Rushing offense: B+
The Bengals averaged less than 4 yards per carry for the second consecutive week (3.7), but their net total of 127 was the team’s most against the Steelers since 2004. Rookie Giovani Bernard averaged 4.8 yards per carry (eight for 38) and scored his first career touchdown on a 7-yard run where he drew contact near the goal line and bulled in. BenJarvus Green-Ellis had 75 yards on 22 carries (3.4), and was instrumental in a pair of long fourth-quarter drives that kept the clock rolling and the Steelers offense off the field.
Passing offense: B-
Andy Dalton followed up his career-best 78-percent accuracy rate against the Bears by completing just 55.6 percent (25 of 45) against the Steelers. He was especially erratic early on, with head coach Marvin Lewis calling him “a little too jacked up.” But with the Steelers denying everything deep – the longest of A.J. Green’s six receptions went for just 10 yards – Dalton adjusted and worked the middle of the field with tight ends Jermaine Gresham (six catches for 66 yards) and Tyler Eifert (three for 66). More importantly, Dalton did not throw an interception after tossing five picks in his first four games against the Steelers.
Rushing defense: A
Holding Chicago to 2.9 yards per carry was one thing, but limiting Pittsburgh to just 2.8 per and a grand total of 44 was historic. It was the Steelers’ lowest total against the Bengals in 31 years and just the fourth time in that span that Cincinnati has held them below 60 yards on the ground. Pittsburgh starter Isaac Redman suffered a head injury on the opening kickoff, and the Steelers started Fernando Velasco at center after signing him off the street a week earlier. But they actually had 37 rushing yards by the end of the first quarter, which means the Bengals held them to just 7 yards on seven carries the final three quarters thanks to strong performances by linebacker Vontaze Burfict (team-high nine tackles) and Rey Maualuga (eight).
Passing defense: B+
Other than a poor final drive of the first half when Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger went 5 of 5 for 65 yards to lead the Steelers to their lone touchdown, the Bengals held up pretty well against the pass. Roethlisberger finished 20 of 37 for 251 yards, with 64 of those yards coming in the final 103 seconds when the Bengals were protecting a 10-point lead and employing a softer, prevent type of coverage. The front four got decent pressure on Roethisberger, sacking him twice while forcing him to move around quite a bit. That, of course, is something Big Ben is adept at doing, with it often leading to big plays. But while Roethlisberger did turn a couple of scrambles into big passes, the secondary held up for the most part. The performance was punctuated by Reggie Nelson’s interception at the Cincinnati 13 to keep it a two-score game with 4:55 to remaining.
Special teams: C
The Bengals gave up a 34-yard kickoff return to open the game and a 40-yard punt return in the first quarter to set up a Pittsburgh field goal for the game’s first score. But three of kicker Mike Nugent’s next four kickoffs went for touchbacks, and punter Kevin Huber dropped three inside the 20, including one at the 3, and averaged 46.6 yards on his seven punts. Cincinnati did have two penalties in coverage, which is concerning. And the Bengals didn’t manage much in their return game, getting a mere 5.4 yards on five punts and only 17 on the lone Pittsburgh kickoff that didn’t result in a touchback.
The staff did a great job of getting the team past the disappointment in Chicago and ready for Pittsburgh, but for the second consecutive week head coach Marvin Lewis and offensive coordinator Jay Gruden seemed confused about how they wanted to approach the final drive of the first half. Starting at their own 15 with 1:49 to go and all three timeouts remaining, the Bengals showed no sense of urgency, even after successfully moving the ball early in the drive. By the time they got a first down in Pittsburgh territory, only 23 seconds remained, and they never got close enough to try a tiebreaking field goal. The decision to only run the ball 10 times in the first half when they were averaging 5.3 per pop also was curious, but they adjusted at halftime and used the run to move the ball and the clock in the second half. Lewis also made a smart decision on a replay challenge of a Pittsburgh fumble that changed the early momentum, but the video evidence made that an easy call.