Steelers Report Card: Game 9 vs. Bengals
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Ben Roethlisberger had his worst outing of the season, completing only 50 percent of his passes and just one of his final nine. He was often erratic; witness a bad pass behind Hines Ward that was deflected, intercepted and returned 26 yards to set up a field goal. He even had three passes batted at the line. But he was sacked four times and was under pressure from an aggressive defense.
The Bengals held the Steelers to 80 yards rushing -- their lowest total since the season opener against Tennessee (36). Rashard Mendenhall had just one 10-yard run and finished with 36 yards on 13 attempts, his lowest total since becoming a starter. But part of the problem was that the offense converted just 3 of 15 third downs and couldn't find any rhythm.
The Bengals made sure to take away the deep pass against the Steelers, who could not complete a pass longer than 21 yards. Santonio Holmes had seven catches for 88 yards, but he had 14 passes thrown his way and could not shake free for a big play. He also let a potential 17-yard TD go through his hands at the end of the first half -- one of four failed TD opportunities in the red zone.
The Bengals were putting pressure on Roethlisberger, forcing the Steelers to keep RB Mewelde Moore and TE Heath Miller in the backfield on passing downs, especially on the final series when Roethlisberger had trouble finding an open receiver. Roethlisberger had to escape pressure on too many occasions. DE Jonathan Fanene had two sacks, the biggest on third-and-goal at the 8.
The Bengals rushed for 61 yards on 29 carries -- their second lowest of the season -- but were able to move the Steelers off the ball and grind out 28 yards on the ground on their final field-goal drive. It helped that Cedric Benson injured his hip in the second quarter and did not return. DE Brett Keisel had good pressure on Carson Palmer and batted a third-down pass at the Steelers' 14.
Outside linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley each had a sack, but they each had moments of ignominy. Harrison took a 15-yard penalty for punching left tackle Andrew Whitworth in the head on the Bengals' final field-goal drive. Woodley whiffed on a tackle on a 21-yard catch-and-run that set up a field goal. James Farrior got beat for 17 yards on a third-down dump pass.
Palmer passed for only 178 yards and his longest gain was 25 yards, but he completed six of his final seven passes -- five for 46 yards on the winning field-goal drive. The lone incompletion was a dropped INT by Ryan Clark. CB Ike Taylor did a good job on Chad Ochocinco, who had two catches for 29 yards. The loss of S Troy Polamalu took away some of the defense's big-play capabilities.
It is one thing that the Steelers allowed their third kickoff return for a touchdown in the past four games -- this one a 96-yarder to RB Bernard Scott. But when it is the only touchdown scored in the game, it becomes even more significant. OK, Stefan Logan had a 25-yard punt return to help set up a field goal but continues to get little on kick returns and was finally replaced by Mike Wallace.
It's hard to argue with a defensive plan when the Bengals had 218 yards offense, 14 first downs and didn't have a play longer than 25 yards. However, the offense never adjusted to the Bengals' pressure. Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer stifled a very productive offense. Coach Mike Tomlin had little to gain by disdaining a tying field goal on fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter.
First Published November 16, 2009 12:39 am