The Steelers had one of their worst games in recent memory against Jacksonville two weeks ago at Heinz Field. Since then, they have bounced back significantly with a stout performance in Kansas City beating the then-undefeated Chiefs. The question going into Sunday’s game hosting the rival Bengals was if they could follow up a solid performance with another one.
They sure did. The Steelers won convincingly 29-14, going a perfect 3-0 in division play so far this season. It wasn’t a perfect performance, but convincing enough. Here’s three things that stood out from the game Sunday:
It’s not the Steel Curtain, the Blitzburgh defenses from the 90’s, or the 2008 defense, but this unit is playing some strong ball. They are getting after the quarterback this year, and registered four more sacks Sunday, and are tied for second most in the NFL.
Remember when the main concern for this defense was the secondary? Well, can you guess who’s first in pass defense? Yep, the Steelers are. You can give whatever reason you want for it. You could say it’s because of the pass rush or any other anomaly, but the fact is that this defense is atop the league right now in passing yards against.
If anything, the concern for the defense is against the run. They’re 15th in the league right now, so they’re right in the middle of the pack, but more often than not, they allow big runs at bad times. They’ve also had two games this year allowing over 200 yards. They held the Bengals to 71 yards on the ground Sunday, but rookie Joe Mixon had seven carries for 48 yards, averaging almost seven yards per carry. They’ll need to clamp down on that going forward.
They allowed Cincinnati to move the ball pretty well in the first half, but they shut down the Bengals in the second half. The Bengals only had 19 offensive yards in the second half. That’s outstanding. This group has been impressive, and will give the Steelers great opportunities to win with play like this.
Ring The Bell
If there was any doubt Le’Veon Bell was back, there shouldn’t be now, and the coaching staff seem to have all the trust in the world with him again. He’s carried the ball more than 30 times two weeks in a row now, and is becoming more active in the passing game. While Bell wasn’t the most efficient on the ground yesterday, only averaging 3.8 yards per carry, he made more than enough positive plays, moving the chains for the offense. He also ripped off two large receptions after Ben Roethlisberger dumped it off to him, on play so memorable we’ll remember this stiff arm for a while.
The offensive line is playing great in front of him, but Bell is making everyone forget about his holdout and slow start in September with his play now. With him in top form again, the Steelers offense has become much more lethal.
Ben’s Still Got It
Remember the five picks against Jacksonville? Ben doesn’t look like the same guy from two weeks ago. He’s looking a lot more like the future Hall-of-Famer that he is. Now granted, he only had to throw 24 times yesterday, but he made them count. His first touchdown was a very impressive throw in a tight window to Antonio Brown. He didn’t force a lot of throws into tight coverage, which has always been a risk Ben is willing to take, trusting his receivers to make plays. His play over the last two weeks against stout defenses has given reason to trust him going forward. If the Steelers win anything this year, it will have to be with Ben. They aren’t winning without him.
Three Causes For Concern
–Martavis Bryant was non-existent, getting only two targets, one of which he had a bit of separation on a deep ball, but couldn’t locate the ball in the air. He later took to Instagram and replied to a comment saying that fellow receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster is better and his reply was questionable at best.
-3rd down efficiency was poor, especially on 3rd and short situations. The Steelers finished 2-for-11 on 3rd down, something that will need to be addressed this week in practice. The offense didn’t have much of a problem moving the ball and getting into or close to field goal range, but then would stall and be unable to convert 3rd downs. They will have to get better at that to keep pace with the elite of the AFC.
-Red zone efficiency continued to be an issue, going 1-for-6 in touchdown efficiency inside the 20. Chris Boswell bailed out the offense, making five field goals on the day. Again, this needs to be an area of improvement going forward. When playing teams like New England, putting three points on the board for every red zone trip usually doesn’t cut it.
This was a very good win for the Steelers. They needed to follow up a good performance with another good one. Showing some consistency like this shows signs that debacles like games against Chicago and Jacksonville are behind them.
The defense has been great the past two weeks. They regrouped at half time after a mediocre first half and were flat out dominant in the 2nd half. This is a great sign for this young group and it may be coming together faster than expected.