For the past few years, I have wished that the Steelers could just forfeit the weeks they play the Bengals. Though they came out with a win that keeps them seeded number one in the AFC, it didn't come without a cost. Players on both sides got knocked out of this game - most notably Ryan Shazier.
It wasn't pretty by any means, and the Steelers struggled mightily at times. However, here are my winners and losers from Monday night's game against the Bengals:
The 'Killer B's' were everything they needed to be for the Steelers in this game. Though Ben seems to make one or two costly mistakes per game these days, he had a good showing overall and capped it off with a 17-point comeback win over the Bengals.
Brown and Bell were also heavily involved in the offense. Brown secured a couple tough catches including getting flattened as he caught a touchdown, and Bell churning out an extremely efficient effort in the passing game (5 of 6 for 106 yards and a touchdown).
Hilton has made this list just about every week for me. We can now say that he is one of the most consistent players on the entire team. Though a few members of the secondary struggled in this one, Hilton continues to show why he is the best piece the Steelers have in the defensive backfield. His 81.2 score from Pro Football Focus this week is nothing out of the norm. Rather, it's what we have come to expect.
Besides Hilton, Vince was probably the only other Steelers defender worth mentioning in this game. Unlike the rest of the unit, he was solid against the run and was the biggest play-maker on the defense this week with 9 tackles, a sack, a tackle for loss, and two quarterback hits.
Though Ben was under pressure at times, the offensive line actually played a decent game. Chris Hubbard held his own against a stingy Bengals defensive front and Roethlisberger was sacked just once. They also helped spring the rushing attack for 4.2 yards per carry.
The Steelers secondary was getting gashed by Dalton and company Monday night, but that really wasn't because of Burns. The second year corner pretty much shut down his side of the field as A.J. Green went to work against Sensabaugh. Not a flashy game by any means from Burns (2 tackles, 2 pass defenses), but it was the bounce-back effort he needed this week.
Here's a guy that you may have overlooked in the Steelers game, but almost equated for more yards than anyone not named Ben Roethlisberger. Though he compiled just 40 yards on 6 targets in the passing game, Martavis drew a pass interference deep down the field and had an excellent kick return for a touchdown get wiped away from a questionable call.
It doesn't show up in the stat sheet, but for the second week in a row, Martavis made the most out of limited opportunities.
In Conner's first carry of the game, he raced to the edge and dragged two tacklers at the end of the run on a 10 yard gain. Noticeably more explosive than Bell out of the backfield, Conner was given just three consecutive touches before the Steelers elected to go with the former All-Pro back for the remainder of the game.
Still, it's hard not to like what you see from him, even if I you can count his touches on one hand each game.
I've said it before, but people don't realize how good Mike Mitchell is until he's replaced with a player like Golden. The veteran safety was constantly out of position or late getting to the ball. This resulted in a number of sizable gains, including one that was fortunately wiped away by a Bengals penalty.
With Mitchell out, the Steelers have a hole at the safety position in Golden.
Sensabaugh has had a rough couple of weeks. He allowed a pair of touchdown catches to A.J. Green and barely made any positive plays worth noting. It's typically not a good sign when a cornerback leads your team in solo tackles (6 against the Bengals), and that certainly holds true this game.
Sensabaugh was benched late in the game in favor of rookie Cameron Sutton.
It's not that Shazier's play before his injury warranted a spot in the losers column. He's here because of the injury he suffered. Injuries dealing with the back/spine are nothing to be taken lightly. For a man who has played his heart out this season and has been on the field almost the entire time, I really feel for him.
Don't fool yourself into thinking that Dupree played well because of the cleanup sack he got late in the game. The truth is (as much as I hate to admit it), Dupree has been lousy from a pass-rush standpoint. Though he has five sacks to his name on the season, he gets very few that come from truly beating his man.
Dupree still hasn't developed many moves as an edge rusher. The Steelers will have a decision to make when it comes to his fifth year option.
You have to feel bad for Dirty Red. Shazier was carted off and he was thrown into the fire against the most violent team in the league in his first real NFL action. However, before sustaining a shoulder injury, Matakevich was struggling. The Bengals were chewing up yards on the ground. It's uncertain when he will return to the field, but if he does soon, he's going to need to step up his game.
I get really frustrated with players who get nearly as many penalties as snaps in a game. Wilcox was bad in this one. Not only did he fail to record a stat against the Bengals, he was called for two penalties - one of which was on a kick return for a touchdown.
The defensive line struggled in both phases this game. They were bad against the run most of the game, and they couldn't get pressure against the quarterback. Dalton had a nice pocket throughout the contest, and it nearly costed the Steelers a victory this week.
Yes, Pittsburgh came away with a win, but the Steelers are the real losers this game. Their best defender went down with what appeared to be a fairly serious back injury and JuJu Smith-Schuster may get slapped with a suspension this week for his hit on Vontaze Burfict.
The Steelers chances for the first seed in the AFC ultimately hinges on the New England game, but if they are missing Shazier, their chances just went down the tubes. Another Bengals game, another crucial player injured from the Steelers.