Steelers Take Division, Concern For Bell With Win Against Bengals


The Steelers experienced consistency this weekend when they needed it most.  It wasn’t with their #1 offense either.  The defense showed up again, this time even better than last week against the Chiefs or Falcons the week before.

I won’t try and take away from what became hammered down capstones to amazing seasons for the “Killer B’s:”

Ben Roethlisberger tied for 1st in leading league in passing yards

Antonio Brown leading the league in yards receiving to end the regular season, which has never been done by a Steeler

Martavis Bryant getting a touchdown and coming within one TD of tying Louis Lipps for most receiving touchdowns for a Steelers rookie (9).

Le’Veon Bell a top two rusher for the league – before the injury.

But man, that defense.  It seemed like a bit of role reversal for the Steelers on Sunday night.  The highly powered offense struggled and did just enough to seal the win – bend but not break.  The mostly pedestrian defense looked like a high powered number one defense in the league tonight.  As Dejan Kovacevic noted on Twitter near the end of the game:

Completely on point.  It felt more like 2008 than it did 2014 as the Steelers defense made all the Andy Dalton lovers look juvenile with their big game Dalton talk.   Dalton may have collected two TD’s but he also lame ducked one ball that went for a pick and another way too high for AJ Green that fell into Brice McCain‘s hands for the second time.

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Any pressure on Dalton pretty much resulted in errant passes or throwing the ball away while scrambling to the sidelines.  He rarely looked sharp, and one of his touchdown “throws” came on a weak shovel pass that ended in a leaping

Giovani Bernard

landing in the end zone.

The secondary gave up yards, but keeping form with the rest of this latest three week turnaround, they did not give up a big play that would swing momentum in the direction of their opponents.  They came up with the timely splash plays… just like the “good ol’ days.”

Who would have thought Brice McCain would get a game ball from NBC?  Who would have thought Antwon Blake would come up with the game changing performance by causing that fumble, which would later result in a Steelers TD to seal the game… just like Polamalu used to do it?  Anyone?  :scanning for virtual hands: I thought so.

That front 7?  Solid again.  Ryan Shazier saw significant playing time in the second half, and the defense did just fine.  That kid could be getting up to at least an NFL level by now.  That would be nice.  Stephon Tuitt? Solid.  Sean Spence? Give that guy Comeback Player of the Year Award from the league.  Otherwise, don’t hand one out.  Cameron Heyward? Defensive beast.

It felt more like 2008 than it did 2014 as the Steelers defense made all the Andy Dalton lovers look juvenile…

Maybe Tomlin will have a little more faith in his defense next week and not try another fake punt because he doesn’t believe his defense can hold a three point lead.  Hey, that’s a tough thing to have faith in.  History over the last three seasons says otherwise.  But maybe.  Just maybe.  This defense is turning around and getting hot at the right time.  The perfect compliment to this explosive offense.  Just in time for the playoffs.

All is well and good as long as the Steelers have their full compliment of players.  Which, as of the time of this post, that is in serious question.  Many of you saw it, nearly all heard about it.  Le’Veon Bell sustained a knee injury from a low Reggie Nelson hit to the right knee area in the second half.  Bell went down in a heap, but left under his own power.  Tomlin and the med staff would report during and immediately following the game that it was hyperextended and that there was “no structural damage.”  Tomlin’s words there.

A side note: That hit is the direct result of the insanity of what this league has become in protecting its players’ health.  Rather than aiming for the body and potentially hitting high in the head – leaving a man concussed and the offender getting a fine or suspended, the defender is now going low and potentially ending careers right then and there on the spot.  That will probably never change  – the NFLPA can’t sue the league for that unlike the head trauma cases.

Bell’s status is unknown, and probably will be questionable all the way until game time on Saturday night.  Such a great athlete and human being.  I would never sincerely wish ill on someone, but for Bell’ss sake, I hope he is ok.  Up to that point, that kid was showing he will be something special in this league.

The Steelers get the win, thanks to the defense and a special connection between Antonio Brown and Big Ben late in the fourth quarter following the Blake induced fumble.  But, there are some concerns still left on the table (Bell being an obvious one).

Take the Red Zone offense for instance.  It is still struggling at a staggering rate.  Early in the contest, the offense had a chance to put six points up on the board twice, and both times came away with only field goals.  Were it not for AB’s amazing punt return for a touchdown, the Steelers would have only been up by three going into halftime.  Find a way into the end zone at least one of those times, and the Steelers could have nailed down the game early in the second half by being up 14 points heading to the locker room.

The Steelers desperately need to address this deficiency.  Otherwise, they may not get as deep into the playoffs as their stats on paper might suggest.  Maybe it’s not a big deal.  Maybe it was because Ben was focusing so hard on not soiling his pants that things struggled.  I wish that were true, but the trend of the season says otherwise.

So, onto the Ravens.  The Steelers have their work cut out for them.  Hopefully, there will be an answer to Bell’s status one way or the other early enough in the week.  I think Harris showed that he could be a solid substitute to Bell, but no one… and I mean NO ONE can replace the dynamism that Bell brings to the football field.  The team will need to find a way to win without him should he not dress – it was scary to see how his departure negatively affected not just the offense, but the defense’s intensity on the field.

Time to stir up that Heinz Field home crowd playoff magic against the ol’ Ratbirds.

Other notes from the game:

– 158th career start for Ben.  Took two kneel downs to end game even though he was tied with Brees in yardage lead.  I’m sure he or coaches had any idea.  Still, it would have been nice for Big Ben to be the lone leader this season.

– The officiating needs addressed, again, this offseason by the owners.  It’s not just the Steeler games – the officiating has taken a severe turn downhill this season.  It’s like they don’t know what a penalty is anymore.  Tonight they missed a blatant offsides during Pouncey’s early snap/fumble, offensive pass interference on Cincy, a no call on defenseless receiver hit on Heath Miller in the end zone, hit to head on Ben while sliding, to that 4th and 1 where Dalton’s progress was stopped and they let play continue – only to have Bernard push Dalton over first down marker (illegal mind you).  All of it atrocious.

– Ben Roethlisberger is the 18th player in NFL history (sixth active) to record 250 touchdown passes in a career.

– Sean Spence collected his first career sack on Dalton late in 2nd quarter.  Congrats and be sure to thank Stephon Tuitt who collapsed that pocket with a huge push on Eric Winston.  Wow.

– I’ve used Ginger Spice as my nickname for Andy Dalton for a long time now.  Think I might change it to “The Ginger-ceptor.”

– Since Martavis Bryant became active, the Steelers are 8-2.

– How about that O-line for Big Ben.  Protection so good tonight except for that whiff from Dri Archer that lead to Ben’s one and only flub of the night.

– Steelers will be first team in NFL history with players in top two pass, receiving, rush yardage.

– Reggie Nelson and Tomlin have words after game – Nelson was the one who hit Bell at knee.  When asked, Tomlin said it was about another matter.

Next: Steelers Game Day Grub