Pittsburgh Steelers: Report Card in Victory Over the Cincinnati Bengals
The Pittsburgh Steelers were outscored on Sunday but it was not by the Cincinnati Bengals, it was by their defense.
Interception returns by Troy Polamalu and LaMarr Woodley gave the Steelers their only two touchdowns en route to a 23-7 victory over the Bengals.
Polamalu came up with his third big turnover in as many weeks when he intercepted his former college roommate, Carson Palmer, and returned it for a 45-yard score. It was his first of two interceptions on the day.
Woodley put the game away in the fourth quarter on a 14-yard interception return for a score.
It was the defense, not the offense, for the second straight week that put the Steelers in position to win. The offense failed to score on two trips to the red zone, instead settling for field goals both times.
Regardless, Pittsburgh was set up for a let down after the hard fought victory last week at Baltimore and they still came out on top.
The win over Cincinnati improves their record to 4-1 against AFC North opponents and ensures that they will be in the division lead for at least one more week.
Throwing the ball in windy, cold, and wet conditions is never easy yet Bruce Arians had Roethlisberger air it out 33 times Sunday.
Roethlisberger completed 21 of 33 for 258 yards including a 29-yard pass to Hines Ward on a 2nd-and-30.
Still, Roethlisberger has to do a better job finding the endzone.
The Steelers failed three times inside the redzone, though poor play selection and penalties contributed to that. Roethlisberger also took a sack, one of four on the day, to put them out of field goal range.
For the second straight week Roethlisberger spread the ball around, connecting with seven different receivers and ran three times for 23 yards, including a 13-yard carry.
It was also another week and another no penalty call for Roethlisberger when Michael Johnson sacked him while making contact with the helmet. This should be an automatic roughing the passer penalty.
Season GPA: 2.47
Running Backs: B-
Pittsburgh was unable to exploit Cincinnati’s poor rush defense but they did not exactly try to establish the run either.
Rashard Mendenhall only had 66 yards on 18 carries and did not have a major impact on the game.
It was a disappointing effort from Mendenhall who did not have much room to run, but when he did was unable to capitalize. The lack of a ground game had an impact when the Steelers got inside the 20-yard line.
Given the weather conditions it seemed as though Isaac Redman would have seen more action with his power running style. This was not the case as he only converted one third down opportunity, running for a four yard gain.
Mewelde Moore had four carries for 18 yards.
As a unit the running backs were ineffective in the passing game.
Season GPA: 2.93
Wide Receivers: A-
Every time there is talk of Hines Ward slowing down he comes up big for the team.
Late this week one local talk radio host was discussing Ward’s one catch performance last week inciting that his skills were fading.
Whether Ward listened or not, I don’t know but he came out like he had something to prove.
Ward had eight receptions for 115 yards with a huge 29-yard catch on a 2nd-and-30. He moved the chains effectively with a 14.4 yard average.
Mike Wallace only averaged 15.6 yards per reception but this is a product of his development as an overall receiver. He is only 54 yards away from 1,000 on the season after his five catch 78 yard performance.
Wallace continues to show the ability to stretch a short reception into a long gain. Rookie Antonio Brown is also beginning to show a similar skill set making plays on his three receptions.
The catch of the day, however, came from Antwaan Randle El who elevated high into the air to make a beautiful 22-yard one handed reception.
Randle El also lined up at quarterback and ran the option with Wallace which picked up 12 yards.
Season GPA: 3.11
Tight Ends: C
The Steelers were without their top tight end, Heath Miller, and it showed.
Matt Spaeth had one reception and a drop which hit him right in the hands. He was a virtual non-threat in the passing game. He was also called for a hold.
David Johnson was forced to line up on the line at times, something that he usually does not do, and he did not have a reception.
Johnson also had a holding call when the Steelers were just outside of the Cincinnati 10 yard line. Pittsburgh ended up kicking a field goal.
Season GPA: 3.13
Offensive Line: C-
One of the worst pass rushes in the league managed to get four sacks against the Steelers and Pittsburgh was completely ineffective in the red zone.
While Pittsburgh ran for 123 yards, averaging 4.6 yards per carry, they were never able to truly establish the run.
Mendenhall did not have many holes to run through and continually met the back of his offensive linemen.
Of greater concern were the two more holding calls that they line had.
Jonathan Scott and Flozell Adams were both caught holding, adding to Pittsburgh’s 89 penalty yards.
Season GPA: 2.01
Defensive Line: A
Brett Keisel is the new most underrated member of the Steelers.
A title that was held by Aaron Smith should shift to his fellow defensive end as Keisel was once again very effective in defending both the run and pass.
Cincinnati only had 34 yards on 14 carries and Keisel was in on six stops.
Keisel had yet another batted down pass, an underrated skill in his repertoire. It was his second in as many weeks.
Casey Hampton added three tackles.
The defensive line was also a factor in occupying blockers which freed up a pass rush that picked up three sacks.
Season GPA: 3.16
It was LaMarr Woodley’s turn to take the spotlight.
After being held to only one sack in the past four weeks Woodley had a huge game, sacking Palmer twice. He was a force in defending against the run as well.
However, it was Woodley’s pass defense that helped change the game.
Woodley dropped back into coverage and intercepted Palmer near the sideline, returning it 14 yards for a score to give the Steelers a 20-7 lead.
James Farrior had 10 tackles and Lawrence Timmons had five, including one for a loss.
Timmons defended on pass and pressured Palmer twice.
This more than made up for James Harrison’s quiet day in which he was left off of the stat sheet.
The only major negative on the day is when Woodley let eligible tackle, Andrew Whitworth, catch a one-yard touchdown from Palmer.
Season GPA: 3.10
Defensive Backs: A-
The much maligned Steelers secondary had a good game against a Bengals team that shredded them earlier this season.
Ike Taylor spent most of the day shadowing Terrell Owens and it made a difference.
Owens dominated the Steelers the first time around, catching two touchdowns. He was held to one reception on Sunday and demonstrated alligator arms on one particularly pass in which he heard the footsteps of Ryan Clark and Polamalu and decided that dropped the ball was better than getting hit.
Chad Ochocinco had six receptions for 71 yards, one of his best performances against the Steelers and drew a pass interference penalty against Taylor.
William Gay had another good game with one pass defense and a sack. While it was only his second sack of the season, Gay has demonstrated the ability to be an effective pass rusher.
The star of the day, though, was Polamalu.
Polamalu may have vaulted himself to the top of the Defensive Player of the Year list with the two interception performance.
Polamalu’s 45-yard interception return for a diving score turned the game around and gave the Steelers all of the momentum that they needed. His fourth quarter interception sealed the game, though his decision to lateral the ball was not smart.
It was the third straight week that Polamalu has made a game-changing play.
Two weeks ago in Buffalo Polamalu made an interception when the Bills were in scoring position and last week he forced a Joe Flacco fumble which led to the game-winning touchdown.
Season GPA: 2.17
Special Teams: B
Shaun Suisham remains perfect as Pittsburgh’s kicker after going 3-3 on field goals with a long of 41 yards in very tough kicking conditions, though it was on a new field surface that held up very well.
Suisham did have one kickoff go out of bounds.
New punter, Jeremy Kapinos, only averaged 35.2 yards per punt but did have three downed inside of the 20-yard line.
The coverage units had mixed results allowing only a 15.4 yard average on kick returns. One return, however, went for 32 yards. Cincinnati also averaged 11.5 yards per punt return.
Antonio Brown averaged 20 yards on two kick returns but only managed one yard on two punts, including one muffed punt.
Season GPA: 2.84
Pittsburgh’s coaching staff kept the Steelers on a role. They easily could have come in and looked past the Bengals after their big win last weekend.
After allowing the Bengals to score on their opening drive the defense clamped down and pitched a shutout the rest of the game. Of note, Pittsburgh did force a fourth down but Woodley was offside giving Cincinnati a first down. Taylor’s pass interference call gave the Bengals a first and goal at the one yard line.
Dick LeBeau adjusted his coverage scheme to neutralize Owens. This was key as Owens dominated the Steelers in the last game between the two teams.
Offensively the Steelers were able to move the ball but were outscored by their defense 14-9.
Bruce Arians efforts calling plays when the Steelers are in the red zone are ineffective at best.
Pittsburgh has too much talent on offense to score only two touchdowns in three weeks.
The eight penalties for 89 yards show another problem that the Steelers must immediately correct. It was yet another week that they approached 100 yards in penalties and it will catch up with them eventually.
The biggest problem would be the holding calls. The Steelers had another four today.
Mike Tomlin also showed his weakness in clock management instructing Roethlisberger to spike the ball at the end of the first half.
Pittsburgh had a first and goal, one time out, and nearly 40 seconds on the clock.
Following the spike, Pittsburgh had two straight incomplete passes and had to settle for a field goal.
Roethlisberger had the Bengal’s defense on their heels running the no huddle offense. The spike broke all momentum and gave away a much needed down.
Season GPA: 2.49
Study Up: What Must Improve
Quite simple, the Steelers red zone offense must improve.
Pittsburgh has nine field goals in the last three weeks and only two offensive touchdowns, keeping in mind that Polamalu set up the Steelers only touchdown last week.
With the New York Jets coming to Heinz Field next week Pittsburgh will have to find a way into the end zone because this will surely be a defensive battle.
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