Monday, December 08, 2014

Steelers coaches make positive impact against Bengals

Monday, Dec. 8, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Steelers beat Bengals 42-21, make AFC North a race

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) throws a 94-yard touchdown pass to Martavis Bryant during the second half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Dec. 7, 2014 in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Frank Victores)


Mike Tomlin isn't coaching a perfect football team, and the Steelers again showed some of their flaws on Sunday afternoon.

They also exited Paul Brown Stadium with a 42-21 victory over Cincinnati and a driver's seat position in the AFC North — a division that will be won by an imperfect team — so it might as well be Tomlin's Steelers.

Really, though, I'd be a fool to make a prediction.

The Steelers have defeated two division leaders. They have lost to three last-place teams. They have scored points like they were in a video game, and also like they were in the era that didn't include forward passes. They have allowed enough big plays to render any lead unlikely to hold up. Sometimes — OK most times — they can't count on punts to go very far.

Still, win the next three games and the Steelers will bring a playoff game back to Heinz Field. And on Sunday, anyway, a maligned coaching staff was one reason the Steelers won their biggest game of the season.

Of course, Ben Roethlisberger was really good, too. And Antonio Brown was great. And Le'Veon Bell was awesome. These stars comprise the Steelers' Big Three, and when they're on they make up for a lot of other problems.

The Big Three even can be enough to overcome a consistently leaky secondary that was tagged for two big plays on Sunday, giving Steelers' opponents 15 gains of at least 40 yards.

“I won't even make an excuse, we've really got to fix it,” safety Troy Polamalu said.

He isn't wrong, but there is no reason to believe the Steelers will get it right when it comes to stopping big plays. That has nothing to do with coaching and everything to do with a combination of players lacking experience and, in some cases, talent.

Still, as was the case in a home loss to New Orleans last week, the Steelers were stout defensively to open this game. As wasn't the case against the Saints, they finished fine.

The Steelers were called for only three penalties, a reflection of the discipline instilled by Tomlin during practices that defensive end Cameron Heyward described as “maximized.”

“I thought we took advantage of them,” Heyward said. “There were some execution problems at the beginning (of last week), but we took those out and at the end had execution, hustle and effort — and when you have those, you're set up well for the game.”

Tomlin has made some mistakes this season, and inexcusable losses to Tampa Bay and the New York Jets still could cost the Steelers dearly. However, he and his coaches have an 8-5 record from a team with overall talent that isn't comparable to the likes of league heavyweights Green Bay, New England, Denver and Seattle, or even division rivals Baltimore, Cleveland and, certainly, these Bengals.

Ownership should re-evaluate its entire scouting operation in the offseason. The Rooneys probably should take a hard look at whether either Todd Haley or Dick LeBeau are the best men for the jobs of taking forward the Steelers' offense and defense.

Tomlin, Haley and LeBeau deserved handshakes from team chairman Dan Rooney after Sunday's victory.
Haley's call to rush Bell off left tackle on the Steelers' first offensive play after the Bengals took a 21-17 lead was perhaps his best in three seasons. Bell gained 53 yards to set up an eventual field goal.

LeBeau's defense never crumbled after the big catches by the Bengals' A.J. Green. It might not seem like much, but not crumbling on defense could lead to big success for the Steelers over the next three weeks.

The Steelers allowed only three touchdowns on this Sunday, and they can win any Sunday that happens.

Tomlin and his coordinators were really good against the Bengals. Not great. Not awesome. Really good, and coaching performances like this one should be enough to make the Steelers the best imperfect team in their division.

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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