Taking a look back at the Steelers-Bengals game on my DVR.
Ben Roethlisberger is having a great year. So are Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown.
But none of them would be nearly as successful as they have been if it wasn’t for Bruce Arians.
The guy you love to hate is having one heck of a year.
Sure, the talents of Roethlisberger, Wallace and Brown sometimes makes Arians’ job look easy, but don’t kid yourself, Arians has been on point all season, especially with stuff that you don’t even realize.
The Steelers have been tremendous on opening drives all year, and that’s just not a coincidence.
Arians’ opening script has been near flawless.
Against the Bengals, the opening series resulted in an 8-play drive in which the Steelers marched right down the field against a very stingy defense and scored a touchdown.
The success can be traced back to confusing the defense, and Arians did that by mixing and matching personnel groupings.
Out of the eight plays, only twice did Arians have the same six skill players on the field at the same time.
Arians used a three-tight end set twice, a two tight end set three times, a three wide receiver set three times and even three receivers, a tight end and a running back in a five receiver look once.
The skinny in all this is that Arians does a fantastic job of confusing defenses during his scripted calls to start the game, and also uses that later in the game to predict how defenses will react to different personnel groupings.
Yeah, I know all offensive coordinators do something similar to what Arians does, but not many do it as well as him.
* Hines Ward played only nine snaps the entire game, one of which came in the second half.
You have to give Mike Tomlin all the credit in the world in having the guts to make the correct call to put Jerricho Cotchery in the lineup ahead of Ward.
Bottom line is that Cotchery is better than Ward and deserves to play ahead of him.
Tomlin’s demotion of Ward was handled with class as well. There was no talk of it beforehand, and no denying it afterwards. He let Ward start the game and quietly removed him as the game went on.
With Ward’s resume, that’s the least of what he deserves.
* Now, don’t you William Gay haters feel a little bad about yourself now?
OK, Gay is no Darrelle Revis, but he sure played like him against the Bengals.
Gay knocked away one pass, batted another that was intercepted by Lawrence Timmons and, of course, saved the game when he jumped Jerome Simpson’s slant route and intercepted the ball to give the Steelers the win.
Teams continue to ignore Ike Taylor on the other side and test Gay, and to his credit, he’s stepped up to the challenge every week … well, except for last week.
* Speaking of Gay’s interception, you have to give him a lot of credit for anticipating that route and making a play on the ball.
However, a lot of credit also has to go to linebacker Jason Worilds.
The linebacker quickly got to his correct depth on his drop and really altered Simpson’s route that, in turn, led to the interception.
* Sorry to say, but the hit Reggie Nelson laid on Heath Miller around the goalline was not a helmet-to-helmet hit.
It was close, but Nelson’s shoulder clearly contacted Miller’s shoulder.
Saying that, Nelson still should be fined because, even though there was no helmet-to-helmet contact, it was most definitely a hit to a defenseless receiver.
* Let me get this straight, you have your best cornerback who has shut down every receiver he faced this year pass off a guy like A.J. Green to a pair of safeties who can’t cover a lick?
That’s exactly what happened on Green’s touchdown catch, and I have no idea why there was any such call in Dick LeBeau’s game plan.
Still makes no sense a couple days later when Ike Taylor isn’t racing stride-for-stride with Green to the end zone.
* There is some talk about Cincinnati Domata Peko having a good chance of making the Pro Bowl this year.
I don’t know about that, but do yourself a favor and cue up your DVR to the 45-minute mark of the game when Ben Roethlisberger was intercepted by Leon Hall on the Miller bobble.
Just look in amazement on what Peko did to Steelers guard Chris Kemoeatu, mind you, one of the toughest linemen in the NFL.
I can’t ruin it for you. Just go back and look at the play.
* My goodness that was a pretty play by Roethlisberger to shake a pair of untouched blitzing defenders to throw the initial touchdown of the game to Cotchery.
It was a thing of beauty – unless your name is Marcus Gilbert.
The rookie right tackle totally blew his assignment leaving both Jonathan Fanene and Nate Clements with a free run at Roethlisberger.
Gilbert was supposed to slide to his right and pick up Fanene leaving Roethlisberger only Clement to deal with.
It was a mistake that went unnoticed because of the result. However, eventually something like that could cost the Steelers big-time.
* Roethlisberger has made his share of poor throws this year, especially missing the wide-open deep ball that he’s done more than once this season.
However, rarely has he made a bad decision with a throw.
Roethlisberger’s throw that was intended for Brown in between a Cover 2 defense was a flat-out bad decision.
It should’ve been intercepted by Nelson. Roethlisberger was fortunate.
* It may be just because we follow the Steelers on a daily basis, but Roethlisberger absolutely gets treated differently than any other quarterback in the league.
Roethlisberger complained to the referee (and rightfully so) in the third quarter when Peko put a shoulder into the back of Roethlisberger way after he was already sacked.
Nothing was called.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the ensuing drive for the Bengals was helped out when Timmons did the same exact thing Andre Caldwell in the red zone after he caught a pass.
The inconsistencies are what gets the players so riled up, and who can blame them?
* The wide receiver screen has become one of the Steelers’ best run plays, and Arians sure doesn’t hesitate to call it.
An extension of the run game, Wallace caught three screens for 23 yards and Ward caught one for 10 yards. Three of the four went for first downs.
Can’t complain about those numbers, can you?
* Forget the Ike Taylor watch for this week because Andy Dalton didn’t want anything to do with him.
Taylor didn’t allow a catch and was targeted only twice all game.
Here’s the updated list of who did what against Taylor this year:
Wes Welker, New England 4-23 yards
Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona 3-58 yards
Anquan Boldin, Baltimore 3-35 yards
Andre Johnson, Houston 3-23 yards
Nate Washington, Tennessee 2-11 yards
Rob Housler, Arizona 1-20 yards
Jason Hill, Jacksonville 1-18 yards, TD
Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis 1-11 yards
Deion Branch, New England 1-10 yards
Mike Williams, Seattle 1-9 yards
Damian Williams, Tennessee 1-8 yards
Mike Thomas, Jacksonville 1-3 yards
Torrey Smith, Baltimore 1-2
Pierre Garcon, Indianapolis 1-(-2) yards
Grading the Starters
QB – Ben Roethlisberger – B (Continued his MVP-like season)
RB – Rashard Mendenhall – A (Game-winning TD was impressive)
TE/FB – David Johnson – B (Cutting down on mistakes)
WR – Mike Wallace – B (Getting involved in other ways)
WR – Antonio Brown – A (Just think when he gets it)
TE – Heath Miller – C (When he messes up, he messes up big)
LT – Max Starks – C (Looked slow)
LG – Chris Kemoeatu – C (Inconsistency still plagues him)
C – Maurkice Pouncey – B (Did well against Peko)
RG – Ramon Foster – B (Steady as they come)
RT – Marcus Gilbert – C (Plenty of mistakes)
DE – Ziggy Hood – C (Still nothing)
NT – Casey Hampton – B (Good one play, bad another)
DE – Brett Keisel – B (Was quiet)
LB – James Harrison – B (Forced 2 huge penalties on Whitworth)
LB – Jason Worilds – B (Getting better)
LB – James Farrior – C (Had a rough return)
LB – Lawrence Timmons – B (Needs to make more plays)
CB – Ike Taylor – A (No catches allowed)
CB – William Gay – A (Player of the Game)
S – Troy Polamalu – B (Playing around line a lot more)
S – Ryan Clark – B (Can’t get beat like he did)
By Mark Kaboly