Getting a line on what mattered in Cincinnati

Mike Prisuta reminds Steelers fans of a surprising development that occurred late in the win over the Bengals.

Yes, they almost blew it.

Yes, the defense gave up a pair of fourth-quarter TDs with alarming ease and allowed the Bengals to advance to within 12 yards of completing the comeback that would have produced the most spectacular collapse in Steelers history.

But what if Jeff Reed had made that 46-yard field goal with 4:04 remaining?

For starters, the Bengals most certainly would have scored on their subsequent possession and lost 30-28, a development that would have infuriated only those who worry about pointspreads.

And we'd all still be raving about the Steelers' offensive line.

Reed's latest "wide left" was preceded by seven consecutive running plays that advanced the ball from the Steelers' 29-yard line to the Bengals' 28. At a juncture when even the Ohio natives remaining in Paul Brown Stadium knew the Steelers were going to attempt to run the ball, the Steelers ran it, ran it again, and then ran it some more.

Rashard Mendenhall for 8, Mendenhall for 3, Mendenhall for 9, Mendenhall for 18 …

Mendenhall might still be running had Doug Legursky gotten his block on third-and-6 from the Bengals' 29.

The point isn't that Legursky missed it and the Steelers had to settle for an attempt at three. The point is that the offensive line thrived in a situation where the Steelers had a chance to all but close out a game.

It was the type of drive devotees of power football have longed for in recent seasons.

It was the type of drive the Steelers were incapable of producing a year ago (the Miami game was an exception, but by then who was paying attention?).

What transpired in Cincinnati constituted progress over Baltimore.

It constituted progress over what happened this season in Miami.

And it constituted progress over New Orleans, where the Steelers couldn't power it in from the six-inch line.

The Max Starks situation -- OK, let's get this out of the way, the Max Factor -- and to a lesser degree the Chris Kemoeatu situation threaten to short-circuit a unit that's been making progress steadily if not spectacularly since Latrobe. But given the seemingly season-long game of musical chairs the Steelers have been playing up front, and getting away with, I wouldn't bet on it.

As long as Maurkice Pouncey is snapping it the Steelers appear to have more than enough capable bodies to align on either side of him.

Big plays on the ground are way up, sacks are down, and the unit is developing a swagger.

They've got a coach in Sean Kugler in whom they believe, for a change.

You might even say they're capable.

Maybe even better that that.

"I think that it has," improved, coach Mike Tomlin said of his offensive line on Wednesday. "But, of course, we're talking about an eight-game body of work compared to a 16-game body of work. I'm always going to be somewhat hesitant when making those comparisons.

"Hopefully, our best days lie ahead this year."

No reason to believe they won't.

The only question seems to be if anyone will notice.

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