Monday, December 16, 2013

Steelers Pound Bengals Early, Hold On For 30-20 Victory

Was it 2013 or 1978? 

Aided by the honoring of Hall of Famers running back Franco Harris and cornerback Mel Blount before the game, the Pittsburgh Steelers looked from the opening kickoff as if they were going to pound the Cincinnati Bengals like they were in the Steelers way of another Super Bowl title. 

As it stands, the Bengals (9-5) were in the way of the slimmest of playoff hopes. The pounding, though, was the same. 

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw a touchdown pass in his 27th straight game, wide receiver Antonio Brown scored twice, running back Le'Veon Bell had over 100 yards from scrimmage and the oldest defense in the NFL put a whipping on the Bengals Sunday night to gain a much-needed win, 30-20. 

Big Ben's stat line wasn’t show-stopping (he was 20-25 for 191 yards, a touchdown and an interception), but he ended the game with 340 completions which bettered his own franchise-record 337 in 2009 (he also has the Steelers three highest single-season totals).

With nine different starters and 16 different combinations of blockers this year because of injuries and ineptitude, being able to keep Big Ben virtually clean has been almost Herculean. But, due to yet another upright performance by the patchwork offensive line, he stayed mostly clean, suffering only one sack. 

Before Sunday night, the Steelers (6-8) had been 0-11 when Big Ben committed a turnover, which he did late in the second half when Adam Jones intercepted a pass that seemed to get caught up by the wind. Big Ben had gone 207 pass attempts without a pick, a span of more than four games. 

But AB gave Big Ben a bit of a cushion to be able to overcome the turnover when he caught Big Ben's lone touchdown pass - a 12-yarder with 2:16 to go in the first quarter. 

AB once again caught five passes, for 66 yards and the aforementioned touchdown, and now needs just 92 yards in the last two weeks to pass Yancey Thigpen for the most receiving yards by a Steelers player in a season.

AB also returned a punt 67 yards for the Steelers third score of the opening period. One move, aided by a crushing block by West Virginia product Terance Garvin on the Bengals punter Kevin Huber, and AB would not be caught. 

It would also be Huber's final play as the violent hit from Garvin broke his jaw. The hit appeared at first to be helmet-to-helmet, but no flag was thrown on the play. It could still lead to a fine if the NFL determines Garvin used his shoulder or helmet to hit Huber from behind or the side, violating the - wait for it - "Hines Ward Rule" born from a Ward hit against - wait for it - Keith Rivers of the Cincinnati Bengals. (Didn't see that comin', did ya?)
Bell ran aggressively for the most part, but was also a little too patient at other times, ending with just 57 yards and just a 2.4 yards per carry average. But he also caught five passes for 50 yards and again showed glimpses of what the Steelers believe he can be. 

Late in the game, he stiff armed Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson and then trucked more Bengals on one of his best runs of the night. Earlier, Bell hurdled Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, though the play was called back. 

All-in-all, Bell had 107 yards from scrimmage putting him in fairly elite atmosphere as he joined Franco Harris and Bam Morris as the only rookie running backs in franchise history to gain at least 1,000 yards from scrimmage. He has the chance to be tops as his 1,034 scrimmage yards are the third-highest total for a Steelers rookie behind Franco Harris' 1,235 and Bam Morris' 1,040.

As for the defense, they simply pounded the Bengals. They didn't just beat them, they beat them up. As many as seven Bengals left the game for a while or for good. And it started quickly.

First, a moment of silence for the passing of LaMarr Woodley...into oblivion. Woodley got hurt again. Will the regular-season finale against the Cleveland Browns be his final home game at Heinz Field? 

Back to the game... A mishandled snap by Huber led to the first score, and with the advantage of that early lead, Steelers defensive coordinator was able to say "sick 'em" to his players. They responded by harassing Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton and sacking him in the first half - the first sack he'd suffered since Nov. 10 at the Ravens.  

They completely stymied the Bengals run game holding them to just 57 yards on 22 carries. Bengals receiver A.J. Green was held short of 100 yards, getting nine receptions for 93 yards at less than 11 yards a catch. 

In fact, at one point early in the game the Steelers had accumulated more plays (26) than the Bengals had accumulated yards (23). 

Remember the stat that If It Ain't Steel brought you regarding the Steelers defense allowing 17 plays of 40 yards or more (including 11 of 50 yards or more)? Sunday, the Steelers allowed exactly zero of such plays. In fact, they surrendered no explosive plays (20 yards or more) at all against the Bengals.

The only explosions were the hits the Steelers - on offense and defense - were administering to the Bengals. It was just a good old fashioned beat down led by Lawrence Timmons, Jason Worilds, Cameron Heyward, Vince Williams, Cortez Allen and even Jarvis Jones who batted down a two-point conversion pass in the fourth quarter showing the kind of play he’s capable of making. 

It may not have been a means to Super Bowl berth, but it was still a beat down that should've made Franco and Blount proud. 


TIDBITS: INJURIES - Aside from Woodley, the Steelers offensive line took another blow when right tackle Marcus Gilbert left late in the first quarter with another right ankle injury. Left tackle Kelvin Beachum, who returned to the starting lineup after missing last week with a knee injury, left the game briefly with what seemed to be an aggravation of the injury. He returned. Ike Taylor had bruised ribs, but the rest were, as HC Mike Tomlin would say, the normal bump and bruises associated with life in the NFL. -