Likes and Dislikes: Bengals vs. Steelers

Every Monday Morning Quarterback fears the hangover of a Steelers Sunday: fear no more, as the Steelers are back in the driver’s seat, and pushing for not only a playoff spot, but possibly the AFC North crown.

But it didn’t always look that way…

With three quarters gone in Cincinnati, the Steelers were still trying to find themselves. Te secondary was getting burned for easy scores, and the Steelers offense was plodding around. Entering the 4th quarter, Pittsburgh failed to capitalize on a 53 yard Le’Veon Bell scamper, settling for 3 points 9 yards from the goal line.

Then Andy Dalton became the Bengals worst enemy again, fumbling on a read-option play, with the ball recovered by Arthur Moats. The Steelers didn’t look back, scoring an additional 22 points en route to a 25 point 4th quarter.

Overall, the game was more a chess match, as the Steelers and Bengals traded pieces until the 4th. Every Steeler fan sat in anticipation, awaiting what would be either an explosion or an implosion, depending on which Pittsburgh team showed up to finish out the game.

Possibly helping matters, CB Ike Taylor was injured in the 2nd half and replaced by Brice McCain and Antwon Blake. The latter 2 players were not burned for large gains, as Taylor was early on (despite playing as much as 10 yards off of his opponent at the line of scrimmage.)

While Blake and McCain may not be the long-term answer to the Steelers secondary, their play enabled the Steelers front 7 to capitalize enough to stuff the run and pressure Dalton. The return of Steve McLendon and the push by Stephon Tuitt (in his first start) appear to give the team the rotation they’ve been seeking on the defensive line. Daniel McCullers came in a few times to spell McLendon, and the squeaky wheel, Cam Thomas, is “less squeaky” while spelling his teammates on the end, rather than the middle.

I enjoyed watching Vince Williams on the field, who saw a lot of time all over. He first lined up on the outside, as James Harrison was out with an injury, and Jarvis Jones was seeing his first reps since week 3 against Carolina. Jones doesn’t look like he missed a step. Williams would then spell Sean Spence. The one knock on Williams going into this year was his pass coverage skills, but he is a hard-nosed player and a sure-handed tackler. (Which could also be seen with Williams on special teams plays.)

I also feel that whoever plays the other inside position more effectively, helps Lawrence Timmons play his own game. It’s much like the play of the corners helping safeties Mike Mitchell and Troy Polamalu, who appear to be compromised by their own teammates, instead of compromising themselves. This could be seen on the play where Polamalu was directing traffic before AJ Green blew by #43 for a score. Similarly, the same could be said of the outside linebackers: Jason Worilds has been quiet, but teams who mistakenly focus on blocking Worilds have lost track of guys like James Harrison, Jarvis Jones and Arthur Moats. (Moats contributed 2 sacks yesterday in relief of Harrison.)

While much can be said of the ups and downs of the defense, it’s the offense which took charge and didn’t settle when the game was on the line. Missed opportunities haunted the Steelers in recent games, but this time the offensive weapons showed up a key moments. Antonio Brown had significant acrobatic catches as usual. Lance Moore and Markus Wheaton worked the inside seams. Martavis Bryant put the nail in the coffin with his uncanny ability to get open down field and finish. Heck, even Matt Spaeth was clutch. (Matt Spaeth!)

And what else can be said of Le’Veon Bell? He’s a player that can do it all, and has the potential to make a big play every time he touches the football.

The Steelers didn’t commit penalties and won the turnover battle, protecting the football and forcing fumbles.

While there’s still a lot of football to be played, the bar has been set and the expectation for this talented team should be the same as the flashes they’ve shown. Those flashes are a playoff caliber team, and only time will tell if the Steelers are indeed that side of the coin, and not the 8-8 bust we’ve seen in previous years.

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