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Six takeaways from Steelers’ 24-16 win over Bengals

The Steelers defeated the Bengals 24-16 Sunday on a relatively peaceful, if rainy, afternoon at Heinz Field.

With Vontaze Burfict far outside Pittsburgh’s city limits, a shouting match between Antonio Brown and Karlos Dansby was about as heated as Sunday’s game would get.

It was so civil, in fact, that one of the teams could have called a radio station and dedicated “See You in September” to the other.

Even though these AFC North rivals play each other twice a year, this was just their fifth September meeting since 1993. The Steelers broke a streak of three straight September losses to the Bengals.

That quirky piece of historic data has little bearing on the fate of the 2016 Steelers, but among the takeaways from Sunday’s game is another parallel that just might be a sign of good things to come.

The Steelers are 2-0 for the first time since 2010

It’s going to feel weird not agonizing over a must-win game in September.

In four of the last five seasons, the Steelers entered Week 3 at 1-1 and needing a win to get over .500. In 2013, after a Week 2 loss at Cincinnati, they were desperately trying to climb out of an 0-2 hole.

This year, however, the Steelers checked off another box on the “Not Since 2010″ list by improving to 2-0. Last week, they turned in their largest margin of victory on the road since 2010. Now, they’re the first Steelers team to start a season 2-0 since the last Steelers team to reach the Super Bowl. The last Steelers team to win a Super Bowl, the 2008 squad, also started 2-0 but lost in Week 3 at Philadelphia.

Guess where the Steelers are going next week.

The Steelers haven’t won at Philadelphia in eight tries since 1965. In their most recent attempt, they lost 15-6 in 2008. Ben Roethlisberger was sacked eight times that day. That’s not likely to happen Sunday, which brings us to our next takeaway.

The offensive line is for real

For the second year in a row, Ben Roethlisberger has been sacked just twice in the first two games. He’s never taken less than 20 sacks in a season, and that was last year when he missed four games. This year, he’s on pace to be sacked just 16 times.

The Bengals sacked Ryan Fitzpatrick just once last week. The Redskins sacked Roethlisberger once last week, but on Sunday they got past the supposed Great Wall of Dallas offensive line and sacked Dak Prescott four times.

Could the Steelers’ offensive line be even better than the Cowboys, which Pro Football Focus ranked as the league’s best entering the season?

Of course, after being sacked only twice through the first two games last season, Roethlisberger left the field on a cart in Week 3. The line has to keep up the good work this year.

Sammie Coates is catching on

Counting playoffs, Sammie Coates has seven career receptions. It’s starting to seem like he has more, especially after his 53-yard reception from Ben Roethlisberger set up the touchdown pass to Jesse James that increased the Steelers’ lead to 17-6 in the third quarter.

Four of Coates’ catches have come this season for 153 yards. He’s second to the Bills’ Marquise Goodwin with 38.3 yards per reception. His seven career catches have added up to 225 yards.

Martavis Bryant’s first seven catches went for 123 yards, although he needed just two games to make those seven catches and three of them were touchdowns. Coates is still looking for his first career touchdown.

A fairer deep-threat comparison would be Mike Wallace. His first seven receptions totaled 59 yards, although his eighth was a 51-yarder. Still, that eighth reception brought his yards-per-reception average to 13.75.

Wallace’s first seven receptions came in his first three games. While Coates hasn’t made the immediate impact that Wallace and Bryant made, he can fill the void left by Bryant’s suspension if he just learns to run those sideline routes. One of Ben Roethlisberger’s two interceptions came when throwing to Coates down the sideline. The 53-yarder came in the middle of the field.

Until he becomes more productive going down the sideline, Coates could be labeled a one-trick pony like Wallace.

The four-man rush has to start working

The Steelers have just one sack in the first two games, and it was a dime-store sack by Arthur Moats for no yards. At Washington they really weren’t trying to sack Kirk Cousins, only rushing three for much of the game.

It’s hard to argue with the results so far considering the Steelers are 2-0, but at some point the Steelers will need sacks. They’re on pace for eight for the season. The record low in a non-strike year is 10 by the 2008 Chiefs, who went 2-14.

It didn’t seem like a problem when the Steelers were on pace for a record low takeaways in the first half of the 2011 season. They finished the season 12-4, but had just 15 takeaways and turned out to be a paper tiger. Tim Tebow easily solved that defense in the playoffs.

The Steelers did seem to get after Andy Dalton a little better in the second half Sunday. But if rushing four men is going to be the norm, the Steelers need it to be as effective as it was for the Giants during their championship years.

Safety position becoming a strength

Mike Mitchell is just a hammer, and the nail is any opponent catching a pass over the middle or trying to catch a pass over the middle. That’s why the Steelers made Mitchell their marquee free-agent signing before the 2014 season.

The pleasant surprise is at the other safety spot.

Robert Golden stopped Jeremy Hill for no gain on the Bengals’ first play from scrimmage and dashed the Bengals’ hopes for a comeback by recovering Tyler Boyd’s fumble with 1:50 left (even if Boyd didn’t really fumble, more on that later). In between, Golden was second on the team with nine total tackles and added a pass breakup.

The safety also made a couple of key stops against the Redskins.

Shamarko Thomas was drafted in the fourth round as the heir apparent to Troy Polamalu in 2013, but he’s becoming a special teams lifer. Sean Davis was drafted in the second round and shows a ton of potential. But he missed a couple of tackles and one of those misses came on Giovani Bernard’s 25-yard touchdown reception that narrowed the Steelers’ lead to 24-16.

Golden might not have the draft pedigree of Thomas or Davis. He was undrafted in 2012. But for now, the guy next door has won the starting safety job.

The officiating was awful

Let’s face it, the officials helped the Steelers in this game. The Bengals reached the Steelers’ 39-yard line with 1:50 left and completed a 6-yard pass to Tyler Boyd. Just when overtime seemed like a distinct possibility, James Harrison forced a fumble that Robert Golden picked up to seal the win for the Steelers. However, it looked like Boyd’s knee was down on replay. The play was reviewed but it wasn’t overturned.

Late in the third quarter with the Steelers leading 17-6, Dalton threw a pass to C.J. Uzomah in the back of the end zone. Uzomah caught the ball and Robert Golden appeared to push him out of bounds. It looked worthy of challenging on replay and could have been ruled a touchdown for the Bengals. But for some reason Marvin Lewis kept the flag in his pocket.

We should think about those questionable calls before inflating the Steelers’ stock through two games.

Then again, after the damage Vontaze Burfict did last year, perhaps it’s a case of what goes around comes around.

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets.

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