They say that divisional wins on the road are hard to get, and the Steelers experienced a tough one today at Paul Brown Stadium against the Bengals. It was another tale of two halves for the Steelers this Sunday – something I don’t think many of us can learn to deal with…. at least my blood pressure can’t. The win is a big one, but the Steelers have a bit to address during the upcoming bye week.
The Steelers started strong in the first half as they have been for the better part of the season. The defense held the first two Bengal possessions to punts. The Steelers scored two touchdowns on their first drive going 2 for 2 in red zone efficiency (anyone else falling in love with Jerricho Cotcher???). With 3:30 left in the first quarter the Steelers were up 14-0 and looked poised to steamroll the Bungles – I mean come on, is there any Steelers fan out there who just didn’t start to chuckle to themselves the Bungles were indeed back? Even though the Steelers were only up by 7 at the half, my confidence was pretty high the Steelers would just dominate the rest of this game. Not. So. Fast.
The ‘2nd Half Steelers’ showed up during halftime and was the team to emerge from the locker room to take the field. The sack bug returned, and Big Ben was sacked three more times for a total of five in the game. I think Chris Kemoeatu lost some of his blocking ability with the haircut he got. Cincy was allowed to tie the game up early in the 3rd quarter. The offense showed some life the very next drive and scored a rebuttal that put them up 24-17 – and for good. When the 4th quarter rolled around, I was starting to get nervous…. like last Sunday nervous. The offense was shut down with 3 and outs, and the team barely ran any time off the clock. Arians once again went into ‘safe’ mode by running the ball over and over again instead of staying aggressive. But honestly, can we blame him? Roethlisberger has had a few 300 yard passing games in a row, but continues his inability to throw a deep dagger to lock a game up – he overthrew Wallace and Brown in the 2nd half.
However, he Steelers D stood strong and caused some turnovers in the fourth quarter that kept Dalton at bay and out of the endzone. I’m surprised to say that William Gay’s pick late in the 4th was absolutely great. He faded back right off the snap to give the receiver the inside route. He then jumped the route so quickly that he actually caught the ball a yard in front of the intended receiver – one would start to get the impression that he knew what he was doing out there. And, as if that interception awoke the sleepy offense, the Steelers got two crucial first downs that forced the Bengals to call timeouts – which eventually led to taking a knee and sealing the game.
And just like that, the Steelers have a half game lead in the AFC North. If you haven’t heard, the Seahawks squeaked one out over the Ravens (6-3). I watched that entire game and the Ravens looked so flat (another article for another day). The Steelers (7-3) have a half game over the Ravens due to the Raven’s bye from earlier. They also hold a half game lead over the Bengals (6-3) as well. That is a rather fortunate position for the Steelers to be in going into the bye and preparing for the ‘Kansas City Clowns’ (as titled by NFL blog site Arrowhead Addict). With the Bengals up at home right after KC, the Steelers have a great opportunity to be 9-3 and have an outright lead to the division depending on how the Ravens fair against the Bengals and little brother’s 49’ers. In fact, the Steelers have a great chance to be two full games in the lead – the Bengals aren’t great but they aren’t the ol’ Bungals either. If the Ravens lost to the Seahawks today, they can certainly lose to the Bengals and the Niners.
The keys to the bye week will be to heal up (for the love of God can we please get Woodley back) and to prepare for KC. I’m not exactly sure what the official stat is, but I remember hearing on Sunday night football last week and astounding stat – around 75% of the teams coming back off a bye week lose. I’m sure it has a lot to do with the new practice rules during the bye week that’s in the new CBA. Let’s hope the Steelers can overcome that stat when they play the Clowns on Monday night in two weeks.