The Pittsburgh Steelers matched intensity with focus in beating the Cincinnati Bengals, 33-20

SCI.net publisher Jim Wexell with his thoughts following the Steelers' 33-20 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. Some video for your pleasure as well.

From the notebook of a sportswriter who watched the Steelers not only beat the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, but my judgement was an overpower:

* Ever hear an official disqualify a holding penalty in that way? Me neither.

* And so it is a great Monday in the Nation. Not just because of the win, but because of what we are watching unfold before our eyes. This Steelers team is healthy and peaking at the right time.

* I believe one of the biggest keys to maturation is learning to become comfortable in uncomfortable situations. Nothing does that better than playing difficult road games. I thought much was gained in the near-win at Seattle a few weeks ago and I believe the Steelers showcased that sharpened iron in Cincinnati.

* It helps that young defenders such as Stephon TuittRyan Shazier and the outside linebackers are flying around the ball and living up to their draft-day potential.

* Imagine being a fan of another team and looking in on the Steelers yesterday. You know about their killer offense, but you had heard their defense stinks. And then you see all of those players you recognized in college and you see they're starting to play fast and loose. Uh, oh.

* If we could praise the Steelers' discipline and preparedness in Seattle, we can now praise their intensity and focus for the way they played in Cincinnati. It's not easy to come into a "blood game" with the requisite hostility and yet remain focused on the task at hand. It's something we haven't seen since the Hines Ward days.

* I thought the offense in particular, specifically Ben Roethlisberger, had great focus. The defense had to be more wired up because it's the nature of the job. But the focus and discipline were only a half-tick off of the offense's.
 
* The three personal fouls assessed to the defense in the game's first 31 minutes didn't indicate any particular lack of discipline to me. First, I'm still trying to gauge whether Mike Mitchell hit Tyler Eifert helmet-to-helmet. He must have, but it didn't look intentional to me. And Antwon Blake really has to slam receivers to the ground if that's the only way he can do it. His personal foul was given, I believe, more for the effect rather than any breach of rule. And the third, on Will Gay for excessive celebration, was just another weak NFL penalty. I mean, defensive touchdowns are HARD. That stuff should be celebrated with joy. And I couldn't help but laugh out loud when he and Joey Porter walked on their knees toward each other on the sideline. That wasn't part of the "excessive celebration" because the flag had already been thrown.

* I watched Gay and Lawrence Timmons go into one of their choreographed high-five sessions and thought of a high school girls volleyball team. Yes, you wonder when everyone has time to perfect all of these celebrations, but it's also a sign of togetherness. There's a lot of love that's gone into this rise in fortunes of late.

* Back to Blake's tackling, or lack thereof. He missed a tackle on a sweep one play before he was beaten deep for a touchdown. Why this guy refuses to wrap up, after being publically embarrassed the last couple of weeks, is beyond me. He's out there because he's a tough guy. Tackle already.

* Last week, the Steelers waited until the third series to begin using Brandon Boykin and Ross Cockrell in place of Blake (and the nose tackle) in the nickel. From then on, Blake only played cornerback with the base, or on downs with offensive run personnel on the field. It seemed to work. But this week the Steelers used Blake on the first three series in the nickel, and he eventually got beat deep by A.J. Green. The Boykin-Cockrell combo wasn't used until the fourth series, with 2:23 left in the half.

* Is it about being unpredictable? Are the Steelers that worried about teams running at Boykin and Cockrell?
 
* Boykin at one point came up hard to make a solid tackle of Marvin Jones. It wasn't a running back, but Boykin sure didn't look soft.

* It looks like the Steelers are one cornerback shy of a full load. There's always going to be a last position in any unit overhaul, so I refuse to blast Kevin Colbert about not addressing the position in the draft. It's becoming obvious that he's done a pretty good job drafting another guy at another position, whomever that guy or position may be.

* Now, if he doesn't address the position in the next draft -- beyond another slot cornerback -- then I'll be the guy screaming on Twitter.

* On offense, the keys Sunday were being patient -- as the Bengals took away the deep ball -- and protecting the quarterback. Except for a brief lapse, those two objectives were met.

* Roethlisberger was sacked only twice, and neither should've been blamed on the offensive line. The sack by Michael Johnson was a coverage sack, and the sack by Carlos Dunlap -- the first given up by Marcus Gilbert this season -- was due to Roethlisberger allowing the play clock to expire and giving Dunlap a "free play," so to speak, in which he just
took off once the clock hit zero.

* The key to the great protection afforded Roethlisberger, in my opinion, was the job done by the interior on Geno Atkins. And, no, Atkins hasn't slowed down at all. We saw plenty of burst from him Sunday, but the Steelers hit him with countless screens that no doubt wore him out and frustrated him. On one late play, I watched David DeCastro block Atkins as the play went to the other side. Atkins just walked around like a thoroughly beaten man.

* A far cry from the job Atkins did on DeCastro during the latter's first season as starter.

* As for patience, Roethlisberger (and maybe coordinator Todd Haley) lost it a bit on a second-and-4 play with just over seven minutes remaining. I thought it was time to punch the Bengals in the mouth with the counter play that tortured them last year. Just as I finished typing that tweet, Roethlisberger went deep. The best free safety in the AFC, Reggie Nelson, got deep to intercept it.

* That's as complimentary as I want to get for any Bengal, but I do believe Nelson's pretty good. For a jerk.

* Of course, on the first third-and-short, when Steelers fans were just hoping for Ben to throw short and remain disciplined, he went deep to Markus Wheaton for 31 yards. It was the key play of the first touchdown drive, and it was one of those "No, no, no, YES!" moments.

* No way Nelson's showing run defense and getting back deep on a third-and-1 play.

Heath Miller will be the first to tell you that in games, or seasons, in which he's highly productive, the Steelers either lose the game or, to the latter, miss the playoffs. Not yesterday. The tight end caught a career-high for any half with 8 receptions in the first half. He matched his career-high with 10 catches in the game, but this is the first of those three games the Steelers won.

* Heath went W-A-A-A-Y up to come down with a third-and-2 pass (and take an undercut from Vontaze Burfict) to get the second drive going, but my favorite Heath moment Sunday was the third-and-1 lateral he took from Roethlisberger, who was being dragged down by a defender. Miller took the little flip and gained only two yards, but he prevented a sack and kept the Steelers in range for the game-clinching field goal, 26-10, on the first play of the fourth quarter.

* Just before that clever flip to Miller, Roethlisberger stood in the pocket until he sensed some pressure from his four blocking their three on the right side. Roethlisberger slid to his left, where tackle Alejandro Villanueva was handling Johnson with ease. Roethlisberger then threw a 26-yard strike to Antonio Brown. In my notebook I wrote, "championship job by LT."

* Villanueva is indeed becoming quite the find.

* By the end of the game, Burfict was running around like a complete lunatic. He looked like the guy at Arizona State who started his final season as a first-round prospect but ended it undrafted because in every game he played the fool that we saw Sunday, from pre-game to the final attempt at a goal-line stand.

* The Steelers' bad boys, meanwhile, made plays. James Harrison's pass rush led directly to Robert Golden's interception, and Cam Heyward's one-armed sack of a running quarterback on third-and-goal at the Pittsburgh 6 probably saved four points.

* The Steelers are no doubt a hot team at the right time, but even what happened in 2005 required the ball to bounce the right way. If they retain their championship-like combination of tenacity and focus, the ball has a chance of bouncing their way again.


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