The first half version of the Steelers beat themselves offensively and defensively with key penalties that set the Bengals up for points and kept themselves from scoring touchdowns. Pittsburgh was flagged 4 times for 74 yards in the first half alone. They finished the game with 7 for 104 yards.
Three major penalties told the story of the first half. A face mask by Stephon Tuitt on a 3rd down sack on the first Bengals offensive drive, and a pass interference in the end zone against Artie Burns on the second drive that put the ball on the Steelers one-yard line, set Cincinnati up to score 10 quick and easy points.
The third against Le’Veon Bell for a chop block that erased what would’ve been Antonio Brown’s 50th career touchdown reception and a what would’ve have been a 17-10 deficit. Instead the Steelers had to settle for a Chris Boswell 49-yard field goal.
Speaking of Boswell, he gets the game ball. If it weren’t for his Steelers franchise record tying 6 made field goals, 5 of 40+ yards, and a touchdown saving tackle on a kickoff return, Pittsburgh would have been out of this game at halftime.
Defensively, Keith Butler’s group couldn’t stop the Bengals running or passing game.
Cincinnati gained 184 total yards (116 passing, 68 rushing), they never punted and didn’t allow a sack or have a turnover. Andy Dalton was 10 of 16 passing for 116 yards. Jeremy Hill ran for 44 yards on 14 carries and had a touchdown that put them up 17-3 with 9:02 remaining in the 2nd quarter.
The Bengals did what the Steelers had done masterfully over the last month, win the time of possession battle and keep opposing offenses as spectators, while not allowing the suspect defense to be exposed. The Bengals held the ball for 17:59 of the first 30 minutes.
Offensively, Pittsburgh could only muster 3 field goals in the time they crossed into enemy territory. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley got cute, and clearly over-thought his game plan. There’s no reason Le’Veon Bell should’ve had 7 carries and 3 receptions in an entire half, as he did on Sunday. It lead to 29 rushing yards for the League’s best back and a 20-9 halftime deficit.
Coach Mike Tomlin implied to CBS sideline reporter Evan Washburn that the Steelers were beating themselves and needed to be “cleaner” in the second half. Obviously the team got the message.Defensively, they cleaned up the penalties and held the Bengals scoreless, while only allowing 38 total yards. Hill rushed 6 times for -1 yard. Dalton went 6 of 11 for 41 yards, was sacked for an 11-yard loss, and threw an interception to Lawrence Timmons.
Meanwhile, the offense patiently and methodically took the lead. Ben Roethlisberger led them to 228 total yards in the second half. Le’Veon Bell rushed for 64 yards to finish with 93 on the day to go along with 5 catches for 38 yards. In total he touched the ball 28 times, and they them won the time of possession battle 32:32 to 27:28. LaDarius Green and Eli Rodgers stepped up and took the defensive attention off Antonio Brown that Roethlisberger has been begging for all season. Rodgers finished with 5 catches for 75 and the go ahead 24-yard touchdown pass. Green also had 5 catches 72 yards, 3 of which were converted for first downs.
The second half performance followed the formula this team has used to win 5 games in a row and take the AFC North lead going into next Sunday’s major matchup with the Baltimore Ravens. If they play like the second half team next week and not the first half version, they’ll be one step closer to the AFC North title and a spot in the tournament.
Kickoff is set for 4:30 pm at Heinz Field.
- Pittsburgh is now undefeated on the season when they allow 20 or fewer points (9-0).
- The Steelers have now won 7 of their last 8 games at Cincinnati.
- With his second catch of the day, Antonio Brown recorded the 470th of his career, setting an NFL record for most receptions in a 4-year span passing 2016 Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrine Marvin Harrison.