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All-22 Review: Steelers-Bengals

Coach's tape reveals quality O-line and linebacking play by the Steelers, a near-masterful final drive, and much more.

Once again it was the tale of two Pittsburgh Steelers teams during their 24-20 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, and once again the Steelers prevailed by a whisker.

A sloppy, mistaken-ridden game by the Steelers, especially in the first half, was only righted due to an abysmal lack of discipline and composure by the Bengals. Sometimes mental toughness is the key to games like this, and while Pittsburgh weathered the early onslaught by Cincinnati, the Bengals emotionally unraveled despite boasting a large lead for much of the game.

Mike Mitchell continues to be an unsung hero for the Steelers defense. On the Bengals' first scoring drive, Mitchell made an excellent ankle tackle on Jeremy Hill in space, saving an almost certain touchdown as the only defender between the running back and the goal line. Later in the drive, Mitchell knocked away a third down pass to the back corner of the end zone for Tyler Eifert, high-pointing the football and playing through the big tight end’s hands. He’s been fantastic this season, despite playing through several bumps and bruises.

- Another almost perfect performance for the Steelers offensive line in pass protection, as Ben Roethlisberger was only sacked once, and that on a broken play in which the quarterback gave himself up a yard behind the line of scrimmage. Carlos Dunlap is widely considered one of the better defensive ends in football, yet Marcus Gilbert held him in check throughout the game. If David DeCastro can rectify his penalties, this unit is playing as well as any in the NFL.

Lawrence Timmons continues to have a monster year, with his timely late third quarter interception leading the way for Pittsburgh’s comeback. The Bengals tried to run a single-lineman release screen, but Sean Davis jumped Hill leaking out of the backfield, forcing Andy Dalton to look elsewhere. Bengals slot receiver Tyler Boyd was running a deep cross from the backside, but Timmons drifted underneath the route after showing blitz pre-snap and Dalton never saw him. Both Timmons and Ryan Shazier were exceptional on Sunday, consistently making stops in the run game behind a defensive line of tough-nosed reserves.

- When Stephon Tuitt went down early, the Steelers run defense looked like it was in trouble after Hill rushed for 44 first half yards to go with Rex Burkhead’s 23. But the unit battled back in a big way during the second half, holding Hill to minus-1 yard on six carries while only allowing 60 yards of total offense to Cincinnati. The Bengals collected only four first downs in the second half, including one in the fourth quarter, a period in which Cincinnati had just nine yards of offense.

Ricardo Mathews was excellent against the run Sunday, highlighting what has been an excellent 2016 campaign for him as a reserve. He’s been a massive upgrade over Cam Thomas, both at taking on double teams and stacking and shedding at the point of attack, and even as a pass-rusher off the bench. Pittsburgh would be wise to look into bringing him back on a cheap deal this offseason.

- Fantastic route by Eli Rogers for the game-winning touchdown. With the Bengals in Cover 2 and both safeties widening to the sideline, slot cornerback Josh Shaw tried to re-route Rogers at the line of scrimmage, pushing him into an outside release off the snap. Rogers accelerated down field, opening his hips to the sideline for an instant about 10 yards downfield, before whipping his head back around inside on the post pattern. Shaw fell for the shake move and couldn’t recover, and Roethlisberger found the open Rogers for the elusive six points.

- I love that Pittsburgh remains aggressive with its offensive approach in clock-draining situations, and Todd Haley called a masterful final drive. With 5:53 remaining in the game, Steelers up 24-20, Bengals with all three timeouts, first-down, play-action pass out of 22 personnel, with Le'Veon Bell check-releasing for an easy eight yards. High percentage throw and catch; second-and-2, inside zone lead play behind Rosie Nix for three yards; first-and-10, 13 personnel, Bell drops a little swing pass in the flat that wouldn’t have gone for much, but would have kept clock running; second-and-10, gotta run it and eat some clock, counter play with DeCastro pulling goes for two; third-and-8, the money down with 3:37 left, convert this and you can smell the victory, Bengals in Cover 2 with the middle of the field open, leaving room for Ladarius Green to get down the seam for a huge 28-yard catch from the slot. Oh, the things move tight ends can do for an offense. It looked like Burfict was chewing out Michael Johnson after the play for not carrying the seam route down the middle of the field, a la Tampa 2 defense.

- Now it's first-and-10, three minutes left, Steelers go to 11 personnel but with Chris Hubbard on the field as the lone tight end, the Bengals stay in base personnel expecting a run. Roethlisberger hits the quick slant to Rogers for nine yards, as George Iloka was playing off coverage on the slot receiver. This was an example of 11 personnel in a situation that the opposing defense was expecting run and the Steelers forcing a safety to play like a corner and taking advantage; Bell behind Nix moved the chains on the next play, forcing the first Bengals timeout.

- With 2:13 left, now you run the ball and drain the clock right? Not with Haley: play-action, with DeCastro pulling across the formation on a false run key, linebackers step up, Bell leaks out and catches a floater for nine yards before alertly staying in bounds; timeout No. 2 for Cincy with 2:02 left. It's three yards for Bell on the next carry to pick up the first and it brings us to the two-minute warning. With 1:57 left, one timeout left for the Bengals, three straight runs can bring the clock to about 40-50 seconds for a 37-yard field goal or less for the 6-for-6 Chris Boswell.

- That's when Haley does the one thing that has me scratching my head in bewilderment. After a Bell run loses one yard, Cincy burns its final timeout. Two straight runs can burn a lot of clock, but if you’re gonna throw, at least throw high percentage and short. Instead Haley has four long-developing routes on the play out of 22 personnel, and Roethlisberger selects to throw deep to Antonio Brown, who slightly beats Dre Kirkpatrick, but has to combat a safety over the top. The pass is a good one, but still too close to the fast-closing Iloka, who knocks the ball away. The Steelers were bailed out by a ticky-tacky pass interference call on Kirkpatrick, which essentially ended the game, but a clock stoppage there meant a 3rd-and-11 with 1:45 left. Cincinnati would very likely have gotten the ball back with 1:10 or more to work with, down just one score. I understand being aggressive, but at least have a short option if nothing is open down the field. Some type of levels concept to attack the defense. Just a very poor, low percentage decision on an otherwise brilliant drive by Haley and the Steelers offense. It also offered the perfect dichotomy of Haley - brilliant play-designer and aggressive playcaller, but also a maddening decision-maker at times. Constantly trying to outthink the opposition, to the degree that he occasionally foils himself.

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