The Steelers’ 24-17 win over Cincinnati may have started out poorly, but Pittsburgh came to life in the second half to record a crucial win on Sunday.
Despite allowing 17 points, the defense submitted one of its best efforts of the season, letting up just 185 total yards as they dominated the Bengals down the stretch.
The team certainly looked like it didn’t want this win at times; the Steelers were penalized five times for 50 yards and turned the ball over twice, both of which were game highs, yet they still managed to pull out the win.
Although the early turnovers were costly, it was the penalties that were the real killer. Despite the phenomenal return efforts of both Chris Rainey and Antonio Brown, the special teams unit regularly incurred holding penalties that forced the team to start from the 10-yard line or worse when the returner advanced the ball out to midfield.
There was definitely some shoddy refereeing at play here, considering that a blatant case of fair catch interference on Antonio Brown went uncalled by the officials, but that sort of execution can’t continue against teams that are better than Cincy.
Despite these issues, the running game and offensive line were so good that these weaknesses ultimately didn’t matter. With Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman, Maurkice Pouncey, and Marcus Gilbert all out of the starting lineup, I thought that this would be another game in which Ben would be the sole source of offense.
Instead, Jonathan Dwyer ran for a remarkable 122 yards, with many coming on crucial third downs and on the last few clock-killing drives of the game.
The line had a shaky start, with the forced fumble standing as the most notable example of their early issues, but they really came together as a unit as the game progressed. For once, it seemed like Ben had plenty of time to throw and wasn’t constantly running for his life, and holes in the running game stayed open for more than a few milliseconds.
Rookie right tackle Mike Adams really impressed me, as did both starting guards. It was a nice change from the usual frustration Adams inspired in the preseason, and it definitely gives me hope that he isn’t a lost cause after all.
Antonio Brown and Heath Miller were back to their usual excellent selves as well, but Mike Wallace had another uneven game. He tied a career high with eight catches, but they were for just 52 yards, and he was targeted a total of 15 times, with some really egregious drops.
Wallace may be feeling the residual effects of missing all of training camp still, but at this point, I’m just wondering if this is the norm for him. He’s looking for a big extension in the offseason, whether it’s from the Steelers or someone else, but playing like this isn’t going to get him one.
As good as the offense was at times, it was the defense’s remarkable consistency that was really impressive. Lawrence Timmons has kept up the momentum he established in the Eagles game, while LaMarr Woodley was a pleasant sight to see back in the lineup.
Ziggy Hood also really stood out to me. He only had four tackles, but what really stood out was the two passes defended he notched, one of which led to the interception. J.J. Watt has been busy proving in Houston that the new breed of 3-4 defensive ends can be a factor in the passing game too, and if Hood can come even close to Watt’s level of play, this defense can be a real factor again.
Cincinnati definitely doesn’t seem like the stiffest competition, but a win is a win, especially on the road and in the division. Next up comes Washington, and while facing Robert Griffin III will be the defense’s toughest test yet, the win last night gives me confidence that they’ll be able to handle it.
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