Game Recap: “There Will Be Blood” (Steelers at Bengals)

USA Today Sports, Jason Bridge photo

All week we’ve been hearing how this was going to be a vicious game. And it did not disappoint, at least if you like that sort of thing. The “chippyness” (which would be called something else in almost any other line of work) began before the game did. And strange to say, Vontaze Burfict and Dre Kirkpatrick seemed to be in the middle of it all game long.

The refs tried to get it under control by first giving Antonio Brown and Dre Kirkpatrick off-setting penalties. (Who’s a village idiot now, Dre?) When that didn’t calm things down the refs decided, apparently, to just go after the Steelers. Perhaps they were afraid of being damaged by the rabid crowd.

And speaking of the crowd, unlike a typical Bengals home game, which usually features a large Steelers contingent, the stadium seemed largely to be occupied by Bengals fans, other than the occasional tiny pocket of Steeler fans or the few mixed marriages. I guess this is what happens when you are 10 and 2.

The extracurricular activity did not stop all game, at least anytime Vontaze Burfict was on the field. I suppose if he played for the Steelers we might admire him for his fiery nature, but on the opposition he’s just seriously annoying. (And for the record I’m not a big fan of that sort of thing, even when it is one of our players (cough, cough, Mike Mitchell. And to be fair Mitchell can’t hold a candle to Burfict.)

The penalties weren’t just for post-whistle activity, though. The refs came up with a cornucopia of penalty calls. I don’t think William Gay cared in the least about the excessive celebration penalty he was slapped with. I’m not sure Mike Tomlin cared either. But it seems to me if they were going to call that they definitely should have gotten A.J. Green for kicking the ball into the stands. Heck, the NFL Head of Officiating admitted that should have been a penalty.

Oh well. In the end the Steelers, to this point in the season the least penalized team in the NFL, were “awarded” five penalties for 82 yards. The Bengals had four, for 27 yards. Home-field advantage, perhaps?

But however much the refs did or didn’t penalize the Bengals, they definitely lost the war of attrition. The huge loss, of course, was Andy Dalton. The play which forced him to the locker room was his tackle of Stephon Tuitt, who picked Dalton very near the goal line and was running it back. Dalton, and the Bengals, would have been better served to let someone else tackle Tuitt. Team sources are saying he will miss the rest of the season, as the thumb (on his throwing hand) is fractured. Not what you want to hear, if you are a Bengals fan.

However, as a Steelers fan that’s just fine with me, especially as it was not caused by a dirty play by one of our players (or, really, caused by one of our players at all, unless you call inadvertent contact with Tuitt’s knee ‘causative.’ Nor did any Steelers players visibly rejoice. All very satisfactory.

But the really interesting part of this is how the 2015 Steelers are looking like the 2010 Packers. The Packers lost player after player and ended up with 16 guys on injured reserve. The majority of those losses, including RB Ryan Grant and TE Jermichael Finley, were early in the season. Of those 16, less than a third of them were significant players. Because the injuries were mostly in the first portion of the season, the backups had played significant snaps by the end of the season.

The 2015 Steelers have 15 players on injured reserve, plus Maurkice Pouncey on the IR/Designated to Return, which he very likely won’t, and Mike Adams on the IR/PUP list. Garett Hartley is not on the list either. Of those 18 players, at least five of them are central to the team, and you could argue for the importance of a few more of them. And of course Ben has missed a quarter of the season. But coming down the stretch the Steelers look just about as healthy as they’ve been all season, at least until the body count from today’s game is totted up.

The 2015 Bengals have been amazingly healthy all season, with a single player being put on IR to this point—CB Darqueze Dennard. But they were starting to deal with some nagging injuries, and some of those nagging injuries are more than nagging tonight, I’m guessing. S George Iloka started the game but left fairly early on. CB Adam Jones, not just a very good corner but a dangerous returner, was in a walking boot on the sidelines. There was a constant progression of guys being taken off the field for the concussion protocol, from both teams, but particularly the Bengals. Vontaze Burfict was taken of the field at least three times, all by himself.

We got a scare when Alejandro Villanueva was taken off for testing, but he obviously passed it, as he was back after only missing a few plays. Will Allen and Steve McLendon had a really nasty collision, but they were both back.

I’m not going to recap the game itself. The score of 33-20 makes it look closer than it was. It was all Steelers, really, except for a long touchdown run after the catch by A.J. Green and a TD in garbage time.

Turnovers were plentiful, and fortunately were mainly on the part of the Bengals. The lone Steelers turnover was snagged by Reggie Nelson, who just loves to pick Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers defense had the Stephon Tuitt pick which took out Andy Dalton as a byproduct, a pick-six by William Gay which resulted in the aforementioned excessive celebration penalty, and another interception by Robert Golden. All in all a good day.

The Steelers defense gave up less than 65 yards on the ground, eight of those on a QB run. The defense did allow A.J. Green to have an annoying good game, and in the end McCarron had essentially the same number of passing yards as Roethlisberger did. But as we’ve already noted many times this season, yards which don’t equate to points don’t really matter very much.

In the meantime, the Bengals’ defense had the best record in the league in points given up per game before today  (they are now right behind Denver). They have now given up 17.6 points per game. Since their bye week they just once gave up more than 10 points—in a loss to the Cardinals. The average in those five wins was just over seven points per game. I have to think this was a pretty good test for the Steelers offense, despite the loss of a couple of guys in their secondary. Today’s game was, strangely, not about beating the Bengals deep. It was about short and mid-range completions all over the field. Today’s average gain per offensive play was only 5.5 yards, far lower than Ben’s season average of 8.7 yards. He took what they gave him, and it worked just fine.

Of course, the 33 points includes a defensive touchdown. But 26 points on offense is nothing to be sneezed at. The Broncos lost today’s game against the Raiders by three points—a score of 12-15. If the Steelers offense can put up over 20 points next week it will probably be enough.

Momma’s Kind and Caring Report Card:

Effort: I think this has to go to DeAngelo Williams, who didn’t get a tremendous number of yards (76 on 23 carries) but had two rushing touchdowns. Honorable mention to the offensive line.

Citizenship: Ben Roethlisberger, who had a little talk with Antonio Brown which seemed to calm him down. Perhaps Ben threatened to not throw him the ball if he didn’t stop jawing with Kirkpatrick.

Work Ethic: The defensive line, as usual. Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt weren’t taking any plays off. Honorable mention to Chris Boswell, who was automatic on the field goals and also had a number of touchbacks, for once!

Homer J. and Ivan’s “On Second Thought” will be up sometime tomorrow, hopefully late morning. Look for some vintage Homerisms…

UPDATE: I just listened to Ben’s press conference after the game. His wife is clearly giving him sartorial suggestions, because he looked really sharp. He was asked whether he knew who starting the fighting before the game, and he said no, he didn’t, because he was out looking for Andy Dalton to see if he wanted to “go.”

He then laughed and said he and Dalton, who he said he is friends with, were talking before the game about how they perhaps should have planned a little routine. That would have been pure comedic gold. Except that the Battle of Armaggedon would probably have broken out amongst their teammates…

7 comments

  • We continue to roll, but still really need a win next week. The offensive line played fantastic. With few exceptions, it never looks easy, but my confidence in the offense is at an all time high. Go Steelers!

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  • cold_old_steelers_fan

    An enjoyable game in spite of the ineptness and one sided nature of the officiating. I wondered at the time if they thought the Steelers were deliberately trying to injure the Bengals players. Speaking of deliberately trying to injure players, Burflict is a train wreck waiting to happen. He consistently was trying for headshots on receviers and to injure any player he tackled. He deserves at least one fine for his play on the field today. He either doesn’t seem to understand the distinction between hurt and injure or he doesn’t care (I suspect it is the latter).

    I thought McCarron showed decent potential considering his lack of experience and the situation he was thrown into. It wasn’t until someone (I have forgotten who) on BTSC pointed it out that I realized AJ Green had kicked McCarron’s first career NFL touchdown ball into the stands. That was a selfish and thoughtless act. Hopefully Green apologizes and makes amends though how he can do it, I am not certain. Perhaps he will have to buy the ball back on ebay.

    Eifert or Dalton, who did the Bengals miss more? I think it was Eifert.

    Nelson’s pick should have been called back as our receiver had just been facemasked and pi’d by the back covering him. Just one of many missed or wrong calls in that game.

    I thought the o-line had a pretty solid performance considering the quality of the Bengals front four (eight?) and Heath put in a very Heath like performance though I worry about his long term health. Heath Miller is up there with Jack Ham as one of my all time favourite Steelers. I would love if he could win one more SB this year before riding off into retirement while still at the top of his game.

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  • I hesitate to criticize biased officiating. I watched 4 game today in their entirety. (o the magic of the PVR) and the quality of the refs is pretty much the same..abysmal. They miss facemasks, phantom “holds”, the ever fun game of “is it a catch?” There’s not one answer to that one..it depends on the crew doing the game.The league is apparently aware of the problems and are looking to clarify some of the rules. Right now, it’s chaotic. I don’t even argue calls/non-calls anymore. I’m numb to it. Just get me a ruling within 3 commercial breaks if possible! It’s usually..not.
    Steelers didn’t score much today…too many figgies..but after the Red Rifle went out, they probably didn’t need to. Plus Eifert who may be the 2nd best receiving TE in the league. Cry me a river….Very little sympathy from this Steeler fan who has had his crying towel out on numerous occasions due to injuries- starting with the preseason. I can’t even think about it without choking up..lol..
    This D needs turnovers to be effective..since the secondary is still a witches brew of mediocrity fused with poor tackling and bad angles. Why Blake is EVER…ever..ever…matched up ,one of one, on the outside with AJ Green is a mystery. Burnt. Toast. Guaranteed.
    Ben had some erratic throws today..a few were head scrathcers..behind the WR…throwing into double coverage..he also displayed a superb, as usual, deep ball that is incredibly accurate. It drops in from the sky in prime catching zone again and again. We are watching greatness..remember it because after he leaves the NFL..we’ll miss it terribly.
    ST’s still look like they can give up a TD on a return on any play. Tackling is still iffy on that unit..but both kickers had a good day. Mixed bag but good enough.
    Not sure about this team…I still don’t believe they have the horses..it’s a matter if they can outscore a very good to great team in the playoffs on a day when the opposing QB shreds the secondary. Cause it’s going to happen. Ben and Co. will have to earn their way there…
    Exciting team to watch though…there’s some very good athletes coming up on D. The bust that is Shamarko and Cortez doesn’t sting quite as bad now. But imagine if those two had turned into above average players? We’d be sitting pretty on D with our front 7. O well…its nice to dream..nite all.

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    • Passes will be behind receivers, too low..too high… too early. It happens. As an aside, living in DC, I find it interesting how hard it is for Redskins fans to get behind Cousins. Even if he wins, as he did yesterday, the complaints are about ‘not being sold on him’ because he sometimes throws a little behind the receiver or that they shouldn’t let him throw more passes because that might mean more interceptions. Well…yeah. But it also means more yards and scores, too. Sometimes I wonder if this age of access to players and schemes, fantasy football, the ability to replay every play repeatedly — I wonder if this makes it even easier for fans to forget just how hard it is to play the game.

      Just musing.

      As for the officiating, it has been terrible across the board all season. Every team can scream bias at some point or another, but I think the truth is simpler… most of the refs are not having good years.

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      • Abysmal officiating is the new normal. I do see why most coaches refuse to cry about it — like injuries, bad calls cannot be controlled and you must play on. Otherwise, the distraction detracts from the mission. Still, it sucks when it’s a close game and the call goes against you. It’s easier to swallow after a big win when several bad calls did little to inhibit our great effort.

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  • Your column gives us a chance for the monday game recapconversation “‘AROUND THE WATERCOOLER” without even leaving home. Thanks!

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