There was no brawl between the Steelers and Bengals (Probably a good thing for Cincinnati since if a Bengals player tried to hit someone, they’d likely miss and knock out a pair of their own teammates). Still, based on the play Pittsburgh displayed against Cincinnati on Sunday, there were plenty of lingering effects and distractions from the melee in Cleveland.
And yet, they played the Bengals, so win.
In a season that has been one distraction after another, more often than not, the Steelers have found a way. This week, it was inserting Devlin Hodges into the lineup for a struggling Mason Rudolph. Hodges wasn’t great, but was good enough to throw the TD that put Pittsburgh on top and then also engineer a pair of drives that led to field goals that locked down the game.
The defense also once again stepped up, allowing just 10 points and 244 total yards. Once again, Minkah Magic came through in the form of a fumble recovery. Would things have been different if Andy Dalton had played instead of Ryan Finley? Maybe, but that’s why the Bengals are the Bengals.
Still, even with five wins in the last six games, even holding down the last AFC wild card berth, you still wonder how, why, and did that just happen with this Steelers squad.
The offense the remainder of the year may need to rely on the run game. At the end of it all, that has been the ultimate “next man up” area for Pittsburgh. No Le’Veon Bell last season and then traded this one? Insert James Conner. He gets hurt, try Benny Snell. Snell goes down, its Jaylen Samuels turn. Snell comes back, runs for 98 yards against Cincinnati.
Even with what has been a remarkably stout running game despite the injuries for the Steelers, if they are going to hold on to the playoff spot and have a chance to make some noise, better play from the QB position is going to be needed. As a team, 13-for-27, 179 yards, a TD and an INT isn’t going to get the job done. Having your starter get benched after going 8-for-16, 85 yards and a pick isn’t going to get it done. Better teams will stack the box, force the pass, and someone is going to need to be able to throw the ball.
How the Benching of Mason Rudolph Alters the Steelers Week 13 Odds Against the Browns
Mike Tomlin said that Rudolph was benched for his play and not for the allegations of what he said during the brawl in Cleveland. I actually believe both reasons to be true. I have no doubt he got benched for his performance. I also have no doubt that the commentary during the week and the scrutiny leading up to the game affected him and was a major distraction. That will all need to be put aside if the Steelers are going to compete down the stretch.
Thing is, that distraction isn’t going to go away anytime soon. Thanks to the magic of the NFL schedule, Pittsburgh and Cleveland meet for the second time in three weeks. For the first time in 30 years, the Steelers are a HOME dog to the Browns (-1). With a spread that small, you’re basically betting on who’s winning the game outright and for that, I like the Steelers. This is another back against the wall spot and that’s what Pittsburgh has specialized in this season. Take the Steelers with the point being a bonus.