The Steelers squeaked past the Bengals but it wasn’t enough to qualify for the playoffs. Despite a 16-13 victory, a number of midseason disappointments allowed the Baltimore Ravens to walk away with the AFC North division title. DraftNasty’s Troy Jefferson gives his impressions in this in-game report:
Steelers spread attack
The Steelers employed the spread attack as its primary offensive set during the regular season and this included the season finale against the Bengals. It allowed them to get their playmakers out in space but it did leave quarterback Ben Roethlisberger susceptible to increased pressure from four-man fronts. Cincinnati only sacked Big Ben once, but they were able to get him off his throwing spot without blitzing while still keeping two safeties high. With Antonio Brown out, Roethlisberger started the game by throwing seven completions to five different receivers. A majority of these passes were wide receiver screens and slants. As was my concern early in the season, Roethlisberger did fall back into a pattern of turning the football over, not only against the Bengals but all season long. For the game, Roethlisberger finished with one passing touchdown, one interception and 287 passing yards on 68-percent passing. James Conner led the team with 64 rushing yards on 14 carries. As the Steelers assess their 2018 season offensively, look for them to carry over their spread principles into next year while also finding ways to cut down on the turnovers.
Pittsburgh ranked sixth in scoring offense and were in the top ten in passing yards and rushing yards allowed. The offensive and defensive stats tell a story of a successful season but turnovers doomed the Steelers and almost cost them their game against the Bengals. In 2018, Pittsburgh finished with a -11 turnover differential, which ranked 28th in the NFL. The other four teams with a worst differential than the Steelers were Arizona, Jacksonville, San Francisco and Tampa Bay, all teams who finished with losing records. Against Cincinnati, Roethlisberger threw a pick- six to Shawn Williams, which represented the Bengals’ only touchdown for the game. Defensively, Pittsburgh was not able to force the Bengals, who were missing wide receiver A.J. Green and quarterback Andy Dalton, into any mistakes.
With A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd and Tyler Eifert out, it was evident that the Bengals just didn’t have the firepower to get players open against the Steelers. Alex Erickson caught all six of his targets for 63 yards and was able to work over the middle but his longest catch was for just 13 yards. The Bengals next most productive reviewer was Auden Tate, who caught one pass for 15 yards. Joe Mixon ran for 105 yards and finished with 1,168 yards on the season. The 22- year-old running back should be able to be relied upon for the long- term, but look for the Bengals to continue to try and develop their young playmakers like John Ross, a former Top 10 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.