Just My Opinion ...

Jim Wexell has a wheelbarrow full of tasty notes following the Steelers' stirring win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

From the notebook of a sportswriter who sat stupefied in the fourth quarter as the Pittsburgh Steelers turned a deficit into a blowout:

* And who smiled as the Cincinnati faithful took another early ride on the "Escaloser of Life" after yet another game that shall live in Bengals infamy.

* Not to get too cocky. Round Two in divisional games is always a different story for the overconfident.

* The Steelers won't be underdogs in that one.

* They're 3-2 this year as underdogs. I thought that stat would be a bit more one-sided than that.

* Let's start today's merriment with a quiz: Name the Play of the Day.

* An insurance company reported on TV that it was Andy Dalton's 81-yard bomb to A.J. Green that put the Bengals ahead at the end of the third quarter.

* I'm thinking the insurance company just had to put its commercial together before the end of the game.

* Someone with the win at their back might say it was the NFL's longest touchdown pass this season, the 94-yarder from Ben Roethlisberger to Martavis Bryant that gave the Steelers a 35-21 lead and broke the Bengals' backs.

* Another interesting choice might even be the Bengals' longest touchdown run by a quarterback in team history.

* Good choices. But I'm going with the power pull into the weak side that the Steelers ran over and over and over Sunday. I don't have the exact stats, but David DeCastro, Heath Miller and Kelvin Beachum were the common threads on a play that accounted for Le'Veon Bell's 53-yard run to open the fourth quarter, his 13-yard touchdown run that gave the Steelers a 28-21 lead, and his 22-yard run to close the scoring at 42-21.

* Will Johnson, the ever-improving and probably forever-underrated fullback, was in on the latter two plays as well.

* Chuck Noll used to run his trap over and over and over and after the game would say, "We were going to run it until they stopped it." I thought that kind of logical playcalling had disappeared in this age of media making way too big a deal about coordinators and their playcalling, and in turn causing coordinators to think about their own personal superstardom.

* Yes, one play run over and over and over can be Play of the Day, should be Play of the Day.

* No Vontaze Burfict on that side may have had something to do with it.

* Also, Wallace Gilberry is their weak-side end instead of Michael Johnson this year.

* Or maybe the Steelers' plan was to pass on Terence Newman and run on Leon Hall.

* Hey, I'm just spitballing here because I expect one of these names to be changed by the Dec. 28 rematch.

* One of my favorite tweets of the day was this from Dale Lolley: "Hello, Newman."

* How about Player of the Day?

* Those with early deadlines probably went with Green, who caught 11 passes for 224 yards. Only Qadry Ismail and Josh Gordon ever had more receiving yards against the Steelers.

* Bell, of course, is the popular pick. He rushed for 185 yards (7.1 avg.) and added another 50 receiving yards to become the second player in NFL history to gain 200 yards or more from scrimmage in three consecutive games. The other player was my teen heartthrob, Walter Payton, who did it 37 years ago.

* "It’s an honor to be mentioned with a guy like Walter Payton," Bell said after the game. But, hey, Lev, I mentioned you with that guy like throughout your rookie struggles last year. Almost every week I had my Bell-Payton rookie comparison. Not that I ever thought you two were similar, but just as a comparison for those prematurely calling you a bust.

* Actually, Bell reminds me more of Franco Harris than anyone else. Not in physical stature. Not close. But in style, the patience and the sudden burst. Franco and Lev, together forever with Sweetness.

* I like Matt Steel's Player of the Day nominee, Beachum. On a day without Brett Keisel, Beachum carried the banner of Seventh-Round Pick of the Millennium. And that's no slight to anyone. Beachum is becoming a true anchor on the left side. Who'd have thought that at the beginning of the season?

* Roethlisberger bounced back from one of his three worst games of the season with a 118.5 passer rating. He's 3-0 off of those three games with a cumulative passer rating of 115.3. His TD-INT ratio in those games is 7-0.

* Yep, Ben's a candidate, DeCastro's a candidate and let's also throw Matt Spaeth in there. The blocking tight end caught a couple of passes in a game for the first time in exactly 37 months.

* But my contrarian self is going with Steve McLendon, the nose tackle who anchored a Steelers run defense that held rookie stud Jeremy Hill to 46 yards and the Bengals to 86 total rushing yards. On a defense that must -- MUST -- worry greatly about guarding the pass, there's little help for the run game. McLendon may not have been the best run defender on the field. I just don't know what the coaches know. But he's the leader now, and the anchor, and his return from injury was very much needed.

* The presence of McLendon in turn was cause for some rare exhilaration by his absence. That's when I noticed Cam Thomas on the field in mop-up time.

* Antonio Brown did catch 9 passes for 117 yards. He's piling up one accolade after another as he moved into third place on the Steelers' all-time receptions list in only his fifth season. But my -- y-a-a-w-w-n, excuse me -- lack of excitement is probably a larger testament to his consistency than anything I could' write about him.

* I watched Ike Taylor struggle with Green and felt bad. I don't know if we're watching Ike's final days, but please never forget the days when he shut down the great Bengals receiver. It's not Ike's fault the Steelers completely botched the development of their secondary by letting Keenan Lewis walk. That was emphasized further by the placing of Cortez Allen on injured reserve earlier in the week. Yes, Allen had a pin put in his thumb lately, but he could've continued had he been showing anything on the field. He's the guy they kept instead of Lewis as the CB opposite Taylor a couple of years ago.

* I do believe a lack of confidence is one of Allen's problems right now. But I also worry that his 4.6 speed plays a big part in his struggles as well, and that can't be fixed.

* While we're there, let me offer up the only tweet Sunday better than "Hello, Newman." I had just tweeted my in-game praise of the play of the Steelers' interior line -- "looking like Florida State's last night" -- when I looked up and watched Green haul in a 56-yarder. "And our safeties look like Wisconsin's," was the timely reply.

* You're not allowed to criticize Troy Polamalu by name. Not here. Not on my watch. Troy's not nearly what he once was in coverage. I get that. But he's still a handful coming downhill and he's still a presence on the field and in the locker room.

* Ah-ah-ah. No backtalk. Please. Show some respect for the all-time great.

* I predicted an interception for Mike Mitchell on Sunday and should've been right. But he at least got his hands on a ball. Someone called that "A Festivus Miracle!"

* Hey, Mike, I'm still with you. Just keep your head down, stay off Twitter, and do your thing. It'll come around. I have a feeling.

* I wrote earlier in the year that Mitchell reminded me of Mewelde Moore in that both were sourpusses with the media upon their arrival from another city. But the common thread is that both are/were serious athletes, and I really came around to enjoy talking to Moore. I'm getting that same vibe with Mitchell, too.

* Lawrence Timmons was suckered by play fakes on two of the three Bengals touchdowns, but he was a physical force throughout the game. I'm actually surprised he finished with only five tackles, but my guess is he knocked the wind out of five Bengals while doing it. He also broke up a key third-and-3 pass in the flat.

* Stephon Tuitt was a Play of the Day semifinalist with his perfectly placed helmet planted into the gut of Dalton. Big man brought a big load, no doubt the first of many to come for the rookie.

* Is there anything better than listening to Maurkice Pouncey's line calls during a road game? Always a good sign for the visiting team.

* In my weekly Mike Tomlin critique, thumbs down to the two-point conversion attempt with over 11 minutes left and a five-point lead. It worked. So, yes, I'm wrong. But I don't like messing around with points that early.

* A TV camera picked up Tomlin telling one of his assistants to "go for two" right after Arthur Moats recovered a fumble at the Cincinnati 24 to precipitate the aforementioned touchdown. There's a word for that in Tomlin's case, but I'll say it took "gumption" instead.

* Moats. Why in the heck didn't I mention him among the Player of the Game candidates? The backup to James Harrison and the bridge to Jarvis Jones forced one fumble, recovered another, and had two sacks. And as always, Moats had the biggest and brightest smile of anyone on the sideline. A real positive force, that one. Hopefully his contract gets extended this offseason.

* Back to Tomlin and the Steelers' playcalling. The defense was ready for the Bengals' fake punt, and the dropback and heave from the Steelers' end zone on the 94-yard touchdown pass were both coaching pluses. But my favorite call by Tomlin occurred with 8:14 left and the Steelers up 35-21. The Bengals gained seven yards on third- and-10 and were called for holding. Tomlin accepted the penalty to bring up third-and-20 instead of declining for fourth-and-3. He was criticized by the broadcast team, but I liked the call. The Bengals, at their own 34, would've certainly gone for it on fourth-and-3. Instead, they had to punt on fourth-and-13. Game over.

* Tomlin thinks outside the box and I respect that. When he's wrong, we hear about it from the masses for weeks, months. But when he's right, we forget about it.

* Not this time.


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