Steelers Vs. Bengals: Second Half Notes - Pittsburgh Defense Smothers Cincinnati, 23-7

The Steelers (now 10-3) dominated the Bengals, winning 23-7, largely on the strength of their ferocious defense, which accounted for Pittsburgh's only two touchdowns of the afternoon. The Steelers outclassed Cincinnati in total yards (354 to 190) and time of possession (34:28 to 25:29) and succeeded in protecting the football while forcing three turnovers.

  • Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the rest of the Pittsburgh offense came out swinging in the second half. Roethlisberger went 5-for-6 for 48 yards on the Steelers' 75-yard scoring drive, connecting on first down passes with Hines Ward and Antonio Brown. Credit head coach Mike Tomlin and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians for making the necessary adjustments during halftime. Although Roethlisberger had to evade pass rushers from time to time, by and large, Pittsburgh's pass protection was worlds improved since their porous performance in the first half. It's also worth mentioning that Roethlisberger opted to remove his visor during halftime, leaving his broken nose exposed. During the first half, Roethlisberger was constantly seen wiping the visor clean with his sleeve, as the rain obstructed his view.
  • Nursing a 6-point lead and looking to protect their banged-up quarterback, Pittsburgh ran a lot of power rushes and quick timing routes in the passing game during their second drive of the half. Rashard Mendenhall has had to gain some tough yards all year, and this contest was no different (3.7 ypc). That said, it was great to see the Steelers protect Roethlisberger, rest their defense, and try to shorten the game, even if it wasn't the most dynamic or entertaining offense to watch. The methodical drive appeared to stall after consecutive holding penalties on tackle Jonathan Scott and tight end Matt Spaeth, but on 2nd-&-a-mile, Roethlisberger threw a gorgeous 29-yard strike to Hines Ward, bailing out the two depth players. While it didn't result in any points, the drive ran over nine minutes off the clock. 
  • Speaking of Ward, he had a vintage performance: 8 catches, 115 yards, the usual awesome blocking downfield. After averaging less than 30 yards over the last six contests, it was great to see the ageless veteran produce the way he did. Oh, yeah - he also moved past Redskins great Art Monk for 10th all-time in career receptions (944). Way to go, Hines.
  • More love for Arians: you can't really say this guy didn't pull out all the stops against Cincinnati's defense. Sure, the first half flea flicker wasn't especially pretty, but Arians mixed it up in the second half, even calling an option from Antwaan Randle El, lining up in the Wildcat formation, to Mike Wallace - good for 12 yards. With these two plays, along with an odd quarterback draw in the first half, Pittsburgh proves that it's an unpredictable offense...even if it doesn't always work.
  • Cincinnati's next drive lasted just one play, as Carson Palmer completely stared down Chad Ochocinco, failing to account for LaMarr Woodley's underneath coverage. The linebacker snagged the ball out of the air and took it 14 yards for Pittsburgh's second pick-six of the day (video). The Steelers' best offense continued to be their defense. It was Palmer's 17th interception of the season. The Bengals have Palmer locked up through 2014, but I can't imagine they won't be looking to go in another direction at quarterback soon, especially with a presumed change in the coaching regime. For his part, Woodley had a truly terrific game, notching 5 tackles, 2 sacks, and the pick-six. 
  • Kicker Shaun Suisham continues to excel after replacing Jeff Reed. He went 3-for-3 despite the afternoon's sloppy conditions, including a 41-yarder. On the season, Suisham is a perfect 8-for-8, five of which have been from at least 40 yards out.
  • Troy Polamalu closed the game out with another interception, making this afternoon's victory his second career two-interception game. I'm really not sure why he tried to lateral it on the return, though, especially since he could've simply kneeled it in the end zone. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau gave Polamalu a talking to following the play - kind of weird, when you consider that it was an interception - but was seen moments later hugging the safety. Kind of a nice moment from a coordinator who many players view as a family member. After two consecutive weeks of dominance, expect Polamalu to be in the discussion for the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award.

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