Welcome to “Quick Yinzing”, a fast reaction article where a member of the SCU staff gives their initial post-game impressions without digging into any films, stats, or other analysis. It’s as real as that car ride home or sobering down at the bar following the game!
The Pittsburgh Steelers needed to walk into Paul Brown Stadium and hand the Cincinnati Bengals - the current leader in the AFC North race - a loss, building off of the momentum they carried from the win over the Atlanta Falcons. The Bengals, tagged as the "Cardiac Cats" for the way they've been able to finish games this season, brought a healthy amount of physicality to the game and the Steelers returned that favor without either team crossing the line and turning the game into a bloody flag fest. In the end, however, it was Big Ben staying calm, collected and under control to execute a late drive with little time on the game clock that was capped off with a perfect pass to Antonio Brown for the touchdown.
A two-point conversion play to Jesse James was called incomplete due to his feet being on the back line of the end zone. The play was overturned due to holding by the Bengals, giving the Steelers another opportunity. JuJu Smith-Schuster grabbed the second try on the next play with just ten seconds left on the clock. The Bengals would receive the kickoff with ten seconds left in the game, looking for a miracle, but Andy Dalton's hail-mary pass on the second play of the drive would fall to the turf to give the Steelers the win; 28-21
McDonald led heavy dose of tight ends by Steelers
Something I've been wanting to see Pittsburgh take advantage of was their tight ends, especially in situations where Vance McDonald, James, and Xavier Grimble tower over or are lined up one-on-one with a smaller slot corner or linebacker backpedaling into pass coverage. Against the Bengals, Ben Roethlisberger took advantage of what the defense offered and the tight ends, led by McDonald, gave him great options when the outside receivers were covered. McDonald was punishing after the catch, racking up extra yards that helped extend drives. It's time for Pittsburgh and Randy Fichtner to take a look at the playbook and see if they can't dial up more of those options moving forward.
Conner continues to be a high-value piece in offense
Without looking at the statistics, it was obvious that James Conner has given new life to the Steelers' rushing game. He may not look that big, but against the Bengals Conner was not afraid to lower his head or shoulders and bulldoze defenders to grab yardage. He stayed focused in both the run and passing game, giving the Steelers good balance. Although one play - a potential touchdown - was called back, the officials saying he did not cross the plane, Conner still found the end zone twice. The offensive line looked great offering Conner the blocks he needed to scamper out of the backfield and he showed surprising speed in the open field that continues to show the young player is a high-value piece to this Steelers offense.
Roethlisberger to Brown and Smith-Schuster are dangerous combos
Against the Bengals, Roethlisberger was kept clean (thanks to great protection and no sacks allowed by the offensive line) and used his veteran skills to orchestrate a fantastic game by staying calm despite early drops by his receivers. Early in the game, both Brown and Smith-Schuster were being smothered by the Bengals defenders and Smith-Schuster was guilty of a couple dropped passes. Yes, the misty, foggy weather could have created some slippery situations, but both Brown and Smith-Schuster would pick up the pace and prove they could get on Big Ben's radar and create big plays. Smith-Schuster had an amazing catch that was ruled down just outside the end zone due to the crown of his helmet sliding across the goal line as he kept his hands wrapped around the ball, upside down, with a Bengals defensive back fighting for control of the ball as well. The play would set up one of Conner's touchdowns. Brown had possibly his best catch-and-run with seconds left in the game when he got open in the middle of the field, grabbed a near-perfect Roethlisberger toss to trot into the end zone for the final touchdown. This trio is showing just how dangerous they can be when they're all on the same page.
Final thoughts on the win
The Steelers defense, after improvements against the Falcons in Week 5, looked good against Cincinnati. Upfront pressure from Cameron Heyward, Javon Hargrave and Stephon Tuitt - in particular - resulted in two sacks of Andy Dalton. Vince Williams, who looked like he had new life and hustle this week, also logged one sack and was all over the field. As for the defensive backfield, Joe Haden shadowed A.J. Green much of the game and nearly had two interceptions that would be logged as passes-defended. Green finished with no touchdowns and just seven catches on the game, illustrating that while the Steelers defensive backfield had trouble covering an elusive Boyd (who had two touchdowns), they contained Green.
Once again, the Steelers and Bengals had a showdown that was a close game on paper and on the turf. The Steelers will ride this win into the "bye" in Week 7.