Injuries plagued the Cincinnati Bengals last year and it showed in their 4-11-1 record.
No one was able to fill the void left by the injured starters, but things are different this year.
After rededicating himself and starting out the season on fire, Antwan Odom went down for the season with a torn Achilles' tendon. Jonathan Fanene has stepped in and not disappointed. He has four sacks over the past three games, including two on Sunday.
Another backup that came up big multiple times Sunday was linebacker Brandon Johnson who was filling in for the injured Keith Rivers. Johnson was all over the field and deflected two key passes.
With an in-game injury to the Bengals' leading rusher, Cedric Benson, rookie Bernard Scott ran the ball well, often making short-yard gains on what should have been plays for a loss. He also scored the only touchdown of the day, running back a Jeff Reed kickoff after the Steelers scored the first three points of the game.
Another rookie that played well today was Morgan Trent, who helped out a banged up Leon Hall. The two former Wolverines played good man coverage and this young secondary continues to prove itself week in and week out. Leon Hall and Jonathan Joseph have to considered as one of the top corner duos in the league, each with four interceptions on the year. Jonathan Joseph had two chances at interceptions today, with one ball bouncing off his hands and another sailing right through them.
This Bengals defense showed signs of improvement last year but with absolutely no offense, it was hard to tell just how good they were. Mike Zimmer's squad is showing they are one of the league's top defenses and with a young secondary and linebacking corps, the sky is the limit.
With the third-easiest remaining schedule, the Bengals should be fine, even with key players like Cedric Benson and Keith Rivers out. With their next three games against Oakland (2-6), Cleveland (1-7), and Detroit (1-8) (combined 4-21 record), it gives these players time to heal up and also time for the Bengals to integrate their No. 1 draft pick, Andre Smith, into the starting O-line that has exceeded expectations.
As long as this team can stay healthy and the backups continue to play well, the Bengals are playoff bound and poised for a deep run.