I was blown away with some of things I saw Sunday. In fact, the Steelers' commitment to staying balanced the first two weeks of the season is shocking, Sunday's commitment even more so. Lets look at the numbers.
DeAngelo Williams didn't even average three yards a carry on 32 rushes. Ben Roethlisberger was off in the slick conditions, as was Antonio Brown. The offense didn't receive any help from the defense in terms of turnovers. Yet despite all that, they were still able to put 24 points on the board.
Under normal dry-weather circumstances, you can expect the primary running back to get four yards a carry and Ben to average at least 8 yards per pass attempt. And those minimums should push that point total at or above 30. But the commitment likely helped prevent the costly game changing interception or QB sack-fumble, yet offered enough opportunity for Ben to make the big plays that he'll make every game.
The Steelers really had only one turnover Sunday. Pacman Jones' interception was a gift more than anything. The decision to throw deep to Sammie Coates that resulted in the second turnover was an ill-advised decision that ended up costing the team three points. Like the way the Bengals started their drive after Dre Kirkpatrick's interception, a screen to Williams would've been a much more appropriate call.
But what was most impressive about their commitment to the run is that the game conditions weren't really conducive for success. I would think the slippery conditions made it much more difficult for offensive linemen to move people in the run game. The Bengals weren't finding much success running the ball, either. Maybe it's part of the reason they abandoned it. But the Steelers have a QB who likes to play with fire a little more than Andy Dalton, so it's more necessary for the Steelers to maintain their commitment.
WHERE THEY WON
This game was won in the red zone and on special teams. I have never seen a better game for both Steelers kickers than Sunday. Chris Boswell's 49-yard field that split the uprights in those weather conditions was impressive. It seems like every one of his kicks spits the uprights, including all of his extra points.
If I had to name a Player of the Game, it might just be Jordan Berry. He came up huge by repeatedly pinning the Bengals deep inside their 20. The Steelers might not have created a turnover Sunday but Berry's pin-them-deep punting led directly to three points as he allowed to Steelers to own the field position game that was being played for much of the second quarter.
BEND, DON'T BREAK
Don't go buying you Ross Cockrell jersey just yet. Yes he played extremely well in limiting AJ Green to 2 catches for 38 yards. But he had a lot of help. And the byproduct of that was a boatload of dumpoffs underneath the zone coverage in which Dalton racked up most of his yardage. This team will continue to bend and not break until it develops corners that can be successful in man coverage.
I do expect the bend-but-don't-break defense to continue to succeed in the red zone. The Steelers are fast and relatively sound up the middle with Ryan Shazier, Mike Mitchell, and a guy who's becoming Mr. Dependable, Robert Golden. The run defense is very good, and teams forced to be one-dimensional that must throw into seven or eight-man coverages will struggle to score. And don't count out Lawrence Timmons just yet. He played well Sunday and should find success as the Steelers ask him to cover less as they use Artie Burns more in their dime.
* Highs and lows for the rookie defensive backs: Burns should know better than to let a runner get to the outside where there's no help and Sean Davis played with poor technique in allowing Tyler Boyd an easy 29-yard reception on first-and-25. Look for those mistakes to diminish and the playmaking to improve as the season continues.
THE YOUNG AND RELENTLESS
The play of the young tight ends had me blown away on Sunday. Jesse James and Xavier Grimble made tough, clutch catches in tough conditions. Grimble's diving catch that converted a third down helped set up the deep play-action pass to Sammie Coates which allowed the Steelers to take a 17-6 lead. Those two catches could not have been more critical to the outcome of the game. There's going to be tough roster decisions when Ladarius Green comes back.
* The ups and down of Coates: I continue to believe his big play ability will far outweigh the negatives. Both of Coates' catches led to touchdowns as well. The Steelers likely don't win that game without those two big plays.
* Since my editor won't allow me to give a punter Player of the Game, I'll go with Williams. His average would've been even more putrid had he not had the speed to bounce some runs outside and pick up more critical yardage, but his 36 touches without a fumble in extremely difficult ball-security conditions is the reason I would give him the honor. Besides, I love his team-first attitude.
* This team is going to be tough to beat regardless. But if Burns makes a leap as a quality man corner, if Bud Dupree comes back and provides the outside pass rush this team lacks, and if Green gives the Steelers another big fast weapon to work the middle of the field and red zone (assuming they stay relatively healthy), then the only way this team can lose to any team is if they beat themselves.