Steelers Vs. Bengals Week 12 Recap: PFF Total Snaps & Grades

The Pittsburgh Steelers got down big early and could never recover, losing their second game of the season to the Cincinnati Bengals in a disastrous 41-10 crucial loss and dropping to a 5-5-1 record. In this article I will provide data from Pro Football Focus and takeaways from watching the film.

Let’s start with the offense:

Pretty ugly grades from PFF to match the performance with 12 of 18 players grading 60 or below! Wide receiver Diontae Johnson had the best grade at 79.8 along with tackle Chukwuma Okofafor, guard B.J. Finney (high grade IMO), and tight end Pat Freiermuth with 70+ grades.

The Steelers offense came out for their first drive with 9:24 on the clock down by seven, opening with a nice play action rollout from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger finding Johnson on the crossing route and 11-yard catch. Running back Najee Harris got his first carry, going for three yards with good blocks from tight end Zach Gentry and Finney, who started at guard (over Joe Haeg) with Kevin Dotson and J.C. Hassenauer out for the game, but center Kendrick Green got beat allowing the tackle. On second and seven tackles Dan Moore and Okorafor got beat forcing Roethlisberger to step up and got the pass off deep to wide receiver Chase Claypool, but a huge early miscue when he continued a go route allowing the shorter back shoulder throw leading to an interception and big 40-yard return! Steelers down seven.

With 6:01 left in the first quarter Pittsburgh’s offense returned down by ten, with Roethlisberger going right back to the deep ball to Claypool following the interception and this time connecting for an explosive play on the 41-yard gain! The Steelers brought out Zach Banner as an extra lineman the following first down, electing to play action pass but the Steelers were penalized for an illegal formation negating a good separation route and catch from wide receiver Diontae Johnson.

This set up first and 15 where running back Benny Snell got the carry but Finney was unable to second level block Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson who made the tackle for only a yard, and found it interesting running back Anthony McFarland was lined up at tight end then went in motion. On second and 14 Cincinnati was called for offsides giving the Steelers a more manageable second and nine. Roethlisberger surveyed then checked the pass down to Harris despite Finney being pushed back into him on the short catch and tackle for no gain. Third and nine now, and Johnson runs a great short in route and good move for yards after catch and the first down!

The drive sputtered here with three straight incompletions. On first down, Roethlisberger play actioned then looked for the screen pass but was well covered by the defensive lineman and throws it away incomplete. On second and ten Gentry got caught up on the line then couldn’t make the back shoulder catch with the defensive back pressuring. Third and ten now, Roethlisberger targets Claypool deep right in the end zone but Claypool fell on the opportunity. Unfortunate sputter but came away with the field goal, Steelers down by seven.

The offense returned with 14:15 in the second quarter, guard Trai Turner, Okorafor, Gentry, and Freiermuth blocked well but Harris couldn’t elude the defensive back coming in free and making the tackle on the gain of two. On second and eight it was Harris on the ground again, this time Gentry couldn’t quite get to the second level on Wilson resulting in a short one-yard gain. Third and seven now, the Bengals blitzed with the linebacker (nearly getting to Roethlisberger) and the safety getting absolutely leveled on the pass block by Harris, where Freiermuth caught the short target in the flat making a defensive back miss for the yards after catch needed for the first down! Good play and conversion.

Continuing the drive on first down, Roethlisberger play actioned and booted to the right where he found Claypool open over the middle slipping out of a tackle on the 11-yard gain. Snell got another carry here on first down, with Green getting push off the line for space on the four-yard successful run. On second and six, Roethlisberger targeted Johnson deep right but threw inside against tight coverage incomplete where the only shot was outside. Third and six now, where Claypool and fellow wide receiver Anthony Miller nearly collide but Roethlisberger finds the latter on the drag route with an incredible catch low and in front with one hand on a sprint, but unfortunately couldn’t elude the swarm of defense on the two-yard gain and third down fail. Steelers punt still down by 14.

With 2:43 left in the half and down by 21, Freiermuth got pushed inside on his block on the Harris carry, where he made a good move to bounce outside then spin inside to gain five yards on the successful run. On second and five, the offensive line got good overall blocks, but Wilson worked off Finney’s block for the tackle along with former Steelers cornerback Mike Hilton on Harris’ gain of four. This set up third and one, Roethlisberger pumps then retriggers to Claypool open on the slant, but the ball bounced off his hands several times and a drop and halting the drive. Steelers down 21.

The Steelers came back with 37 seconds left off the interception by Fitzpatrick, with Moore getting pushed back and Roethlisberger’s short armed throw to wide receiver James Washington is under cut by Hilton and is intercepted right back, and also heartbreakingly returned for a 21-yard touchdown! Unbelievable, Steelers can’t score and allow another by the Bengals, down huge by 28 before halftime!

Getting the ball right back off the pick six, Roethlisberger targets Harris on a quick out from the slot but he dropped the pass. On second and six Roethlisberger pumps, waits and Turner falls of his block allowing the sack where the Steelers let the clock run down. Shocking, disappointing first half with poor overall play in all three phases.

Pittsburgh got the ball to start the third quarter, beginning with a run where the defender pushed Green off his block getting to Harris behind the line, but he churned for extra yards on the gain of three. On second and seven Roethlisberger targeted Harris quickly on the dump off but thrown high and off his hand incomplete. Third and seven now, and despite Moore getting beat Roethlisberger got the pass to Johnson on the out route for an amazing catch with the defender in great position on the 15-yard gain! Roethlisberger went back to Johnson on first down on a quick out route but fell incomplete with tight coverage again. On second and ten Washington ran a short in route from the slot, getting the target but tackled quickly for only three yards. Third and seven now, and Roethlisberger gets antsy in the pocket and steps up into the sack leading to another punt. Pittsburgh still trails by 28.

With 8:27 in the third quarter, running back Kalen Ballage got the carry with good collective blocks including a pulling block by Gentry on the five-yard gain. On second and five, Johnson caught the open target on the drag route forcing a missed tackle by Wilson and getting the first down and more for ten yards. Roethlisberger threw quick to Ballage who dropped the pass in the flat and likely would have been tackled for a loss if caught. On second and ten, Harris ran a short out from the backfield and cutting inside to stiff arm and elude tackles for a good 12-yard gain. Roethlisberger pumps and steps back into the sack/fumble by Bengals Trey Hendrickson who bent the arc around Moore and recovered by Cincinnati! Third turnover for Pittsburgh and Roethlisberger’s arm was hit hard. Still down by 28.

The offense returned with 2:35 left in the third quarter, Green worked to the second level blocking but allowing a defender to come unblocked for the tackle on the Harris run for no gain. On second and ten, Roethlisberger targeted Johnson on the screen but was another miscue low and ahead falling incomplete. Third and ten now, and Roethlisberger went for the checkdown to Harris who unfortunately lost his balance only able to gain three. Would have liked to see Pittsburgh go for it down by 31, but instead a three and out punt.

With 13:05 left in the game and down by 38 points, the Steelers understandably came out passing targeting Claypool on first down thrown low and behind incomplete. On second down Johnson ran a slant and the pass hit his hands then was dropped/knocked lose by the defender and incomplete. Third and ten now, where Turner and Okorafor allowed penetration, but Roethlisberger got the deep pass off to Claypool who was able to go up and get it for the 30-yard explosive catch! On the following first down Harris got the successful carry slicing between Finney and Moore blocks and fighting for four yards. On second and six Claypool was penalized on a 15-yard personal foul pulling the players facemask, negating a first down Johnson catch and adding insult to injury. This set up second and 21 where Roethlisberger had quality time to find Claypool coming back to him but dropped another pass. Third and 21 now, Roethlisberger throws well short of the first to Freiermuth tackled for only nine yards. Steelers punt with game out of hand, still no touchdowns for Pittsburgh in the game.

The offense came back with 6:11 on the clock with the same score with Roethlisberger finding Johnson over the middle on an in route for a 16-yard gain. The following first down McFarland got the carry with some room created by Finney, Moore, and Freiermuth for a three-yard gain. On second and seven Green had a poor snap that Roethlisberger was able to pick up and throw away where Okorafor was penalized as an ineligible receiver downfield, but Cincinnati declined setting up third and seven. Despite Moore being pushed back, Roethlisberger was able to slide and throw to Johnson who originally ran in but broke his route to the outside for space on the 13-yard gain and first down. McFarland got the carry here, but no hole to be found with Turner and Finney both pulling in opposite directions and colliding resulting in the loss of one. Roethlisberger was then able to find Freiermuth on the stick route short of the sticks and tackled short setting up third and two. Roethlisberger looked right then came back to Johnson on the in route for the open catch and first down for six yards. On first down Johnson got another catch for eight yards this time, a double move getting back to the outside and yards after for the eight-yard gain. This set up second and two from the red zone, where Freiermuth sold a short route then re-accelerated to get past the defensive back and great throw by Roethlisberger to get it there before the safety could get there for the impressive touchdown catch! Very disappointing it took this long to score a touchdown, but we needed something encouraging in this game full of disappointments. Steelers deficit now 31.

One last appearance from the offense with 1:47 left, with Ballage getting the short catch and fighting for six yards. On second and four, Ballage got the carry this time with good collective blocks and Finney getting a pancake for the gain of 12. Johnson got the target on the following first down for five yards, running away from defenders to the sideline and gain of five. Ballage got the carry on second and five with a good punch from Gentry but his man able to make the tackle on the gain of three. Third and two with 27 second left, with Gentry wide open in the flat and room for yards after catch on the gain of ten and conversion. Roethlisberger then targeted Johnson deep but the pass through the hands and nearly picked off by the defender, then the safety hitting Johnson hard at the catch point on the incompletion. Roethlisberger threw short to the wide-open McFarland who was able to gain 11, staying inbounds and running the clock to the end of the game. Lack of points, turnovers, and struggling to keep drives alive big keys to the devastating loss.

Now for the defense:

PFF was nicer with their grades than I would have been for the defense for many of the top of the graph players. Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick topped the grades at 89.9 along with 70+ grades from linebacker Derrek Tuszka, defensive lineman Isaiahh Loudermilk and Chris Wormley, and defensive backs Tre Norwood and Terrell Edmunds (the latter having one of the better games of the bunch IMO). Agreed largely with the Steelers lowest grades, with five players below 50 grades, including three off ball linebackers (Spillane, Schobert, and Bush with a 27.4!) along with cornerback James Pierre (getting more snaps with Joe Haden out) and defensive lineman Daniel Archibong.

The Steelers defense came out to start the game, and linebackers T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith dropped into coverage with the latter making the tackle on a dump off pass from Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow to running back Joe Mixon for five yards. On second and five they went right back to Mixon, and on his first carry gains an explosive 25 yards with linebacker Devin Bush unable to get off the block in the gap with Fitzpatrick eventually making the tackle. The following first down Watt lined up off ball over center and clogged the middle followed by Edmunds making a hit along with defensive lineman Henry Mondeaux combining for the tackle. On second and seven, cornerback Cam Sutton was penalized for a weak pass interference call setting up a first down.

Bush came up to the line late here and was offsides on the snap, but the Bengals were able to decline due to him losing the angle on Mixon in the backfield and allowing more yardage on the seven-yard run where linebacker Joe Schobert made the tackle. On second and three linebacker Robert Spillane came in for Bush, filling an initially open gap forcing Mixon inside on the rush for two yards where defensive lineman Cameron Heyward fought through traffic for the tackle. Third and one now, and the Bengals line up with extra lineman who blocked well on the run behind the motioning tight end, taking out Spillane and Schobert but the latter combining on the tackle on the allowed first down with cornerback James Pierre.

The drive continued with a nice swipe move around the edge by Watt but Burrow able to get the pass to Bengals receiver Tyler Boyd for nine yards who created good separation on cornerback Arthur Maulet. On second and one in the red zone, Mixon got the carry to the left where Highsmith and Edmunds were sealed on the edge along with Wormley and Loudermilk being blocked back/to the ground then Schobert a diving miss with finally Spillane pushing him out on the gain of six. Mixon followed that up with a nice cut back run that nearly broke, but good play by Wormley getting off the block to limit the gain to three on the tackle. On second and seven Highsmith won inside on his pass rush, but Burrow spun out of the pocket to his left and scrambled to open field where he was able to force a missed tackle on Fitzpatrick for the diving touchdown. Bengals march down the field facing only one third down, weak Steelers run defense and down by seven early.

Pittsburgh’s defense had to return quickly in a bad position after Roethlisberger’s interception, first and goal from their own five-yard line to a Mixon run for two yards with Wormley pushed back but combining with Bush on the tackle. On second and goal Sutton pursued well around the edge, combining with Edmunds on the tackle. Third and goal now, the Bengals play action and Maulet provided a good blitz around Mixon’s pass block forcing Burrow to step up into overall good defensive line push and Wormley benefiting on the sack! Good drive holding Cincinnati out of the end zone here, field goal’s good Steelers down by ten.

With 2:17 left in the first quarter, Mixon got the carry to the left with Wormley getting blocked to the ground but Edmunds coming downhill for a good hit combining to make the stop on the gain of six. On second and four Burrow hit the screen to the running back out wide, able to get past Highsmith and Sutton allowing the first down, but Heyward and Schobert pursued well to make the tackle. On first down the Bengals went play action which pulled up the Steelers linebackers, allowing the open spot for the reception to Higgins over the middle for 16 yards where Fitzpatrick made the tackle. To close the first quarter, Burrow found Boyd on the short stick route and a gain of four where Maulet made a nice aggressive tackle.

The drive continued to start the second quarter, on second and six wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase motioned from the backfield then made his first catch on the swing pass off play action, with Maulet pushing the blocker back nearly getting him in the backfield but instead good yards after behind a good block on Sutton and eventual tackle by Fitzpatrick. On the following first down Burrow found Higgins deep to the right in the end zone where Pierre got turned around at the catch point allowing the 32-yard explosive touchdown. 6/6 successful plays on the drive for the Bengals, Steelers trail by 14.

The defense returned with 10:18 in the second quarter, another screen to Chase with Sutton missing the tackle and Edmunds steering him out of bounds but a gain of 11. Mixon got the carry here on first down where Highsmith was sealed but Heyward did a good job working down the line to make the tackle along with Schobert on the gain of four. On second and six, great collective pass rush from Wormley, Watt, Highsmith, Bush coming on the blitz, with Heyward getting the sack! Third and 12 now, and Pierre allowed separation to Higgins on his breaking route on the sideline getting his feet inbounds for the 16-yard gain allowing a long third down conversion! Loudermilk and Tuszka got pushed back on the first down Mixon run getting outside for five yards where Schobert worked off his block to make the tackle. On second and five Burrow faked the toss then bootlegged right to throw deep but overthrown with Pierre in good coverage. Third and five now, Watt twisted on an inside pass rush getting his hands in the pass lane but Bengals tight end C.J. Uzomah caught the out route on Sutton for seven yards, Steelers allow another third down conversion.

The drive then continued with the Pittsburgh defense allowing three big successful Mixon runs, the first a nine-yard cutback into a hole from defensive lineman Daniel Archibong being washed out with Highsmith and Fitzpatrick on the tackle. On second and one, Schobert aggressively shot inside opening another big hole for the cutback and gain of eight with Fitzpatrick on the tackle but first down. The third big run in a row was a draw that held the Steelers defense with Wormley and Heyward allowing a big hole in the middle and Schobert eventually working off his block to tackle the nine-yard gain, and already over 100 yards rushing!

The Pittsburgh defense finally provided good penetrating run defense with Loudermilk getting a strong push redirecting Mixon inside where Schobert reacted quickly staying clean to make the tackle for no gain. Third and one now, and Schobert nearly made another at/behind the line tackle but missed allowing Mixon an eight-yard gain, plus Pierre was penalized for a low block setting the Bengals up in the red zone on the six-yard line. Burrow took the shotgun snap and toss to Mixon who got outside with Maulet being pancaked for what was originally called a touchdown but was reviewed with Sutton reacting late but able to tackle him just short. This was short lived considering the next try got over the goal line with Mixon fighting through Schobert’s low tackle attempt, Steelers down by 21!

The last defensive possession of the first half came with 1:48 left on the clock, Burrow connected with Higgins on a good post route in between Pierre and Bush for the 15-yard gain with Edmunds coming from the deep middle for the tackle. The following pass went to Higgins as well, with Pierre allowing separation on his stick route on back-to-back big plays for the sixteen-yard gain! Pierre covered Higgins off the snap here, but got turned around when Burrow threw the out route to Uzomah with space, but did push him out on the six-yard gain. On second and four with the Bengals in field goal range, they went with Mixon on the delayed handoff for eight where Wormley pushed upfield out of the play and Watt and Schobert being blocked well, the latter on the tackle. Mixon got a delayed screen with Schobert dropping in a zone to that side and Bush running quickly to the sideline, and the former pushing him out for no gain. Cincinnati was then penalized for offensive pass interference on Chase, taking away a diving Boyd catch against Maulet, setting up second and 20. Burrow targeted Higgins deep here against Pierre and Fitzpatrick made an excellent play from center field reading Burrow’s eyes and getting the interception on the slight overthrow and great job staying in bounds to add an 18-yard return! Great and much needed turnover, still down 21.

With 12:11 in the third quarter, the defense came out to more running game with a strong nine-yarder from Mixon through a hole created between Heyward and Highsmith and Schobert blocked inside with Maulet eventually making the tackle. On second and one Watt and Bush were sealed on the four-yard run play where Fitzpatrick reacted well combining with Maulet on the tackle. Third straight run for Mixon here on first down, this time Schobert set the edge well and Highsmith did a great job getting off the block to make the tackle for a loss of one! On second and 11 the defensive line got a good overall push with Watt twisting inside and Burrow hitting the tight end screen to Uzomah and a great read by Edmunds for another tackle for a loss of four. Third and 15 now, and Burrow sticks with the short passing game to Mixon but Schobert had good coverage and the tackle for no gain forcing Cincinnati’s first punt of the game! Great final three plays, tightening up for no yards allowed, down by 28.

Still no points from the offense, and with 6:23 the defense began with a good pursuit by Watt down the line of scrimmage to tackle the Mixon run for no gain. On second and nine, an odd play that started well with Highsmith getting in the passing lane of the screen and getting his hands on the pass but bobbling the would-be interception several times before Mixon took the catch away from him, but a loss of seven yards. Another big play Pittsburgh couldn’t capitalize on. Third and 17 now, and the defense allowed plenty of time for Burrow to find Chase between Sutton, Schobert, and cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon making the stop short of the first down, also upheld on the Bengals challenge setting up fourth and one. Heyward got pushed back on the Mixon run here but was able to get off the block and combining for the tackle with Wormley but allowing the fourth down conversion!

On first down Loudermilk worked down the line and Highsmith off the edge to join on the run stop for one yard by Mixon! On second and nine Burrow wanted Higgins on the target but Loudermilk reacted well getting his hands off for the tipped pass falling incomplete! Third and nine now, Pittsburgh provided good coverage forcing Burrow to hold the pass and rollout due to pressure from Watt and eventually throwing it away with Heyward and Highsmith pursuing. Defense holds Cincinnati to a field goal, Steelers in a huge 31-point deficit.

The defense returned with 1:07 left in the third quarter still down by 31, and Pittsburgh did good plugging holes on the Mixon run to the left, but he bounced it back to the right juking Pierre to elude him inside for a huge 32-yard gain along the sideline where Edmunds pushed him out. Another run to end the quarter, this time Maulet came on a slot corner blitz to make the tackle along with linebacker Taco Charlton.

The drive continued to start the fourth quarter, and on second and nine and Pittsburgh playing way off in coverage allowing the short catch to the running back but 12-yard catch and run before Bush and Fitzpatrick could make the tackle and Heyward falling to the ground on his rush. This set the Bengals up with a first down in the red zone, where Pittsburgh’s front all went for the Mixon play action, where Burrow rolled to his left and threw a great pass to Higgins with Pierre making the tackle just short of the goal line which was upheld on Cincinnati’s second failed challenge. First and goal on the one, and Mixon was able to punch it in on the ground with Schobert blocked out of the gap and Watt unable to make the play. Steelers down an unbelievable 38 points.

The Bengals sat Burrow and Mixon when Pittsburgh’s defense returned with the same deficit and 10:36 left in the game, and first down started with a holding penalty on Cincinnati setting up first and 13. The run here was stopped by Schobert and Heyward on the short gain of two. On second and 11 Heyward got off his block to combine with Tuszka on the stop for three yards. Third and eight now, and they are content staying on the ground as expected, but Watt faked inside and giving up the edge on the diving miss with Fitzpatrick finally making the stop after 13 yards. Maulet came on a slot corner blitz on first down, tracking the run from behind for the tackle on the two-yard gain. On second and eight a similar result with the run going for three yards and Maulet on the corner blitz making the tackle with Mondeaux in on the play as well. Third and five now, where Witherspoon provided good tight coverage breaking up the pass on the route at the sticks forcing the punt.

The last possession for the defense started with 2:56 left, with good run defense from Tuszka getting behind the line but stiff armed with Norwood finishing the tackle. On second and 12 Cincinnati play actioned and rolled out with their backup quarterback who slid down in front of Witherspoon for the loss of one. Third and 13 now, and the Bengals with nice pursuit from Charlton on the tackle and third down stop on the gain of three.  Three and out to end a painful outing for the Steelers defense, especially allowing so many rushing yards in the crushing loss.

Last let’s look at special teams:

Snell, Marcus Allen, and Derek Watt toped the special teams grades along with Ballage and Gentry with 70+ grades. Sutton looks lonely at the bottom, with a 30.8 grade and only special teamer below 50!

Following the opening drive touchdown by the Bengals, McFarland took his first kickoff (replacing Ray-Ray McCloud out on the COVID list) from the end zone to the 23-yard line. Kicker Chris Boswell made his first and only field goal, barley sneaking inside the upright from 40 yards out with 2:21 left in the first quarter. Pressley Harvin’s first punt was a short 31 yarder that was fair caught at only the 16-yard line. Harvin’s second punt went 37 yards, high and short to the 29-yard line for the fair catch. McFarland returned a kickoff at the end of the first half from the six with good collective blocks to get outside for 24 yards.

Harvin’s third punt came early in the third quarter, a 42 yarder to the 16-yard line that was returned for 17 yards with Maulet, Marcus Allen, and Tuszka all having opportunities and Snell finally pushing him out of bounds. Towards the end of the third quarter, Harvin had another short punt for 38 yards to the 35-yard line, but the bright side was Derek Watt’s great tackle for no gain. McFarland had a kick return from the end zone early fourth quarter, gaining 23 yards with Watt not connecting on his block allowing the tackle. Harvin had a better 42-yard punt in the fourth quarter, bouncing and staying out of the end zone where Ulysees Gilbert downed it at the seven-yard line. Sutton’s first returnable punt (in for McCloud) was mid fourth quarter from the 28-yard line only able to gain three yards basically just falling forward. Justin Layne made a kickoff coverage play on the Bengals returner, who caught it off the bounce in the end zone and deciding late to return it for only ten yards, with Layne pushing him out. Sutton got his final punt return with 1:55 left but fell to make the catch for no gain.


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