Steelers Vs. Bengals Week 11 Recap: With PFF Total Snaps & Grades

The Pittsburgh Steelers are now a painful 3-7 on the season, following an optimistic start by the offense (20 first half points) but unfortunately going M.I.A. in the second half, along with the defense allowing a whopping 37 points in the 30-37 divisional loss. In this article I will provide data from Pro Football Focus and takeaways from watching the film.

Let’s start with the offense:

PFF’s highest graded player was running back Jaylen Warren (80.3) with a nine-yard reception from the slot with YAC for the third down conversion on only three snaps. Two other players had 70+ grades, starting with tight end Pat Freiermuth (74.6), reeling in eight of his 12 targets for 79 yards but no touchdowns. Guard Kevin Dotson (73) is the other, and I agree it was one of his better games. Good to see running back Najee Harris (68) on the top right on another strong performance including two touchdowns. The only player below a 50 grade for this week was wide receiver Steven Sims (43), who had zero catches on two targets, and a jet sweep that was dropped for a loss of three. Mostly agree with the grades, but thought the tackles struggled would have been fair to grade them a bit lower with how poor their second halves were. Quarterback Kenny Pickett (55.9) had some good moments in the first half especially including some encouraging throws and routes that continued to develop for wide receiver George Pickens (65.5) including a touchdown, but also dropped a good throw on an explosive opportunity late in the game. Pickett still struggled with consistency in a tale of two halves, and while he didn’t throw an interception there were opportunities to, and important to note he was sacked two times as opposed to six in each of the last two games, which I find impressive with how much he was running for his life in the second half especially.

Pittsburgh’s offense came on at 12:57 in poor field position from their own five-yard line, where Pickett took the shotgun snap and unleashing the pass quickly to Harris in the flat, who fought but was ridden out of bounds for only one yard. On second and nine Harris got another touch, this on a run where the offensive line blocked well, but the free linebacker met him in the backfield where he muscled forward for the positive gain of two. Third and seven now, and tackle Chukwuma Okorafor lost the edge in pass pro, where Pickett was able to get it out to wide receiver George Pickens on the short curl, but tackled immediately short of the sticks for only four yards and quick three and out. Steelers three and out.

The offense returned at 8:47 down by three with a Harris run, finding a bit of space between good blocks from tight end Zach Gentry and tackle Dan Moore, with the defensive back came up to tackle the successful gain of five yards and noted Dotson ending up on the ground. On second and five, Pickett took the shotgun snap and had time on the drop back, getting the pass off despite late pressure and quarterback hit on a loop from the defensive lineman, finding Pickens on the over route in just enough time for the catch and nice explosive gain of 22 yards before the immediate tackle.

The following first down was back to Harris on the ground, getting three yards up the middle behind good collective blocks but met in the hole quickly by the linebacker. On second and seven, Pickett took the shotgun snap and faked the jet handoff to wide receiver Diontae Johnson, then shoveled the pass to Gentry behind Dotson who pulled, who failed to block the edge rusher who wrapped him up quickly behind the line for a loss of one. Third and a long eight now, and Warren motioned from the backfield to the slot, then Pickett took the shotgun snap and got him the pass quickly on the move amongst pressure due to a poor chip from Gentry, making the catch on the out route in front of the linebacker and getting the necessary YAC for the first down.

Continuing on another first down, Harris got another three-yard gain on the ground thanks to space created on the left side (Moore, Dotson, and center Mason Cole), but guard James Daniels and Okorafor allowing their men to converge for the tackle. On second and seven, Sims went in motion and Pickett play actioned to Harris, rolling right looking and looking down field but Johnson and Gentry were covered well and throws it away, and noted Okorafor getting a pancake block behind the play along with fullback Derek Watt leaking out after a block and an open option. Third and seven now, and Pickett takes the shotgun snap and targets Harris quickly from the backfield on the wheel route, but unable to make the play on a good back shoulder throw that falls incomplete with the edge rusher in good coverage. Drive stalls, but able to get points on the field goal to tie it up.

With good field position and 31 seconds left in the first quarter, Sims goes in motion on the read option where Pickett keeps and appears Johnson was his first read who was open, instead progressing and targeting Pickens on the post route but was a bit behind and undercut by good coverage and almost picked off. On second and ten, Harris got the carry with reverse action from Pickens behind it, but a free linebacker and safety easily tackle the run for only three yards.

Yet another long third down and seven this time to start the second quarter, and Freiermuth finds space between zone defenders at the sticks, turning for the quick target from Pickett for the catch and a bit of YAC for 13 yards. This nice play was followed by another on a Harris read option handoff, where Dotson created great space on his block along with a good seal from Daniels to free him, along with a nice cut to elude a defender on the seven-yard run. On second and three, Pittsburgh used a diamond formation (three running backs including Sims and Freiermuth next to Pickett in the shotgun with Harris aligned behind him), running a read option and keeps to the right, and while the fake was good, two defenders converged with one due to zero blocking effort from Johnson forcing the slide down for no gain. Third and three now, and it’s another read option, but the lineman commits to Harris this time on the keeper, creating space to the edge along with a nice block by Freiermuth on a cornerback for an easy conversion and more down the sideline for 14 yards.

This set up first down from the red zone, an Achilles heel as of late, and Pickett stands in with a good pocket from the o-line and finds Freiermuth wide open over the middle just past the sticks on a good read, but the pass is behind and out of his reach an incompletion, wincing missed opportunity. On second and ten, it was back to Harris on a stretch run where Gentry and Pickens sealed the edge well on their blocks, along with a defender slipping freed up space to roam and with one man to beat, leaps over him with the hurdle and soaring in for the longest touchdown of the season (19 yards)! Very encouraging to see Harris back in the end zone, and it’s all tied up again.

The offense returned with 6:34 left in the second quarter with good field position again, and Pickett drops back from shotgun with Cole pushed back, but gets the pass to Freiermuth on the over route, hitting in the hands for a catchable ball (though he could have led him more) but defended well by the safety and falls incomplete. Another run on second and long, and Dotson gets pushed back initially forcing Harris to cutback, then wins late blocking his man to the ground allowing the bounce out but Freiermuth allowing his man to tackle along with Moore unable to land the second level block on the four-yard gain. Third and six now, and Pickett targets Freiermuth on the out past the sticks, drawing the defensive holding at the break point to move the chains.

The following first down was back to Harris on the ground, able to cut outside good blocks from Genty and Freiermuth, but Dotson and Moore allowed their men free to tackle the successful gain of six. On second and four, it was Harris again for another successful run of three yards on a toss to the right with good blocks from Gentry, Okorafor, and Cole along with Derek Watt on a lead block and slithering inside Daniels block to set up third and short. Third and one to be exact, and Johnson gets his first touch finally on a jet sweep behind a Derek Watt block from a tight end alignment, cutting inside of it to pick up just enough for the conversion.

The drive continued with a Pickett drop back, stepping up and unleashing a rare deep shot (50+ air yards) looking for Pickens who got open on the double move to the endzone, but falls down trying to adjust to the throw that was behind, and unfortunately it wouldn’t have standed anyway with Moore getting beat and penalized for a hold (noted Daniels was also beat). First and 20 now, and in running back Benny Snell’s first offensive snaps of the season (Warren injured in-game) allows a push by the blitzer who got his hands up on Pickett throw to Johnson, who stopped on a drag route in open space over the middle for his first catch, adding a bit of YAC on the eight-yard pickup. On second and 12 it was Johnson again, a quick throw, out route, and tackle for seven yards. Third and five now, and the quick pass game continued with Pickett targeting Pickens on the slot fade (good route variety for him), which drew the pass interference on former Steeler cornerback Mike Hilton, the second Bengals penalty allowing a conversion and third of the drive. Harris then ran for one yard due to Okorafor missing his block, which took the clock down to the two-minute warning.

12th play of the drive at the two-minute warning, and Johnson sat on his drag route identical to his last catch, but the unfortunate running backwards we’ve grown accustomed to, falling on his back on the gain of five. Third and four now from the red zone with 1:52 till halftime, and untimely hair-pulling false penalty in the situation from Pickett (a quarterback false start, really?!) setting up third and nine. Pittsburgh had trips to the right, with good route concepts and Pickett able to get the pass off despite Moore getting beat around the edge along with Daniels late and beat on the twist allowing the quarterback hit, showing good pocket presence laying it out for Pickens who ran the corner route from out wide, who got open for the easy catch and waltz in 24-yard explosive touchdown! Encouragingly two consecutive scoring drives with each being the longest touchdowns to date, capitalizing on good field position, and Bengals penalties to tie the game before the half.

One more opportunity with 31 seconds before halftime off the defensive takeaway, and unforced errors continue with a Johnson false start setting up first and 15, and notably center J.C. Hassenauer came in for Cole who was injured. Pickett found Harris on the dump off short over the middle, churning and spinning through defenders for YAC on the gain of 12. After Pittsburgh’s first timeout, second and three was a target to Freiermuth despite Hassenauer and Dotson allowing a defender to split them for the quarterback hit, able to complete it on the out route that got out of bounds with 18 seconds left. Freiermuth was the man again on first and ten, finding a soft spot as Pickett stepped up for the catch and grown man YAC breaking two tackles and dragging multiple defenders for the 27-yard explosive play, and timeout two taken by the Steelers with nine seconds left.  From the red zone on first down, Moore was beat badly to the inside forcing a quick off-balance throw from Pickett to Harris in the flat, tackled in bounds and the Steelers take their final timeout. Unfortunately no touchdown here, but great to get the field goal going into halftime to score again (23 points which is the most in any game this season!) and taking the three-point lead going into the locker room.

The offense got the ball to start the second half, and Pickett faked to Harris then got it out quick to Johnson on the screen with Freiermuth blocking out in front, losing the block along with the former running right into the defender limiting the gain to one yard. On second and nine, Harris got the handoff (another run on second and long, hmm) where Moore lost his block to the inside forcing the bounce out, and Derek Watt also losing on the pull from a tight end alignment allowing the combined run stop with an unblocked edge rusher for no gain. Third and nine now, and Pickett targets Sims on the deep over route but the pass out ahead and incomplete, with Moore allowing the rusher to bear down around the edge. Quick three and out, lead still three.

At 11:44 in the third quarter the offense returned at their own nine-yard line to a Harris run where Moore allowed his man to control the block and cut him off, though he was able to cut inside for a positive churning gain of three yards. On second and seven, Freiermuth took the screen pass, but Moore was unable to connect on his block in front allowing the tackle on the gain of three. Third and four now, and Moore was bullied back on Pickett’s dropback forcing the scramble drill, where Freiermuth worked back toward him on the sideline and leaped for the high pass on the run, exposing him to a big hit that shook him up, forcing another three and out. Lead is still three.

Pittsburgh’s offense returned with 6:56 in the quarter and down by four now, and started with a jet sweep to Sims that did not fool the linebacker of outside corner to that side, both coming unblocked to blow the play up for a loss of three. On second and 13, Pickett took the shotgun snap and was antsy in the pocket, running himself into trouble on the throwaway out of bounds. Third and 13 now, and Pickett takes the shotgun snap where Moore was ridden back on the blindside but gets the pass out to Gentry on the stop route but well short of the sticks and tackled quickly for the third straight three and out in a row. Offense very stale in the second half, deficit still four.

Returning after one defensive play with amazing field position, and Pickett aggressively targets Gentry in the end zone but overthrows him, and thankfully it’s not intercepted, going off the safety’s hand incomplete. On second and ten, it’s predictably a run (very common theme) with Harris where Moore sealed his man in the backfield, along with the rest of the o-line connecting fairly well, and Sims landing a block from the slot, but the defender stayed on his feet to combine for the tackle with the free defensive back to tackle the gain of six. Third and four now from the red zone, and Pickett stands tall in the collapsing pocket, targeting Johnson on the shallow over route, but the pass is off target low and behind for an incompletion. Fourth consecutive three and out and can’t capitalize on great field position with a touchdown off the takeaway, but take the points with a field goal to cut the deficit to one.

With 25 seconds left in the third quarter and down by four, the offense began with a successful run despite Okorafor losing his block to the outside, and great cut by Harris to elude the tackler behind the line on the bounce out, and churns through the hit for the positive gain.

The drive continued on second and five to start the fourth quarter, and it was Harris again behind good o-line blocks with Moore and Dotson creating a gap, but Olszewski pushed back into it quickly allowing the run stop of only one yard. Third and four now, and the offense finally gets something going in the second half with a deep shot to Pickens, who juked at the line then stacked vertically on the outside on a great throw and catch for and explosive gain of 33 yards! The following first down was a flea flicker, but has no chance with Gentry losing his block around the edge which blows up the play and forces Pickett into his third throwaway. On second and ten, Harris is run stuffed for a loss of two with Daniels missing the block against the linebacker who shot into the backfield for the tackle. Third and 12 now, and Moore is beat badly around the edge allowing pressure that Pickett is able to duck out of, but the edge rusher from the opposite side came free and is right there for the sack, along with Dotson pancaked to the ground at the end. Terribly ugly sequence stalling the drive following the much-needed spark on the explosive play. Down four still.

With good field position at 11:34 and the same score, Harris provided a solid run behind good collective blocking, hitting the hole between Daniels and Dotson, then cutting around Hassenauer’s second level block, picking up a healthy 13 yards. The following first down dampened things with a holding penalty on Freiermuth, setting up first and 20. Another unfortunate shot to the other foot here on back-to-back penalties, this one on Hassenauer for an ineligible man downfield, a penalty that has plagued this team all season, and to top it off Pickett shows the handoff to no one as Harris immediately goes to pass block. UGLY.

Moving back again for first and 25, and the discouragement continues with Pickett overthrowing Harris on the dump off, falling incomplete. On second and 25, Moore is pushed back once again and allows his man to hit Pickett as he threw, targeting Olszewski short on the incompletion. Third and a long 25 now, and they go delayed handoff with Harris, who is able to elude a couple tackles but forced to the sideline for only seven yards, forcing the punt and hoping for the defense to come up big and play the field position game. Tiresome inconsistency and unreliability on offense.

4:25 left and down by 11 now, Pickett looks right then left and sees the pressure allowed by Moore coming and is able to elude and roll left, but can’t find anyone open and throws it away for the fourth time of the game! On second and ten Pickett targets Freiermuth, but it’s on a short catch with an immediate hit that launches him backward and then is tackled for only a one-yard gain. Third and nine with the game on the line, and dumbfoundingly Okorafor allows the edge rusher a free get off then tries to recover, and does thanks to Pickett’s eluding ability, targeting Sims who catches it but is unable to toe tap along the sideline on the late throw. Last chance on fourth and nine, and Okorafor is extremely late and allows the looping pass rusher around the edge, and Pickett is under duress once again, hit on the throw towards Freiermuth and Pickens that sails over their heads out of bounds. Turnover on downs, game technically over. Excruciating.

With the deficit at 14 now, 3:13 left, and no timeouts, Pickett drops back, and Moore is pushed back easily and allows the sack. When it rains it pours. On second and 16, Pickett is able to get this pass to Freiermuth on the stop route for a gain of nine. Third and seven now, and with Cincinnati playing off given the situation, Pickett finds Harris on the dump off and YAC for 11 yards and the first down. The following first down was another Freiermuth reception, this one for nine yards.

At the two-minute warning, it’s second and one and Pickett tries a deep shot to Pickens, a great throw past two defenders and hits him in the hands, but dropped on a would-be touchdown, what a huge miss that recaps the second half frustrations for the offense. Third and one now, and Pickett connects with Freiermuth for a nine-yard gain. On first and ten, Pickett has to elude once again due to pressure allowed by Okorafor and Daniels and is able to find Olszewski deep on the run for the explosive catch and 31-yard gain, where the Bengals interestingly call timeout. First and goal now, and Pickett throws with the pocket collapsing once again (Moore, Okorafor, Daniels), this one over the middle to the end zone in double coverage that is nearly intercepted and tipped in the air, and Olszewski able to corral his deflected target on a diving effort at the one-yard line, trying to get back up to punch it in but hit quickly to no avail. On second and goal from the one with 47 seconds left, Harris takes the handoff and leaps over the pile to cut the deficit to seven. Time is low and no timeouts, and the onside kick fails, so Cincinnati kneels it out for the heartbreaking loss.

Now for the defense:

PFF’s highest graded player was edge rusher T.J. Watt (83.1), highlighted by an insane interception at the line of scrimmage along with three tackles, pressures, and a bat. The rest of the 70+ grades are all defensive lineman as well: Montravius Adams (82.8), Cameron Heyward (80.4), and Chris Wormley (70.7), with Larry Ogunjobi just missing the mark (69.7) against his former team. Several players below the line this week as expected, and the ones below 50 include linebacker Robert Spillane (48.9), cornerback Arthur Maulet (41.7), and defensive lineman Tyson Alualu (41.3). Largely agree with the grades this week, but thought edge rusher Alex Highsmith would have been a bit higher.

Pittsburgh’s defense took the field first, and faced a Mixon run on first down where Ogunjobi closed the designed run lane, which allowed a cutback lane for positive yards with linebackers Myles Jack (worked off block well) and Devin Bush (stayed clean aligning out with a receiver) combined for the tackle of four yards. On second and six, Cincinnati was hit with a false start penalty setting up second and 11. Mixon got another look here with a delayed handoff, and Bush stayed clean once again to get to him first, along with Watt working back inside to tackle the three-yard gain. Third and eight now, Ogunjobi and Highsmith got a good push as quarterback Joe Burrow unleashed his first throw, a bit long to tight end Hayden Hurst, unable to reel it in off his fingertip with safety Minkah Fitzpatrick in tight trail coverage, and fellow safety Damontae Kazee in the area off the deflection but no dice with the pass falling incomplete. Steelers start with a three and out.

The defense returned at 11:03 with the scoreboard empty, Hurst was able to separate on an angle route against Jack, faking him out of his boots and catching the short pass in the wide-open middle of the field for explosive YAC (highlighted this concern in my outlook), for a 21-yard gain where Maulet and Jack finally combined on the tackle. The following first down was back to Mixon on the ground, where Ogunjobi and fellow defensive lineman Cameron Heyward were each double teamed creating a lane, and Watt was able to work off the tight ends block to tackle the three-yard gain. On second and seven Watt was impactful once again, initially working the edge then winning inside on his pass rush to get in Burrow’s face and bat the pass intended for wide receiver Tyler Boyd. Third and seven now, and linebacker Robert Spillane was aligned over the center on the snap and pushed back on the run block, but was able to work off late to combine for the tackle with Fitzpatrick, who was lurking over the middle and shot down to combine for the tackle short of the sticks on the short drive. The three-safety package our own Dave Bryan has been talking about pays off early, but Cincinnati does get the field goal off the good field position and explosive play. Steelers down three.

With 4:30 left in the first quarter, the defense returned to a Mixon run where Heyward won inside the rookie lineman easily, then accelerated to meet him before he could get going for the tackle and loss of two. On second and 12, edge rusher Malik Reed got around the edge encouraging Burrow to step up initially wanting to scramble with space in front, but sees Mixon open on his swing route behind the line and made a cut to force missed tackle opportunities by Maulet and Spillane, but great pursuit by Heyward to make a consecutive tackle just short of the sticks on the gain of 11. Third and one now, and unfortunate facemask penalty on Spillane as he shot in for the would be tackle short of the sticks, instead moving the chains.

The following first down Highsmith and Ogunjobi got a good push in their pass rush and noted Reed blocked to the ground, with Burrow able to find the stutter drag route where Bush did a great job staying in trail position and there to make the solid tackle in space as the wide receiver backtracked for only one yard. On second and nine Cincinnati went empty, and Burrow found Mixon who was split out wide on the in route open over the middle along with YAC on another explosive play for the Bengals, a gain of 24 where safety Terrell Edmunds was finally able to make the tackle.

Third first down of the drive, and Mixon got the handoff where defensive lineman Chris Wormley had a great long arm and work to him for the run stop of only one yard. On second and nine, Burrow invited the pass rush of Watt and Jamir towards him, setting up the screen where Wormley and fellow d-lineman Tyson Alualu were out of position as well, along with Bush losing his balance and falling in pursuit (perhaps blocked in the back), allowing Perine to get up the sideline with blocks in front on Fitzpatrick and cornerback Levi Wallace to waltz in untouched for the touchdown. Too easy, Pittsburgh down by seven.

The defense returned at 12:58 in the second quarter with the Bengals pinned back at the eight-yard line, and started out facing a Mixon run where the pulling lineman connected his block on Watt aiding the positive gain, and good job by Spillane to stay clean and make the tackle but a successful gain of four. On second and six, Highsmith nearly got to Burrow around the edge prompting him to step up, and good play by Watt to work off the block and pursue the scramble for two yards on the tackle along with Jack coming in for the hit (needs to be careful, arguably could have been a late hit). Third and four now, and Burrow surveys and gets the pass off despite a good push from Heyward and Watt skying up in hopes of the batted pass, finding wide receiver Tee Higgins on the over route, who got a step on Edmunds along with YAC before he could tackle him out of bounds on the 24-yard explosive play and conversion.

The drive continued with another Higgins target, this one on a stop route in front of Maulet who allowed the churn for six yards and noted Heyward getting another good push on the quick throw. On second and four, Higgins got his third straight target on another quick throw on an intermediate out against cornerback Cameron Sutton who allowed the catch but tackled him quick on the gain of 13. Burrow took the shotgun snap on the following first down, continuing with the quick pass game to Mixon open on the dump off over the middle, and good reaction by Jack to get there to tackle the seven-yard gain. On second and three, Mixon got the handoff where Watt and Spillane were washed inside allowing the lane, and Wallace got off the block setting the edge to make the tackle, but a seven-yard gain.

Yet another first down, and the Bengals go back to the air and good hands win by Ogunjobi to the inside for the quarterback hit, but Burrow able to find Perine on the short target with Wallace and Jack combining for the tackle off their zone drops on the gain of six. On second and four, Higgins got open on the stop route for his fourth catch of the drive, with YAC due to cushion from Sutton’s drop but tackles the 12-yard gain. This set Cincinnati up in the red zone, where Burrow surveyed and found Perine on the swing route, where Spillane got to him but missed the tackle just past the line of scrimmage, tight roping the sideline and gets in for the 11-yard score before Fitzpatrick and Edmunds could make the hit. Second receiving touchdown for Perine, and running back passes are killing the defense as I was worried about before the game (even without Mixon, who was injured and did not return), as well as Higgins on a 90-yard drive. Down by seven again.

With 1:42 until halftime, the defense dropped in zone given the situation, and Highsmith getting enough of a push for Burrow to roll right, and with good coverage and Watt closing in throws the ball away. On second and ten, Burrow targeted Higgins over the middle in front of Maulet with Fitzpatrick seeing it but a tick late in attempts to undercut it, caught past the sticks and churning through the formers tackle for 17.

The following first down Pittsburgh brought the blitz, with Spillane pushing Perine back and getting his hands in Burrow’s face to rush the throw, floated and out of reach for Boyd. On second and ten, and with ample time in the pocket the Burrow/Higgins connection continued, with the latter jumping for the extended catch for 12 yards and shaken up on the hit by Sutton. On the next first down, Watt won the edge and rushed Burrow’s throw with the quarterback hit on the out route incomplete to Boyd. On second and 10, Burrow targeted Hurst on the short pass, and Pittsburgh brought five men on the rush with Spillane looping behind Watt to get the tipped pass, and Wallace getting a big takeaway on the diving interception! Great play to as Cincinnati was nearing scoring position with 35 second left.

At 13:27, the defense returned to an empty set and gets the pass to Higgins on the slant who got behind/past Bush in coverage along with YAC due to a poor angle from Wallace for 16 yards where Jack made the tackle. The following first down was a fade route that was rushed due to Maulet closing in on the corner blitz, and good pass breakup by Wallace along with contesting his second effort to ensure the incompletion. On second and ten, Highsmith looped inside on the pass rush, able to come in clean along with Watt winning inside his block to sandwich Burrow on the simultaneous hit and the former wrapping him up for the combined sack. Third and 16 now, and Heyward got a great push aggressively rocking his blocker back and winning inside for the big quarterback hit, throwing it away for to end the drive quickly, and the quiet pass rush finally showing up on back-to-back plays. Lead is still three.

With the scoreboard the same and 10:07 in the third quarter, Perine got the stretch run on first down with seemingly nowhere to go with a good push from Highsmith and Jack/Sutton on the edge, but the former was unable to get off his block in time on the cutback, and awesome punch from Bush to pancake the lineman to the ground and combine for the tackle with Watt who stayed clean in pursuit from the backside on the five yard gain. On second and five, Pittsburgh brought five with Jack on the blitz, able to win inside the blocker and get his hand up for the batted pass and incompletion on the target to Higgins. Third and five now, and Burrow found Hurst in front/between Spillane and Kazee in zone just shy of the sticks, but allowing the first down as they combined to the tackle the seven-yard gain.

The drive continued with a successful Perine run where Alualu was washed out creating a big hole, with lineman connecting second level blocks on Jack and Bush, and with the latter and Reed working off to combine for the tackle but a gain of eight. On second and two, Burrow found Higgins who beat Wallace handily inside, catching the deep target down the sideline and a bit of YAC before he could catch up and push him out bounds at the six-yard line on the huge 33-yard explosive play, ouch.

On first and goal, Highsmith darted into the backfield aggressively pursuing and wrapping up the back, prompting Burrow to keep on the read option with space due to Bush blocked back on the lineman’s second level block, but good reaction from Fitzpatrick to set the edge and work off the block along with Heyward in pursuit to combine for the touchdown saving tackle, but a gain of five to the one-yard line. On second and goal, Burrow slides right off the snap with Bush and Wormley in pursuit, and though the pass was a bit behind the receiver on the corner route, he makes the catch with Maulet beat and a fraction late on the hit allowing the touchdown. Coverage issues for Wallace and Maulet loom large, and now trail by four.

Pittsburgh’s defense returned at 5:27 and still down by four, and Burrow targets Boyd on the slant with Watt showing great timing to leap, get his hands up, and amazingly get his hands on the pass at the line and secure the immediate interception! WOW, what a play!

With the takeaway only netting a feel goal despite great field position, the defense returned to a poor field position themselves at 4:22. Burrow dropped back on first down, and with Maulet coming free on the blitz throws it away. On second and ten, and despite Highsmith winning inside on the spin move, Burrow gets it to Higgins on the in route against Maulet just short of the sticks, who allowed a bit of separation to get the needed YAC and more on the 15-yard chain mover.

The following first down was a run with Perine, where Watt, Highsmith, and Edmunds all got into the backfield encouraging the straight ahead run, where Heyward worked off his block well along with Jack staying clean to meet him at the line for no gain. On second and ten, Watt wins around the edge along with Wormley getting penetration, but Burrow splits between them on the missed sack opportunity, and gets Edmunds to pursue him on the scramble, freeing up the receiver for the open reception with Fitzpatrick and Spillane getting there quickly to stand him up just short of the sticks on the nine-yard gain. Third and one now, and Perine gets the carry and is able to pick up the one yard needed for the conversion with Adams washed out, with Jack and Heyward able to get the combined tackle but a tick late.

First down again, and Burrow tries the short target to Higgins to no avail.  Highsmith gets the edge but is pushed past the pocket on his rush, along with Ogunjobi getting a good push, and best of all Alualu gets another batted pass for the defense on second and ten. Third and ten now, and Heyward provides a dominant push, and Burrow tries to elude but sheds the block for the big situational sack! This forced Cincinnati to settle for a long field goal, but Steelers down by four again.

The defense returned with 12:31 left and the scoreboard the same, enjoying a Bengals false start penalty right away the set up first and 15. Cincinnati ran it here from their own five-yard line, where Fitzpatrick set the edge aggressively in the backfield directing Perine up field with Jack there to meet him for the tackle of only two yards. On second and 13, and throws it toward the sideline and incomplete with the receiver continuing to run vertical on the miscommunication falling incomplete. Third and 13 now, and Highsmith twists inside and gets a free path to pressure Burrow’s throw to Boyd on the sideline, out of his reach on the back shoulder target with Wallace in coverage. Big stand here to get the ball back to the offense with good field position likely.

Pittsburgh’s defense returned at 9:33 in the fourth quarter, bringing the blitz to no avail as Burrow unleashes to Boyd deep to the left, making the explosive back shoulder leaping catch against Maulet for the 27-yard gain, ouch. The bleeding didn’t stop there, with Burrow connecting on the out route just past the sticks on the following first down, with Wallace in coverage, taking a poor angle as he allows the receiver to cut inside instead of forcing him out of bounds along the sideline, getting huge YAC for back-to-back explosive plays, this one a gain of 32, face palm. Third first down in a row, and they go to the ground and good run stop from Adams who pushed the blocker directly toward Perine in the backfield, dropping him for a loss of two. This set up second and 12, but Burrow is able to move the chains, connecting once again to Boyd on the 15-yard gain with Maulet in allowing the catch and churn past the sticks on the tackle.

The drive continued on first and ten, and the backup running back gets the carry and hits the hole between Alualu and Highsmith, getting to the sideline for an eight-yard gain before Jack could make the tackle. Now in the red zone on second and two, Perine came back on and got his turn, finding space behind a double team/combo block on Highsmith and Jack, with Alualu pursuing to combing with Bush to tackle the five-yard gain. On first and goal, it’s a Perine carry up the middle for two yards this time, with Bush in on a consecutive tackle along with Ogunjobi. On second and goal, Perine gets the swing pass which Jack recognizes quickly, but the receivers slant route acts as a pick and is unable to get the angle, and Wallace slow to react, getting to him on the tackle attempt but churns across the front corner of the end zone for his THIRD receiving touchdown. The Bengals moved the ball with ease for their second 90-yard drive (93), and RB receiving the defenses kryptonite even with Mixon out. Gut wrenching after being such a close game throughout. Down by 11.

The defense came on one last time with 3:35 with the offense unable to do anything with all three timeouts still. The Bengals predictably run it, getting two yards with Adams and Heyward combining for the tackle. Timeout #1. On second and eight, this run went for a loss of one thanks to the tackle by Spillane. Timeout #2. On third and nine, Wormley and Watt combined to tackle the run for only one yard, and Pittsburgh takes their final timeout to get the offense the ball back. Cincinnati makes the field goal to extend the lead to 14 though.

The defense returned on last time with the deficit now seven, but time is low (47 seconds) and no timeouts, so Cincinnati kneels it out for the heartbreaking loss.

Let’s look at special teams:

PFF’s top graded special teamer in Marcus Allen (72.7) with 2.5 tackles in this facet of the game. The only other player with a 70+ grade is punter Pressley Harvin (70.2 punt grade), which was actually his highest grade of the season with six attempts. Three players with below 50 grades, Kazee (45.9), Maulet (40), and Pickens (29.7) with his one snap coming on the onside recovery attempt where he was disqualified.

Kicker Matthew Wright kicked things off, sending the pun intended kickoff to only the nine-yard line, and was blocked well by Cincinnati for a 29-yard return right out of the gate, where James Pierre tackled him out of bounds. The Bengals punted on their first drive that went three and out, traveling to the seven-yard line where Sims misjudged and muffed it, recovering in the endzone but thankfully able to bring it out for to the five-yard line. Tough start for Pittsburgh’s special teams. Punter Pressley Harvin came on at 11:15 for his first opportunity, starting things off with a booming 56-yard punt to the 32-yard line, where the returner caught and tight roped along the sideline where Pierre and Miles Killebrew directed him on their angles for an 11-yard return where Marcus Allen was able to force him out.

At 8:54 in the first quarter down by three, Sims got a kick return opportunity, fielding it at the 13 yard-line and getting a nice 22-yard return behind good blocks from Connor Heyward, Myles Boykin, and Warren to work up the sideline for some redemption following the muffed punt. At 4:41 in the first quarter, Wright made his first field goal attempt from 42 to tie the game at three. His following kickoff was a better one, traveling to the one but Connor Heyward, Derek Watt, and Killebrew were blocked up the middle, Kazee set the edge, and thankfully the returner didn’t cutback sooner with space as Maulet made the tackle. At 39 seconds in the first quarter down seven, Sims fields the kickoff from the seven and provides another strong return, this one for 37 yards thanks to a particularly good block from Olszewski, along with Tre Norwood and Benny Snell.

With 12:58 in the second quarter and the game tied again, Wright kicked off to the four-yard line with the return going 12 yards and Jones making the tackle, and Cincinnati caught for a defensive holding that set them back at the eight-yard line. At 6:38 with and down by seven again, Sims fielded the kickoff from the nine-yard line for a 26-yard return with an impressive hurdle over a Snell block, then Derek Watt and Connor Heyward getting a double team block, along with Norwood providing a good one as well. Following the offenses second touchdown, the extra point unit had a head-scratching delay of game penalty before connecting to tie the game. The following kickoff went to the three-yard line and returned for 21 yards where Connor Heyward and Allen combined for the tackle. With three seconds before halftime, Wright was able to connect on the 30-yard field goal that stayed just within the right upright to put the Steelers up by three.

Harvin came out following a quick three and out to start the second half, with a good high punt of 48 yards to the 26-yard line that limited the return to only four yards, with Spillane working off the block to make the tackle. Sims got another punt return at 11:55 in the third quarter, with the booming 57-yard punt fielded at the three-yard line, where the unit failed to connect on blocks overall, on a limited return of only six yards. Harvin was back out quickly at 10:07 following another three and out, this one a poor short punt that was illegally signaled for a fair catch off the bounce, adding some needed yardage on the five-yard penalty. At 7:02 and down four now, Sims fielded the kickoff from the seven-yard line and gets 17 yards on the return where Olszewski and Connor Heyward blocks lacking push and allowing the tackle.

Harvin came out again at 6:09 in the third quarter on a busy night, with a long 54-yard punt here to the 16-yard line, and great tackle by Allen for a return of only seven. Wright made his third field goal attempt from 34 yards out with 4:32 in the third quarter, cutting the deficit to one in a much better outing this week. He sent the following kickoff to the one-yard line, with the returner finding daylight between blocks on Norwood and Killebrew, getting up the sideline where Snell and Allen were blocked further downfield, and finally Wright makes the tackle on the long return to the 42-yard line, ouch. Sims next kickoff return came from the four-yard line, this one an 18-yard return where he was able to juke the first defender, but not the second as he was tripped up.

With 12:38 in the fourth quarter still down by four, Harvin punted it on fourth and 22, a good 41-yarder forcing a fair catch at the ten-yard line where James Pierre and Olszewski pressured the decision getting downfield as the gunners. At 11:41, Cincinnati punted 40 yards from deep in their own territory, with Sims fair catching it near mid-field and good field position for the offense. Another punt at 9:39 with the offense unable to do anything yet again, and good job by Harvin on the 35-yard punt that pins the Bengals at the seven-yard line on the fair catch. With 4:30 left in the game down by 11 now, Sims fields the kickoff from the 15-yard line, and returns it for only 12 yards, with Cincinnati keeping him close to the sidelines with good coverage. With 3:18 left and the game all but over, Sims fields the kickoff from the six-yard line, and able to get it to the 28-yard line. With 44 seconds left, Pittsburgh attempted the onside kick down seven, and it goes right to Boyd and the game over. Pain.


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