Steelers: Defense leads Pittsburgh over Cincinnati


The Steelers defense had arguably their best performance of the season during Pittsburgh’s 33-20 victory over the AFC-North leading Bengals. 

The Steelers defense has drawn much criticism during the 2015 campaign, but the defense might be responsible for saving the Steelers’ playoff chances during a highly-emotional divisional contest on Sunday in Cincinnati.

The Pittsburgh defensive unit forced three turnovers and scored a touchdown on the strength of a 23-yard interception return by cornerback William Gay which lead the black and gold to a 33-20 victory. Safety Robert Golden and defensive end Stephon Tuitt notched interceptions of their own to secure a stellar defensive performance against one of the NFL’s best offenses.

Tuitt started the party on Cincinnati’s first offensive drive. Quarterback Andy Dalton and the Bengals marched down the field and in to Steeler territory. Then, in typical Steeler fashion this season, Tuitt intercepted a Dalton shovel pass that stalled the offensive drive.

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After attempting to tackle Tuitt, Dalton would leave the game with a thumb injury.

Dalton’s replacement–former University of Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron–found a bit of success against the Steelers secondary. McCarron completed 22 of 32 passes for 280 yards and two touchdown tosses. The Steelers were able to intercept two of his passes, minimizing possible damage.

The defense could not have chosen to play their best game at a better time, as the high-powered Steelers offensive attack was held in relative check during the first half. After DeAngelo Williams‘ touchdown run on the first drive, Pittsburgh was held to field goals for the remainder of the half.

While the Steelers were able to move the ball with relative ease, Cincinnati was able to keep things in front of them. The longest play of the game for Pittsburgh came on the strength of a 31-yard reception by Markus Wheaton.

Week 14’s victory over Cincinnati marked the first time that Ben Roethlisberger was held without a touchdown pass for an entire game this season. His only other appearance without a touchdown pass came in week 2 against the Rams, a game in which he left due to a knee injury.

Its an extremely positive sign to see the Steelers handily defeat a divisional opponent, particularly when the offense isn’t blowing the top off the opposing defense. The defense once again contained the Bengals potent attack and gained crucial momentum as we head into January.

Cincinnati ranks second in total points allowed, so the lack of offensive touchdowns isn’t too concerning. The Bengals employ a similar bend-but-don’t-break approach defensively, but the Steelers still had four players with over 45 yards receiving.

It seems as if this team has adjusted to life without Le’Veon Bell. Since Bell’s injury, Pittsburgh has scored at least 30 points in each of the five games its played since the All-Pro tailback was lost for the season.

Additionally, the win keeps Pittsburgh’s divisional championship hopes alive. The Bengals are trending downward due to the loss of Dalton, but they would have to suffer an additional divisional loss in order for the Steelers to secure the north.

With both the Jets and the Chiefs being victorious in week 14, the Steelers still find themselves walking on eggshells. The black and gold welcomes Vonn Miller and the Denver Broncos’ top-ranked defense to Heinz Field on Sunday in what is still a must-win game.

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Pittsburgh has shown the offensive prowess to score on a top-ranked defense and enters Sunday’s game in good health. They’ll need all hands on deck if they hope to top Denver on Sunday afternoon.