Kevin Gorman’s Take 5: Steelers set victorious tone with opening drive
1. The Steelers’ opening drive was a thing of beauty as they marched 75 yards on nine plays. That six of them involved Le’Veon Bell — who had five carries for 27 yards and one catch for a 23-yard gain — set the tone for the offense.
Ben Roethlisberger completed all three of his pass attempts, including a 16-yarder to Antonio Brown for a first down and the 7-yard scoring pass to Brown for a 7-0 lead over the Bengals at 9 minutes, 25 seconds of the first quarter.
It was a preview for big games by Ben, Bell and Brown, which is crucial to the Steelers’ success.
2. As for big pass plays, tight end Vance McDonald came through for the second consecutive game with a catch of 20-plus yards.
On second-and-5 at the Steelers 41, Roethlisberger found McDonald over the middle for a 28-yarder that could have gone for even more yards had McDonald kept his balance after bouncing off Bengals defenders.
That set up Roethlisberger’s 31-yard scoring pass to a wide-open JuJu Smith-Schuster, whose hide-and-seek touchdown celebration with Bell hiding behind the goal post a week after treating it like a punching bag quickly became a viral video sensation on Twitter .
3. Problem was, Cincinnati responded to each of those touchdown drives with one of its own.
The score was tied 14-14 after Andy Dalton led the Bengals on a 12-play, 75-yard scoring drive capped by his 1-yard pass to tight end Tyler Kroft at 7:12 of the second quarter.
The Steelers needed something spectacular.
And Bell delivered, with a wicked stiff-arm on Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick on his way to a 42-yard run to the Cincinnati 17.
The drive stalled on an incomplete pass on third-and-goal at the 4, forcing the Steelers to settle for the first of Chris Boswell’s five field goals, but Bell was only getting warmed up.
4. The Steelers’ problems converting on third down and in the red zone continued, which is a troubling trend.
But there was a difference between this game against the Bengals and the 24-20 win in Cincinnati last December, when Boswell tied a team record by kicking six field goals.
As the Steelers were settling for field goals on offense, their defense was picking off passes to neutralize the Bengals .
Joe Haden got his first interception as a Steeler, catching one that went off the fingertips of A.J. Green at the Bengals 40. And Will Gay added another on the next possession, on a third-and-4 pass intended for Josh Malone that was broken up by safety Sean Davis.
5. The Steelers were 2 of 11 on third downs, but one of those stops led to a play that had their sideline in all smiles.
On a fourth-and-7 at their own 40, the Steelers lined up in punt formation. But safety Robert Golden, the up man, took the snap and tossed a pass to Darrius Heyward-Bey for a 44-yard gain down the visiting sideline.
Golden is 2 for 2 passing for 69 yards in his NFL career, having completed a 25-yarder against the Cleveland Browns in 2014.
No one at Heinz Field was complaining that the Steelers settled for another field goal, unless you’re counting the number of times they have scored 30 points this season.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.