#7 Returns, but Steelers Offense Still Struggles

The Steelers had won 3 straight against the Bengals coming into Sunday’s matchup. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

For the first time in 2015, the Killer B’s of Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant were on the field at the same time, and the offense resembled the one Roethlisberger said at the beginning of the season could score 30 points a game. At least it did on the first drive of the game. Roethlisberger went 5-6, for 43 yards and a touchdown. And, no one was happier to see #7 in black and yellow back at quarterback than Brown. The two connected for a first down on Roethlisberger’s first pass attempt, and three catches total on the drive including a touchdown. Brown looked like the guy who had a streak of 35 games with 5 receptions for over 50 yards before Roethlisberger went down with his injury. It was almost if they were both out the last four weeks because he struggled to get touches in the offense in Ben’s absence. The start of the game looked like an offensive explosion was coming. But, It didn’t even last an entire half.

The excitement of seeing the Killer B’s intact quickly dissipated early in the second quarter when running back Le’Veon Bell severely injured his knee when he was tackled after catching a swing pass out of the backfield. At that point, Bell had 45 yards rushing on 10 carries and 2 catches for 13 yards before he was carted off into the locker room. Not only did it seem the air was zapped from the stadium, but the offense sputtered.

Roethlisberger struggled in his return, throwing 3 interceptions. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Roethlisberger went 28/45 for 262 yards with 3 crucial interceptions which led to 10 points for the Cincy. The Bengals also held them to 1/3 in the red zone.

Mike Mitchell nearly cuts Marvin Jones in Half. Mitchell had 3 tackles and an interception vs. Cincinnati. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

While the offense was the talk coming into the game with #7’s return, the pressure was on the defense to slow down the NFL’s number three total offense (410.3 ypg) and 5th in scoring (30.3 ppg) if they were to have any chance to win. The Steelers defense responded to the challenge and was stout all afternoon. They held Cincinnati to 4/16 on 3rd down (0/5 in the first half), while only allowing 296 total yards. They were even tougher in the red zone holding Cincinnati to 1/3, with defensive lineman Cam Heyward blocking a Mike Nugent 42-yard field goal and cornerback Antwon Blake intercepting an Andy Dalton pass in the end zone. Most importantly, they showed they could slow down a talented tight end. Between Tyler Eifert and Ryan Hewitt, the only grabbed 5 passes for 61 yards. That had been a weak spot for the Steelers through seven games.

The defense did their part. As Roethlisberger put it in the post game press conference “they were awesome.” This defense has steadily improved each week, and is built to compliment this high powered offense, when it’s clicking properly.
If you only look at the box score and the key stat columns, it’s hard to believe Pittsburgh lost. They won the time of possession battle 30:09 to 29:51, total yards 356 to 296, first downs 21 to 16, but -6 in the category that matters the most, the scoreboard.

Here they are now 4-4 going into the second half of the season, and the margin for error slimmer. If Bell can return from his injury quickly, and the Killer B’s can finally be all in tact, they would be the favorites to earn an AFC Wild Card spot. Next up on the schedule, the Oakland Raiders, one of the teams that has a realistic shot at taking that playoff spot from the Steelers. Kickoff is Sunday, November 8th at 1 pm in Heinz Field.

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