I’m not sure who received game balls last night in the visitor’s locker room at Paul Brown Stadium, but I certainly hope guys like Willie Colon and Heath Miller received one. I would also make sure coaches Todd Haley and Offensive Line Coach Sean Kugler got one as well. It was obvious they knew Mike Adams was going to need help at right tackle and they were able to devise a plan to allow Heath Miller to help, but still be a factor in the passing game.
Throw in the fact that this offense which seemingly hasn’t run the ball well since Jerome Bettis retired, pummeled the Bengals front seven for 167 yards including 122 by Jonathan Dwyer. The effort of center Doug Legursky cannot go unmentioned either. He and guards Colon and Ramon Foster had to deal with the very athletic Geno Atkins all night and did an excellent job overall.
In my opinion, Colon was the guy who heeded my call for intensity and fire last week when he started burying Bengals’ rookie Vontaze Burfict into the ground like a hog burrowing for grubs. Colon was nasty in the running game and played that way throughout. Yes, he got beat a time or two in the passing game, but his veteran presence clearly had an impact on the attitude of the O-line.
What can you say about Heath Miller? He isn’t flashy like Gronkowski or as agile as Gonzalez, but I don’t know if there is a more complete tight end in the NFL than Miller. He was outstanding in the blocking game especially on Chris Rainey’s 11-yard TD run where he literally took two guys out of the play. His pass-catching was on full display as he accounted for a TD then the game-tying two-point conversion before the half.
As much as I have ripped on Dick LeBeau and the defense in recent weeks, I have to give credit where it is due. Anytime you limit an NFL team to under 200 yards of total offense, then you’re doing something well. The design to limit A.J. Green’s touches was very good. While Ike Taylor will no doubt trumpet himself this morning as ‘being back’ I think he needs to recognize the design to keep a safety in motion over the top to confuse Andy Dalton worked quite well. Green was targeted six times and caught one pass for eight yards and a score. He very well might have had another one if it weren’t for Keenan Lewis tipping the ball away in the end zone as Green clearly had Taylor beaten.
The defensive pressure was better, but a more veteran QB would have still executed better last night. Dalton hurried many throws when he didn’t have to resulting in incompletions. I still don’t understand why LeBeau only brings three and four guys much of the time, but when the QB is hurried of his own doing it helps. Linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley were pretty much a non-factor outside of Woodley’s interception. Woodley did get some pressure at times by forcing Dalton out of the pocket, but the sack total remained zero.
Somehow last night, Mike Wallace led the team with eight receptions but in my mind are the three drops that could have severely cost this team. You want a reason why this team is 3-3 and not 5-1 it’s right there and on special teams where the offense takes the field pretty much knowing they’ll have to wait for a penalty to be walked off. The discipline was better last night on offense in terms of false starts and holding calls, but the special teams’ unit is a complete embarrassment other than Rainey and Antonio Brown.
I would also suggest someone send a ‘thank you’ note to Bengals’ offensive coordinator Jay Gruden who inexplicably abandoned the run which pounded the Steelers on the opening drive. The Steelers certainly made positive adjustments, but it was clear when starting center Jeff Faine went down with an injury, the Steelers started to control the line of scrimmage. I also think they gave Ike Taylor way too much credit last night even with the help over the top at times. Green is an exceptional player who who needs more opportunities to make plays especially against a guy who is struggling.
Coupled with a Ravens’ loss yesterday, the Steelers find themselves two games back with a long way to go in the 2012 season. What they showed last night is that they can pull out wins when necessary and can still get it done on the road. The team overcame tremendous injuries to get the victory, but should not celebrate long for there is still much to be done and much to be addressed.