The Pittsburgh Steelers took a huge step forward Sunday night toward righting the ship on their season, but they did it in a way that I don’t think most expected. The NFL is funny like that, but for one week, I’ll take it.
Going into last night’s game with the Cincinnati Bengals most pundits, myself included assumed it would take quarterback Ben Roethlisberger chucking the football all over the field if they hoped to win. In the pregame former head coach Herm Edwards said he would have to throw it 50 times for them to win. And while Roethlisberger did attempt 37 passes for nearly 300 yards, it was the commitment to the run game, especially in the 2nd half have that won the day.
In the first half the Steelers wide receivers, especially Mike Wallace were bothered by drops and caused more than one drive to stall out. This Bengals capitalized on those mistakes and it was looking grim for the Black and Gold. But rather than force the issue, they were smart, patient, and took what they Bengals gave them.
But the Steelers were able to tie it up at halftime and when they returned from the lockers, they came out running. Literally. Something that was said at the half clicked for the offensive line and reserve running back Jonathan Dwyer pressed into duty due to injuries. Dwyer ran hard, breaking tackles, showing a nice burst and finishing runs. And the vaunted Bengals defensive line got pushed around by a patchwork Steelers unit.
On defense is was less about what they did do, and more about what they didn’t. As in didn’t allow Bengals wide receive AJ Green to have a good game. In fact in the entire game, where he was covered primarily by Steelers corner Ike Taylor, Green caught exactly 1 ball. Taylor was dreadful last week, getting some awful pass interference penalties, but on Sunday night he was great. Even on the touchdown pass where he was in coverage he did about as well as can be expected, especially when you assume you have safety help to the inside.
All in all, while this game didn’t go according to the script as I thought it would, it was a tremendous effort by all 3 phases of the Steelers squad. They were balanced on offense, stout on defense, rock solid in special teams, and even when they made mistakes(1 interception and 1 fumble, along with 5 penalties), they didn’t let them ruin their effort and intensity. They kept their heads up and continued to play hard. This isn’t something I have seen all season. It’s also worth noting that offensive coordinator Todd Haley had a really nice gameplan. He did a very good job using what talent he had on the line and maximizing their opportunities to be successful. He didn’t ask young players to do too much, and counted on his veterans to pick them up. It was a great team effort.
One final note on the defense. They didn’t make any real spectacular players aside from the interception and a fumble, but even when they gave up yards you could tell that they didn’t panic. They still tackled well, stuck to their assignments, and anytime you play sound fundamentals and smart assignment football, you put yourself in a position to win the game. With the injuries, this may be the formula all season long.
The Steelers get no breaks this week as they invite the Washington Redskins to town, but for today Steelers can enjoy what was their most impressive all round performance of the season. Now, they just need to keep it up.
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