People need to take notice of Kelvin Beachum. He absolutely owned his side in both the run and pass game Sunday. If you get the chance, go back and watch him manhandle is guy on an 11-yard Le'Veon Bell run in the first quarter, or watch him throw Carlos Dunlap to the ground like a ragdoll in the third quarter. Or watch him stone every man he went against in pass protection. Then watch him play his previous four games. I think we can stop thinking about finding an eventual first-round replacement now. And that's a very good thing. People will talk of Bell, Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, and Ben Roethlisberger. But Beachum is my offensive MVP today.
It's also a good thing to finally see what he we have in Stephon Tuitt. Man, he was impressive. All three starting defensive linemen were impressive in Cincinnati. On several occasions they maintained their gaps to string plays out. One play drew an illegal block in the back penalty against the Bengals. One play in the first quarter, the starting front strung out a Giovani Bernard run for three that made me say "Way to stick to it," referring to Tuitt maintaining his gap integrity. And that's how "Stick" has now become my incredibly cheesy nickname for the rookie defensive end. Not sure what took so long to get him out there, or for playing time of Cam Thomas to be extremely reduced. But better late then never.
Speaking of Thomas, it was also great to have Steve McLendon back. Other then a read option play by Andy Dalton for 20 yards and a 15-yard run by Jeremy Hill, the young defensive front stonewalled the Bengals all day in a way that reminded me of the Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel, and Aaron Smith days. This front has the potential of being the second coming.
Fans should be encouraged by the play of a few young Steelers linebackers. Jarvis Jones flashed and put more pressure than I anticipated he would today. Arthur Moats, I believe, would be a good stop-gap between a Jason Worilds exodus and the next second-round developmental project. Vince Williams consistently plays with a ferocity that makes me think of London Fletcher every, single, time, I see him play.
The weak links today, in my opinion, were Worilds and the secondary. Worilds getting sucked in on the Dalton TD run and being ridden out of most pass rushes against Cincinnati's second-string right tackle has me thinking they should turn around and give Seattle's Byron Maxwell the big extension they might have reserved for Worilds had he showed this year what he showed in the second half of last year. With the expected offseason signings of Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman, and the looming contract extension of Russell Wilson and possibly Cliff Avril, the Seahawks are going to have to make some choices. Maxwell would fill the Steelers' most glaring need.
I do like Brice McCain and Antwon Blake as slot/depth guys in the secondary. I like Will Gay in the same role. But I can't imagine how good this defense would be with two very good cover corners. That means I'm being aggressive with my third-round pick to move up and take Trae Waynes. Yes, it's way too early for draft and free-agency talk. Doesn't mean it isn't enjoyable to think about some possibilities.
Mike Mitchell is a strong safety miscast as a free safety. The great Troy Polamalu is on his last legs. Ike Taylor is just too old to consistently play well at corner. I'd give into his idea of trying free safety, and then I'd let Mitchell and Shamarko Thomas compete for the strong safety role (and mix in preseason looks with Shamarko at free Safety as well). Worse case scenario, I'd move Mitchell back from strong to free if necessary. But Ike certainly wouldn't be worse in coverage. And if he still can't catch an interception, they wouldn't exactly lose out on much, considering the position's current output.
This offense should be the best in football. They are more dominant then any offense in the league when they play to their strengths. They can lose to anybody when blindly playing to their weaknesses. Two drives were killed by dink passes underneath the line of scrimmage on third down. A third they settled for a field goal when they passed out of the shotgun on second-and-9 following Bell's 53-yard run. I'm still waiting for play-action calls when they're running the ball well within a drive. A great time would've been after back-to-back runs of 11 and 18 yards by Bell, or after Bell's 53-yard run. The 53-yard run is one reason I think Josh Harris needs 5-8 touches. It will allow the Steelers to stay more balanced.
Staying balanced will allow the Steelers to stick to their under-center passing game. Under-center passes produced play-action passes of 94 yards to Bryant and 29 yards to Lance Moore, and a 34-yard dropback pass to Brown.
The play to Brown is the type of play I've been visualizing when passing from under center. The defensive front has to look in the backfield longer to respect the pass. It allows the offensive line time to stick to guys who are more prone to second-guessing. It can give a quarterback who likes to hold the ball more time.
As a college baseball player, I had been told by a coach that I could run down a catch better then anyone he'd ever seen. I grew up playing ball against talented older players. One older player in particular I marveled at -- well before my teenage years -- his ability to turn on whatever speed was necessary to get to what seemed like any ball. That all flashed in my head when I watched Bryant run down the sidelines for a 94-yard backbreaker. It looked as if the ball was going to be overthrown, but Bryant kicked it into a whatever-it-took seventh gear, and Leon Hall reminded me of Sham trying to stay with Secretariat at the Belmont. I'm starting to think two or three Randy Moss-like shots downfield to Bryant per game might not be a bad idea. The plays they could run off of that action could be huge as well. Bryant's talent is off the charts.
The running game flourished under center as well. Bell's two longest runs were under-center plays. The running plays that featured pull blocks by David DeCastro, Heath Miller and/or Will Johnson had me thinking about the unstoppable Green Bay Lombardi sweep. Even when the pull blocks are accounted for, Bell's patient running seems to be able to generate a 5-yard gain anyway. It's why the Steelers had me confused when they ran toward Mike Adams on two second-and-1 plays and to the rights side on several initial runs in the third quarter. Once they went to left, Bell went from averaging under four yards a carry through his first 16 carries to 185 yards on 26 carries. If they can draw up a couple play-action passes off of their bread-and-butter run plays, look out.
It's an offense that shows why it could be the most dominant in the league. The first and second-down shotgun plays and dink passes show why this team can lose to three extremely inferior football teams. The defense showed us that they might be a couple of young, talented cover corners away from having a dominant defense.