As far as the national media narrative, yesterday's Steelers-Bengals game was going to teach us more about Cincinnati than it would about Pittsburgh. Accordingly, we did discover that the Bengals are an upstart team worthy of its 6-2 start, but still a little ways off from challenging for the division.
For the Steelers, a lot of it was reinforcement of trends that have been prevalent all season. It's a team that typically comes strong out of the gate, at least on offense, but has some difficulty sustaining that momentum throughout games. For a while, it seemed like yesterday's win would be very similar to the win at home against Jacksonville, where the Steelers leaped out to a double-digit advantage, only to watch it slowly erode for the remainder of the game. It didn't end up being quite that agonizing, as the offense still found had some gas in the second half.
But the real reason that Pittsburgh won is because on Sunday the defense equaled its entire interception total for the season coming into the game. Lots of credit to William Gay, who had been torched for the deciding touchdown by Torrey Smith the week before, for jumping a route on an Andy Dalton pass late in the game to seal. Lawrence Timmons grabbed an earlier pick on a fortunate deflection. I'm not complaining. Any turnovers the defense can muster are more than welcome this season. Any season, really. They're turnovers. When don't you want your defense to force turnovers? Given the general paucity of them this season, expectations have been skewed a bit, I guess.
A follower asked me on Twitter during the game whether this game marked Antonio Brown surpassing Mike Wallace as the team's best, or most complete, wideout. I think that would be a very hasty pronouncement to make, but AB is making his case. Obviously, I think it's unfair to say Brown is better now because Wallace certainly draws more attention from opposing defenses. Brown is a better receiver in the middle of the field and a better possession receiver, but there's so many ways Wallace can kill with his speed that he more than makes up for that facet of his game being underutilized. While the Steelers did try Wallace deep against Cincinnati - Ben should have hit him deep once - I like that most of his focus was on underneath stuff and designed runs. Not that you want to ignore the home run potential, but if you can get those quick dump offs where Wallace can sprint for a first down, not unlike Santonio used to do, that's easy money worth taking.
Glad to also see Jerricho Cotchery finally being worked into the offense. It's borne out of necessity with Emmanuel Sanders banged up, but he's already showing himself to be a vital and useful weapon. Hines is good for a play or two a game at this point, but he's not really a viable starting receiver anymore, in my opinion. I think it hurt the offense a lot in the Super Bowl last year when Manny went down. Wallace becomes a lot easier to defend when he doesn't have a nice complement like Sanders or Cotchery on the opposite side.
Speaking of Hines, that was his first catch in three weeks (because dicksmack John Harbaugh challenged the one last week where Ray Lewis got away with an illegal helmet shot on him) so that puts Hines 19 catches away from 1,000 on his career. I think and hope it's reasonable to expect that he can reach that mark over the final six games of the season.
Up and down game for Heath. He made an incredible 3rd down catch in the red zone to set up a touchdown, taking a shoulder to the facemask and hanging on. Sadly, he followed that up later by handing the Bengals a momentum swinging interception by bobbling a pass twice and knocking it into the hands of Leon Hall. The corner would later suffer a season-ending injury, which will certainly be a blow to Cincy's fortunes for the remainder of the year. And, surprise, surprise, the Bengals play Baltimore next week. The Ravens always seem to catch teams at the right time when it comes to injuries.
Max Starks left the game for a spell with an injury which prompted the frightening return of Jonathan Scott. It's amazing how quickly I went from disdaining the return of Starks to the Steelers to not imaging they could even put together a scoring drive without him. I'm a knee-jerk asshole like that.
As we all know, the Ravens once again lost in gloriously inept fashion a week after blowing their load beating the Steelers. Just fantastically terrible coaching by John Harbaugh and Cam Cameron. Cam actually makes me glad for Arians, which hurts so much to say it might be inspired trolling if it weren't so destructive to the Ravens. How do you have Joe Flacco throw 50 times in any game? I realize Seattle jumped out to an early lead, but that game was never out of reach. A shame the Ravens waste all of their halfway decent coaching on the Steelers. These letdown losses really have to fall on Harbaugh, who made a jackass of himself celebrating to the point of personal injury last week while still bitching about some song played on the Heinz Field PA that he deemed offensive to poor delicate Joe Flacco. All of that, and Harbs has his team fall flat again. Maybe the Ravens just can't sustain top performances on a week-to-week basis? That doesn't figure well for the postseason, where one big win is going to do for you.
Anyway, I'm looking forward to the Steelers likely getting Woodley back after the bye. His presence has been sorely missed these past few weeks. The Steelers, it should be noted, had no sacks on Dalton. James Harrison didn't quite have the dominating performance he had the week before against Baltimore, but he shouldn't be asked to do everything for the pass rush.
Again, it wasn't a perfect victory, but few ever really are and perfect victories usually don't come in big wins against surging division opponents, so I'm more than grateful for just keeping the Bungles in their place and moving on to what is hopefully another shot at a division title and an extended run through the postseason.