Pittsburgh Steelers running back DeAngelo Williams (34) is tackled by Cincinnati Bengals strong safety Shawn Williams (36) during the first half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016. (Don Wright/AP)
I’m not sure if the Steelers defense is better than advertised, or if Cincinnati’s offense was sloppy Sunday.
I’m not sure if Ben Roethlisberger had a good day, or bad. His was definitely a tale of two halves, and the prevailing moisture diluted his touch.
I’m not sure if Antonio Brown and A.J. Green played. There’s precious little statistical evidence: The marquee receivers combined for six catches and 77 yards.
But I am absolutely sure that the Steelers feel a lot more like the Steelers when they pound the ball on the ground. (I’m speaking for ownership and management, not necessarily Roethlisberger and Brown.)
I am even more certain that the Steelers’ MVP after two weeks is a man who’s barely going to play come Week 4.
The Steelers have run 142 offensive plays over two games. DeAngelo Williams has 68 touches. That’s a cool 48 percent, and if the 33-year-old running back hasn’t been spectacular, his effectiveness is undeniable.
As is Williams’ availability. That’s the most important ability. Stay off the weed, kids.
Williams had 94 yards on a career-high 32 carries in the Steelers’ 24-16 home win over the Bengals, tacking on four catches for 38 yards and a touchdown.
When Le’Veon Bell returns to the lineup for Kansas City’s visit to Heinz Field on Oct. 2, Williams may well be the NFL’s rushing leader when he gets benched. That never happened to Jim Brown.
Before the debate starts, there isn’t one: No matter what happens between now and Week 4, Williams won’t retain the starting job at RB. (That’s assuming there isn’t another drug test.) Nor will Williams and Bell split duty. Bell will be the workhorse.
Williams is what he is: A 33-year-old backup who would likely wilt under a full season’s heavy labor. But a frenetic three weeks is right up his alley.
The Steelers have affected an odd persona en route to 2-0.
The NFL is a passing league. Williams’ success, and what Bell does upon his return, won’t change that. With Roethlisberger and Brown, the Steelers are extremely well-equipped to deal with said reality.
But offensive coordinator Todd Haley was smitten with the sidecar handoff out of the shotgun yesterday. Williams justified his love, not unlike Madonna.
Williams’ performance didn’t totally eliminate the Steelers’ anxious moments. The result wasn’t decided until just past the two-minute warning, when Clairton High School product Tyler Boyd did what he’d doubtless dreamed of since childhood: He made a play that clinched a Steelers victory at Heinz Field.
It’s odd how things turn out.
Yesterday was no masterpiece, but the Steelers are undefeated and atop the AFC North. They still have to play Cleveland twice, so that’s not far from clinching a playoff berth.
Brown twerked to celebrate a touchdown in the Steelers’ opening-game victory at Washington. That drew a 15-yard penalty and a $12,000 fine. He was also fined $9K for wearing improperly colored shoes.
Brown explained thusly: “Obviously, I’m not a guy trying to bring extra attention to myself.”
Yes, Brown really said that. Swear to God.
Despite the absurdity of that statement, Brown did his best to back it up Sunday. He was just shy of invisible, and his frustration seemed to simmer just below the surface.
Brown is now officially on pace not to get 2,000 receiving yards. That’s probably OK by him. Who wants all that extra recognition?
Meantime, Steelers tight ends caught two touchdowns. Who the heck is Xavier Grimble?
Usually, the Steelers chances largely come down to Roethlisberger and Brown. Just not Sunday.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).