Grading the Steelers in their 23-20 win over Bengals
After a regressing in his performance during late-game situations in recent years, Ben Roethlisberger has seemed to re-find his touch in the clutch over the past month. Though throwing another early-game interception is alarming, he was very good down the stretch (116.8 passer rating in the second half). There's plenty yet to nitpick, but if this Second Half Ben continues, the Steelers will be OK.
Though they never made a total commitment to it, there were times Monday in which Le'Veon Bell was producing well enough that the Steelers began to lean heavily on him. He had 182 yards from scrimmage. Antonio Brown had a Brown-type stat line of eight catches, 101 yards and a touchdown – and although the seven targeted passes that he did not catch is less-than-ideal, Brown deserves props for playing through a bum toe and also for holding on to his TD catch despite being hit hard by George Iloka. Though they made sporadic plays, the remainder of the receivers corps, though, was no better than mediocre.
Offensive line: B-
Though it was better as the game went on, Roethlisberger faced more pressure than usual. He was only sacked once but hit four times. Bell usually had lanes to run through. Against what is one of the better defensive lines and front sevens in football, it wasn't an overall poor effort.
Defensive line: C+
Cameron Heyward's run of superhero efforts came to an end, but he still managed a tackle for loss and a pass batted down. Splash plays were lacking from Stephon Tuitt and Javon Hargrave. The Bengals averaging 5.9 yards per rush also is “below the line” – but on whole the line gets credit for the defense's second-half successes, too.
Another sack for Vince Williams – and Bud Dupree finally finished after too many near-misses at getting Andy Dalton. L.J. Fort, well, held down the fort as the third-string at left inside linebacker. Williams had nine tackles and got to Dalton twice. Arthur Moats and Anthony Chickillo were subbed in liberally on the outside.
While the first half was something of an abomination of long Cincinnati third-down conversions and A.J. Green catches, the Steelers defensive backs were much better after halftime. In the second half, Dalton was 5 for 13 for 61 yards. Cameron Sutton – making his NFL debut – was an upgrade over Coty Sensabaugh (although it could have been a different story had a long Green touchdown not been called back because of a Bengals holding penalty). Robert Golden was good enough in place of Robert Golden, and Artie Burns and Sean Davis had nice bounce-back games.
Special teams: B
Martavis Bryant's long kickoff-return touchdown was called back by one of the two holding penalties J.J. Wilcox drew in six special-teams snaps. Two of the three kickoffs Chris Boswell tried to blow out of the end zone were indeed touchbacks; he also had a perfectly executed pooch kick when kicking off from the 50. Three of Jordan Berry's four punts were well-executed, too. And, best of all of course, was Boswell going 3-for-3 with another walk-off field goal.
Mike Tomlin deserves credit for his team keeping focus through the Ryan Shazier injury situation – particularly with it coinciding with falling behind big early. The Steelers easily could have packed it in and no one would have blamed them. But they didn't. There's a whole big-picture discussion to be had about how these Steelers-Bengals games keep devolving into bloothbaths and if the head coaches should be culpable for that, but it's for another day. The decision to throw Sutton into the proverbial fire proved wise, and there was some creative offensive playcalling (Roethlisberger on the read option!?) that was beneficial. The minus? Yet another ill-advised challenge flag.
Coming back from down 17 on the road in the most hostile of hostile environments, all while dealing with the knowledge that a teammate is in the hospital? How can that not earn a passing grade? At some point, the Steelers are going to have to put together a full, complete game. But seven consecutive wins is seven consecutive wins.