Winners and losers from the Pittsburgh Steelers 36-10 win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.
Ben Roethlisberger – Another game where Roethlisberger was brilliant. And the Steelers needed him to be. With the run game invisible for the fourth straight game, the offense rest on Roethlisberger’s well-rested shoulders. Lack of practice time didn’t hurt him one bit. After a slow start, Roethlisberger heated up and ran the pass game masterfully, picking apart the Bengals’ zone coverage and attacking their backup CBs against man. Can’t say enough but the job he’s doing with his mind more than anything, though his short/intermediate throws still have lots of zip.
Diontae Johnson – Tip of the hat to the whole receiver group today. But Sunday was Johnson’s turn to pace the group. A top-tier route runner, he sold a double-move on his 46 yard catch down the left sideline. That was followed up by a nifty snag on a slant for a touchdown, seeing the ball only a moment before it hit his hands.
Special Teams – Complete turnaround from last week. Strong in almost every area. Ola Adeniyi has been phased out of the OLB rotation but is making plays on special teams, kicking things off this week with a forced fumble on the team’s first punt. Chris Boswell did a great job in windy conditions, Jordan Berry feels like a new man, and the coverage units were sound, too. Ray-Ray McCloud had a long punt return that nearly went the distance. Only negative marks here were some below average snaps by Kameron Canaday. Berry did a good job to bail him out. And that fake punt with the game in-hand.
Joe Haden – Maybe Haden’s best game of the season today. Sticky in man coverage, competitive at the catch point (two breakups) and his usual, solid tackling self. Haden isn’t the athlete he used to be but he’s a fearless player with a tremendous football IQ.
Cam Sutton – Who had Cam Sutton down for three forced fumbles this season? How about one in three straight games? First Steelers DB to do it since Lee Flowers in 2000, his punch out was recovered by Steven Nelson. Unfortunately, didn’t result in points for the Steelers but a big play nonetheless. Tyler Boyd gave him some fits in coverage but Sutton held his own and has really improved as a tackler.
TJ Watt – You get two sacks, you get on this list. Thems the rules. Watt wasn’t as dominant as some other games against the Bengals but the box score looks pretty. He continues to ascend every sack chart out there.
Chase Claypool – Score two touchdowns, you get on this list (see the above rules). Claypool didn’t quite connect on the deep ball but showed toughness to go over the middle on both his TDs. He’s up to nine this season, well on track to break the team record of 11.
Run Game – Running out of ways to describe how bad this unit has been. Running out of explanations and solutions. Facing the NFL’s worst-ranked run defense, the run game when nowhere. Blocking up front got no push, James Conner probably had a bad read or two, and they were one-dimensional – again – with the pass game. I don’t know how to fix it. But it’s a rushing attack averaging around 3.0 YPC the last month. This team’s capable of running the ball. They started the year ending games with the ground attack. Just not executing now.
Justin Layne – To his credit, he had a tremendous tackle on special teams. But he’s on this list for losing out a spot on the Steelers’ dime defense. Antoine Brooks didn’t play his role as the RCB but he got the nod over him as the 6th DB in that package. With Mike Hilton hopefully coming back by next week, Layne may not play another defensive snap this season.
Derek Watt – Watt could be one-and-done in Pittsburgh. Not only for the inability to stay healthy but on the field, he’s struggled. Still doing a good-enough job on special teams but he’s struggling as a lead blocker. Whiffed twice on gap runs that went nowhere. Steelers would save $1.6 million by moving on in the offseason.
Alejandro Villanueva – A “light” loser for this list. Had a tough matchup against Carl Lawson, the Bengals’ lone pass rush threat, and had his hands full. Allowed a couple pressures though no sacks. So at least there’s that.