Bengals vs Steelers: 5 Things We Learned from Pittsburgh's 35-7 Win
It's very difficult to tear apart blowout victories, but after defeating the Cincinnati Bengals 35-7 on Sunday afternoon, the 9-3 Pittsburgh Steelers did show some interesting lessons that bear further review.
With that victory, the Steelers will at least keep pace with the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North and maintain a stranglehold on the top wild card spot in the AFC.
Here's a look at five lessons we learned from the Steelers in their big win at Heinz Field.
Ben Roethlisberger Is Not Always Essential
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While Ben Roethlisberger is the team's most valuable player, his having a lights out, stellar game is not always necessary for the Steelers to claim victory.
Not Ben's best day.
I don't think his thumb bothered him, but I do think the Bengals had a decent game plan for stopping his usual shenanigans.
The Bengals do have one of the league's better pass rushes, so they were able to get after the quarterback in this game.
Still, the real lesson is that the Steelers were able to find other ways to win. They capitalized on virtually every big Cincinnati mistake. They got good red zone production from the running game. They found ways to make plays on defense to keep the Bengals in check.
This was a very encouraging sign, because it shows that the Steelers can win games when Roethlisberger isn't at his finest. That's been a private concern of mine this year because so often it's seemed like if Big Ben were out, the Steelers would be in pieces.
Now it seems like they have themselves back on track defensively and even in the running game.
James Harrison Is Almost 100 Percent Again
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With three sacks, James Harrison looked stronger than ever, even after suffering from a nasty injury to his orbital bone.
As the rest of the conference collectively says "uh-oh" and cowers a bit, let's take a look at one of the players of the game.
James Harrison is back.
He burst back onto the scene with three sacks when he returned, but he wasn't consistently getting pressure and throwing linemen off their blocks. He did that against a Bengals line that has been very good at protecting their rookie quarterback.
Harrison's ability to get pressure, particularly with Lamarr Woodley returning only briefly before re-aggravating his hamstring injury, is key for the Steelers defense's success. The more pressure he can create by himself, the more dangerous it makes guys like Jason Worilds, Lawrence Timmons and Troy Polamalu.
If Harrison can continue to get stronger and more consistent, the Steelers defense will get back to some of its old habits: forcing turnovers, piling up sacks and keeping offenses out of the end zone.
Rashard Mendenhall Production Value
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There have been a lot of conflicting opinions, but Rashard Mendenhall seems to be the team's best running back even though his numbers are down from previous seasons.
The Steelers are a passing team now. There's no arguing it. There's no stopping it. The sheer presence of so many star receivers proves that the team has undergone the philosophical shift from a grind team to a speed team.
And that change has hurt Rashard Mendenhall.
Mendenhall showed on Sunday that he is still a productive NFL running back, his role has just become more of a complimentary one instead of a featured part.
The entire Steelers rushing attack was on point Sunday. They took the pressure away from Ben Roethlisberger and ate up gobs of time as the game wound down.
No one was better than Mendenhall, who hit the hole quickly, was able to cutback whenever necessary and got good, positive yardage on virtually every carry. That's a good running back—and this game proved exactly why Mendenhall is worth the money he's making.
Defense Is Back
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Save for some early struggles, the Steelers defense was very good on Sunday afternoon and showed flashes of the unit that last season was one of the best in the league.
They won the game last week against the Chiefs by being great when necessary. This time around, they were dominant.
Andy Dalton spent a lot of time looking up at the cloudy Pittsburgh sky. A.J. Green spent a lot of time in Ike Taylor's phone booth (save for a touchdown that appeared as if Taylor thought the play was over or going the other way).
The running game was okay in spurts, but was silenced after the half.
The Steelers defense is mostly back. Even after Lamarr Woodley's quick exit, the unit stepped up big. Brett Keisel seems like he's getting faster down the stretch. We've already talked about James Harrison.
Troy Polamalu showed no ill effects from his blow to the head last week.
This unit was unstoppable on Sunday and will need to play that way in every game down the stretch. The more they can do and the better they can contain offenses, the less Ben Roethlisberger and the offense will have to do to win the games.
If this unit stays on track, watch out.
Strategic Usage of Personnel
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A nice, and likely to be underrated, job by Mike Tomlin in coaching this game as the first of two in less than six days.
The Steelers mixed in all of their receivers and tight ends, rotated their defensive personnel and kept everyone fresh in this game. Heading into a game Thursday, that's huge. The Browns may not seem like much of a threat, but they do have one of the top defenses in the NFL.
They also have a nasty history of giving Pittsburgh a tough game. They don't usually win, but they can require a lot of effort to beat.
Tomlin needed to keep guys fresh and he did.
Hines Ward saw a lot of time and so did Weslye Saunders. The Steelers ran the ball a lot too to keep Ben Roethlisberger from having to absorb a ton of punishment.