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