Steelers defense dominates Bengals in second half of victory
Maybe the Heinz Field crowd of 65,363 spontaneously broke into a chant of “De-fense, defense” early in the fourth quarter Sunday because it was still at a fever pitch after the requisite “Renegade” video was played moments earlier.
Perhaps it was the Tyson Alualu sack of Andy Dalton that immediately followed that got them fired up.
Or possibly it was that the Cincinnati Bengals offense seemed so out of sorts and shaken that it had just burned a valuable timeout in an apparent effort to regroup.
Most likely, though, the Steelers fans were chanting out of pure, organic appreciation of a defense that was dominating Sunday.
After a slow start over the Bengals' first three drives, the Steelers shut down Cincinnati over the final 2 1⁄2 quarters of a 29-14 win.
“There was a lot of energy in the stadium today,” said Bud Dupree, who had one of the Steelers' four sacks. “Everyone was making plays. Everyone was hungry. It was great. I like how we kind of had a little (hiccup) in the first half, but we came out in the second half and we answered the call. And the best is yet to come.”
It's difficult to conceive anything yet to come from the Steelers' defense that was better than how it performed over the Bengals' final seven possessions Sunday.
After Cincinnati scored 14 points and accumulated 160 yards in their first three drives, it did virtually nothing the rest of the way.
Over their final seven possessions, the Bengals netted 20 yards on 23 snaps. They went three-and-out in five of those seven drives. Dalton was intercepted to end the other two.
After the 7-minute, 12-second mark of the second quarter, the Bengals managed one first down and a net of 2 passing yards. Among his final 17 dropbacks, Dalton had as many completions (six) as he had combined sacks (four) and interceptions (two).
“I think in order to be a defensive player, you always wanna dominate. That's in our DNA,” said rookie T.J. Watt, whose sack early in the fourth quarter began s stretch of three sacks in a span of four Bengals snaps. “That's why I love defense so much is you can make a play, no matter what down it is.”
Dupree completed the trifecta of sacks early in the fourth quarter, and it was Cameron Heyward who sacked Dalton to begin what would be their final meaningful drive with 5:14 remaining.
“They were behind the chains, so we could play with our hair on fire,” Heyward said. “When we don't have to blitz (and) we can just run four-man rushes, that makes us a very sound defense.”
It's making the Steelers' one of the NFL's best defenses.
“The goal is to be the best in the world,” safety Mike Mitchell said. “We're not there yet.”
Technically, no. But they're awfully close. The Steelers' defense entered Sunday at No. 3 in the league by yardage. It emerged just a fraction of a yard behind No. 1 Denver.
“We are just starting to feel ourselves is all,” Dupree said. “We're gonna keep getting better and better each week. That's the crazy part.”