Steelers punt.
Bengals drive 90 yards to make the score 12-7. Steelers need to answer. Despite the windy conditions. Steelers abandon run and Ben drops back on eight of nine plays including two negated by penalty. On third and six, Ben finds Claypool for 15 yards and a first down. Then he throws deep to JuJu Smith-Schuster for 24 more. Sam Hubbard lunged for Ben and hit him low. Officials assess a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty. This must especially sting Bengals fans who recall Kimo Von Oelhoffen rolling into Carson Palmer’s knee back in the 2005 wildcard game. Just a month before that game, T.J. Houshmandzadeh disrespecting the towel by wiping his shoes with one. The lesson: Don’t mess with the towel.
In any case, on the next play. Claypool had William Jackson beat who had to grab him to prevent an easy touchdown. Ben missed Claypool on a short pass on first and goal from the five. Then Claypool lost three yards on a sweep. The Bengals defense just strung it out. So, Ben switches weapons and hits JuJu for the touchdown and a 19-7 lead.
The Steelers got the ball one more time with 4:08 to go. Ben goes to Diontae for 18 on first down. He misses him on second. But finds Ebron in the seam for 24. I like seeing the tight end catching balls there. Back to Diontae for 17. But on first down Conner loses five yards. The running game stalled out. Ben misses Diontae on second and 15 with Jessie Bates going for the interception. After the two-minute warning, Ben hits JuJu for a short three yards. Just giving Boswell better range who hits a 45 yarder. Steelers up 22-7. I’d be more comfortable if it were 27-7.
The offense scores touchdowns sandwiched between punts in both quarters.
CLAYPOOL CLUTCH CATCH
The Steelers got the ball early in the second half after a Bengals punt. Steelers Depot contributor Ross McCorkle noted that “the Steelers clearly wanting to establish the run this half, with Jerald Hawkins reporting eligible as an extra tackle. The first two attempts were not so good with a yard pickup to James Conner each.” Hawkins only played three offensive snaps, so the plan did not work out. JuJu gained six yards on third and eight, so the Steelers punt away their first drive of the second half.
After two runs up the gut stuffed in previous drive, Steelers try running Claypool outside. The Bengals stop him for no gain. The running game just not in gear. So, Ben throws eight straight passes. The first is incomplete intended for JuJu. On third and ten, Claypool catches Ben’s pass for 11 yards on an out route. Conner catches one for eight yards. Claypool almost makes a beautiful sideline grab but can’t hold on. Eric Ebron gets the first down with a 13-yard catch. Ebron gets up slow after landing heavily on his hip. Bengals pressuring Ben who throws two incompletions. On third and ten, Ben rolls out to create time and finds JuJu for 12 yards. Conner then runs for 11 on first down. Steelers on the 11-yard line. Ben just overthrows JuJu in the end zone.
But Ben pump fakes and threads the needle to Chase Claypool who makes the touchdown touch while blanketed by Bengal defenders. Steelers go up 29-7.
OFFENSE CAN’T CONVERT THIRD AND SHORT
The Steelers get the ball back still leading 29-7 but I’m not comfortable just yet. Another touchdown and I can relax a little. Steelers try Conner up the middle one more time. He nets one yard. The blockers just are not opening holes. There is nowhere for Conner to go. JuJu draws a pass interference call on second down. JuJu gains six more but then the Steelers go into an illegal formation making it second and nine. Ben throws two incompletions. His third down pass targeting Claypool is just beyond his reach. Steelers punt.
Steelers get the ball back with less than a minute left in third quarter. Ben throws deep to Claypool but just off again. Short throw to JuJu who fights for nine yards. On third and one, Ben targets Ebron. Jessie Bates jumps the route and almost has a pick-six. Instead the Steelers punt. It is the third time the Steelers unable to convert on third and short. Frustrating.
STEELERS FANS GIVEN TIME TO RELAX
The defense forces another three and out. Ray-Ray McCloud almost takes the punt to the house on a 42-yard return. The ball is at the 15-yard line. Two Conner runs gain three yards. On third and seven, JuJu catches the short pass and bulls his way for the first down. The Steelers call their second timeout.
Ray-Ray strung out to the right and loses a yard. Man, this running game stinks. Ben hits Chase for his second touchdown. 10:31 to play but with the score 36-7, its time to relax. Just don’t want serious injuries.
The offense gets one more possession after a field goal makes the score 36-10 but with just 5:05 to go the Steelers can book a win. Mason Rudolph in for Ben is handing the ball off to Benny Snell. Snell gains 12 yards on three carries. However, J.C. Hassenauer caught holding on second and two which pushed them back ten yards. The Steelers punt with just 2:45 left to play. Overall solid scoring but lacking in the run game. Ben very sharp on a very blustery day.
Defense force four three and outs in first quarter. Mental lapse leads to Bengals touchdown. Steelers hold Bengals for remainder of half.
FIRST QUARTER SHUTDOWN
The Steelers had two possessions before the defense stepped onto the field thanks to a special team takeaway. The Bengals awarded a touchback on what should have been a safety. The NFL rules committee need to review allowing a touchback after a returner mishandles a kick. Tee Higgins false starts to make it first and 15. Joe Burrow misses A.J. Green. But he finds Tee Higgins for eight yards. On third and seven, Joe Haden breaks up a pass intended for Green. Bengals punt.
Teams exchange punts. Bengals start on their own 12. Giovani Bernard gains three on first down. Burrow incomplete for Tyler Boyd. An illegal formation penalty would have negated any catch, but it’s declined. On third and seven, Burrow targets Auden Tate. However, Joe Haden defends the pass. Bengals punt.
Steelers up 6-0 and Bengals begin at 21-yard line. Bernard gains one then loses four. On third and 13, Burrow hits Bernard but he gains just five yards. Bengals punt.
Now Steelers up 12-0. Bengals start at 19-yard line. Robert Spillane encroaches into neutral zone setting up first and five. Samaje Perine gains one. Burrow connects with Tyler Boyd for 20. Bengals call timeout. Burrow connects with Higgins who gains nine yards when Cam Sutton strips him of the ball. Steve Nelson recovers. Nice defense. Four drives three end in punts and a takeaway on the fourth.
MENTAL LAPSE LEADS TO TOUCHDOWN
Bengals start at their 10-yard line following Berry punt. On first down, Perine runs 14 yards. On the next play, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Cam Sutton forget that Tee Higgins is on the field. Burrow passes to the wide-open receiver who then races for 54 yards. And just like that the Bengals are in scoring position at the 22-yard line. Tyler Boyd gains five on a catch. Then Perine runs seven yards for a first down at the ten. Burrow misses Bernard on a pass. But Perine takes a handoff eight yards. On third and two, the defense chasing Burrow who throws it away to set up fourth down. Burrow hits Higgins on a quick slant for the touchdown. All the Steelers impressive defense in first quarter wasted by a coverage miscue at the start of the second quarter. Steelers lead now 12-7.
WATT SACKS HELP KEEP BENGALS SCORELESS REST OF HALF
The Steelers extend lead to 19-7. Burrow finds Higgins for 13 yards on second down. The Bengals seem to be targeting Joe Haden who made the tackle. Bengals reach 48-yard line on Boyd’s eight-yard catch. Bernard’s first down run negated by Alex Redmond caught holding. Burrows incomplete pass to Mike Thomas sets up third and 12. Bud Dupree rushing hard, and Higgins steps into T.J. Watt who sacks him for a four-yard loss. Bengals punt.
The Bengals get the ball back with 1:48 after Boswell put the Steelers up 22-7. They used their second timeout to ice Boswell so only have one remaining. Burrow throws four straight completions. Bernard for 13. Then Boyd gains five. Drew Sample adds nine and a first down. Finally, Higgins gains 16 and another first down. Then Bengals use their final timeout with 29 seconds left and the ball at the 35. Close to field goal range. A refreshed T.J. Watt sacks Burrow back at the 46-yard line. Burrow spikes the ball but just 12 seconds remain. An incomplete pass leaves six seconds. Burrow completes a 19-yard pass to Auden Tate, but the half is over. Steelers still up 22-7 with credit to Watt for pushing them out of field goal range and eating 17 precious seconds from the clock.
Steelers defense force Bengal to punt on first five drives. Allow one field goal and the Bengals surrender on final drive.
NFL OFFICIALS CALLS GO STEELERS WAY
The Bengals deferred the coin toss to receive the ball in the second half. Bernard gains 11 yards on first down from the 25. Burrow missed Higgins deep. A short pass to Bernard nets three with Haden tackling him. On third and seven, Haden breaks up a pass intended for Auden Tate. Haden playing lights out.
Bengals begin next drive at their ten after huge Berry punt. Bernard runs four yards. Then Higgins gains 13 on a Burrow pass. Watt comes in to limit Bernard to one yard. Burrow throws to Tyler Boyd on third and nine. He catches the ball, but referees say he was out of bounds. Bengals challenge the call. But the referees say the play stands and Cincinnati lose a timeout. Honestly, I thought he made the catch. I missed the explanation whether both feet did not land inbounds or if the ball was not secure. Regardless, I’m happy with the call.
The Bengals claim they forced McCloud to fumble on the ensuing punt. But the officials say his forward progress stopped and the play whistled dead. I can see where Bengals fans may be salty especially when the Steelers managed to strip the ball from a receiver, but he was still moving forward. Good call NFL officials!
STEELERS SHUT BENGALS DOWN AS LEAD BUILDS
The offense extends the Steelers lead to 29-7 with 4:22 left in third quarter. The Bengals call some plays to A.J. Green. He misses the pass on first down. Burrow overthrows Higgins on second down. Minkah in the vicinity for an interception but misses. Burrow goes back to Green who can’t keep both feet in on third down. Bengals punt.
Bengals start again with 2:11 left in third quarter. Drive goes nowhere. Perine gains six on first down but that’s it. An incompletion then Cam Sutton stops Tyler Boyd for no gain on third and four. Bengals punt.
The Bengals next possession is in the fourth quarter. Tyson Alualu stops Bernard for no gain. Burrow throws deep to Green, but the ball falls short. Does Burrow have a weak arm? The wind affects his passes more than Ben’s. On third down he throws in front of the sticks to Auden Tate. Bud Dupree tackles him five yards short of a first down. Bengals punt. The Steelers drive the stake in with another touchdown to make it 36-7.
BENGALS FLASH ON FAKE PUNT; SURRENDER IN END
With a 29-point lead and 10:31 left to play, a Steelers win was mostly assured. It seemed like the Bengals were bowing out with Burrow hobbled from running out of bounds earlier in the game. The Bengals start with two runs. Perine gained 12 on the first but just one on the second. Boyd gains three on a short pass. Then Bud Dupree sacks Burrow to make it fourth and 13. Punt return team on the field. The ball is snapped to the upback and Shawn Williams races for 39 yards before Ray-Ray tackles him. Instead of a tenth punt, the Bengals catch the Steelers flatfooted.
The Steelers in prevent defense so Bengals run. Perine gains 15 yards to the 12-yard line. Then Alex Highsmith drops Perine for a loss. On second and 11, Spillane sacks Burrow. The Bengals end up kicking a field goal on fourth and 17 with 5:09 left. A surrender.
The Bengals get the ball one more time with 2:35 left. Trayveon Williams runs the ball five straight times for 22 yards. I believe the Bengals still had two timeouts left but just wanted to get home. Avery Williamson records his first tackle wearing the black and gold on the penultimate play.
I break special teams play into six phases: Kickoffs, kickoff returns, punts, punt returns, field goal kicking and blocking field goals plus PAT attempts.
Chris Boswell kicked off eight times. Five kickoffs were touchbacks. Brandon Wilson returned three averaging 21 yards per return. Cam Sutton, Jaylen Samuels, and Jordan Dangerfield each tackled him before he reached the 25-yard line.
Former Steeler Randy Bullock (one game in 2016) kicked off three times. Ray-Ray McCloud returned the opening kickoff 16 yards to the Steelers 15. McCloud returned the second 23 yards to the 22-yard line. Bullock kicked pooched the last 51 yards and Ray-Ray managed just 10 yards to the 24. Although Steelers coverage much improved, Bengals neutralized Ray-Ray. Slight Advantage Bengals.
Jordan Berry punted seven times averaging 49.3 yards a punt. Alex Erickson returned Berry’s first punt 13 yards, but Derek Watt stood him up and Ola Adeniyi stripped the ball. Benny Snell recovered the fumble. His next punt down at the Bengal’s 12-yard line. The third fair caught at the 10. Berry’s fourth punt traveled 58 yards and Justin Layne timed Erickson’s catch perfectly tackling him for no gain. Another 58-yarder rolled into the end zone for a touchback. Jordan Berry nail a 62-yard punt downed at the Bengals three. His final punt only travelled 29 yards and downed at the Bengal 45, but the game was well in hand by then. Berry netted 44.6 yards a punt. Berry punted excellently.
Kevin Huber punted nine times averaging 44.6 yards per punt. Ray-Ray McCloud returned Huber’s second punt 15 yards into Bengals territory at the 46-yard line. James Pierre caught holding on a punt downed at the 36-yard line putting the ball back 10 more yards. Huber’s best punt went 50 yards going out of bounds at the 16. The Bengals thought they stripped McCloud after an eight-yard punt return in the second half, but the play whistled dead. McCloud almost broke free for a touchdown returning the ball 42 yards before going down at the 15-yard line. Huge play. Huber went back to punt a tenth time, but the ball was hiked to the upback. The Bengals converted a fourth and 13 on the 39-yard run. Steelers surprised again but really no impact on the game. The Bengals surrendered with a field goal. Advantage Steelers.
FIELD GOALS AND POINTS AFTER TDS
The Steelers unsuccessfully attempted a two-point conversion after their first touchdown. Chris Boswell three for three on the next three extra point attempts. Boswell opened the scoring with a 41-yard kick. He extended the score to 6-0 with a 30-yard chip shot. His final kick was a 45 yard near the end of the second half. Bullock made his only extra point attempt and kicked a 37-yard field goal when the Bengals were 29 points down. Advantage Steelers.
DAVE BRYAN’S VICTORY PUNCH LIST REVIEW
- Steelers play three or more wide receivers a lot. The passing schemes worked. Different receivers contributed when needed. Mission accomplished.
- Steelers rush for 150 yards. Steelers gained 44 yards. Enough said. Mission failure.
- Hold Tyler Boyd to six receptions under 70 yards. Boyd caught six passes but just gained 41 yards. Mission accomplished.
- Blitz early and often. Burrow not pressured too heavily at game start. But the stunts worked with Steelers sacking him four times and nine hits. Mission accomplished.
- Stop Bengals running game. The Bengals ran for 139 yards. If you erase the 39-yard fake punt run and the 22 yards on the last drive with Steelers in prevent defense the Bengals rush total drops to 78 yards. However, too many successful runs on first down. Mission failure.
YOUR HOT TAKES DURING THE GAME
FIRST HALF READER COMMENTS
Steelers Depot readers commented 1056 times on the game’s first half Live Update and Discussion Thread. Ross McCorkle kept us informed with live updates as we chirped our comments.
The Steelers scored on five of eight first half possessions. The defense held the Bengals to one score. But Burghers always find room for improvement. Just like I asked my son once when he showed me his report card with straight A’s. My question was, how come there are no A pluses?
The Steelers failure on running plays and third and short gained noticed. Connfyoozed had the “best” comment of the first half remarking, “Maybe the wind will blow Fichtner’s playbook away.” Thomas Johnson replied, “I’d be happy if it blew Conner north/south instead of to the sidelines…” Dante Parker added, “God Fichtner is 🗑” El Sweet Lee explained “Can we stop trying to make Conner run outside? He’s not that kind of back.”
But there were positive observations too. Nelsonator762 liked Ebron’s 24-yard reception: “I’ve been waiting for that throw to the TE down the seam all year”
Greg Payne identified a future offensive coordinator, “I told you – Ben talks to Dobbs and we score. Solution: Hire Dobbs as OC.” Alevin16 chimed in with “I hope Dobbs is telling Ben not to listen to that fat man in front of him.”
Yours truly even got a top comment with, “Good time for a turnover. Anyone hungry?” Greg Payne replied, “Starving.” The Steelers fed us a little. Two takeaways in the first half.
SECOND HALF READER COMMENTS
Comments drop to 767 in the 2nd half live discussion. Fans in a celebratory mood popping champagne in the fourth quarter instead of adding to the thread.
Stone Age Tone scored the best comment of the game. He likes JuJu’s nose for gaining first downs. “Man, JuJu IS Hines Ward, gotta find a way to keep him in Pittsburgh?”
Rob wryly scoffed at Ben’s performance. “Ben is holding this team back obviously.” Greg Payne agreed, “Worst 9-0 QB ever.” 😂🤣😂😭
Ddrews 1914 noted the offenses weak spot. “Glad we’re rolling but Steelers gotta fix the run game” Steely McBeam added “It speaks volumes that in short yardage situations they choose to pass”
CountryClub impressed with the defensive effort. “One blown coverage and one fake punt from a shutout. Pretty dominating day by the d.”
And I got on the board again. This Steelers team has its warts as all previous editions have. But folks the “Steelers 9-0 for first time in franchise history”
Aside from the running game, the offense looked good. Hard to fault scoring on seven of 14 possessions. Ben Roethlisberger managed the wind much better than Burrow. Not sure if it is a matter of arm strength or placement. The offense is effectively spreading the ball to the receivers. The Bengals pressured Ben a few times, but he avoided the sacks. A combination of good blocking and quick release. Craig Wolfley mentioned the lack of linemen using three-point stance on short yardage plays. He says you can gain much more leverage and power from the three point than the two point the linemen seem to favor.
The defense was strong. Stopping the Bengals on 13 third downs are impressive. Steelers used stunts to free up Watt for two sacks to limit the Bengals in the first half. Joe Haden broke up three third down passes. The defense only gave up 78 rushing yards if you deduct the 39-yard fake punt return and the 22 yards on the last drive when Steelers in prevent defense. The one miscue and it was huge was failing to cover Higgins on his 54-yard catch. That’s how quickly mistakes can turn a game. But the defense shut them down for the rest of the game and the offense kept scoring.
Special teams much improved from last week. The Bengals average starting position was their own 21-yard line while the Steelers average start at the 36. A special team’s turnover, Boswell nailing field goals in very windy conditions and Berry flipping the field with his punts. The unit fooled on the fake punt but the game out of reach by that time so not an egregious error.
Just hope the trend continues.
I pick two heroes this week. On offense it is Ben Roethlisberger once again. On a blustery day he passed the ball very well. The running game ran out of steam, so he just threw the ball. Picking the target who was open whether JuJu, Diontae, Chase or Ebron. James Washington had some big catches too. A couple near interceptions but mostly because the ball coming off receiver’s hands. I really liked his roll out to the right to find JuJu in the end zone. Bengal defense pressured him heavy twice, so he just gave himself more time. But then there was that bullet he fired to Claypool through several defenders. Way to step up and thread the needle.
On defense, I pick Joe Haden. Three pass break-ups on third downs. The Bengals punting instead of driving down the field. The Bengals targeted Haden and he stepped up and shut them down.
The Steelers train moving to Jacksonville next week. The only injury I heard was Trey Edmunds hamstring. Will learn more today during Mike Tomlin’s noon press conference. It was great getting Alualu back. Maybe Mike Hilton will be ready next week. He’s needed since right after the Jaguars game there is a short week until the Ravens come to two on Thanksgiving. Here we go.
YOUR MUSIC SELECTION
I always like to offer a music selection. The Steelers taught the Joe Burrow and the Bengals a lesson and now they are just Another Brick in the Wall by Pink Floyd.