An offense that played to personnel strength and a hungry defense led the Steelers to a strong 27-3 win against the Bengals on Monday night. It was the type of performance that, regardless of how you feel about him, showed why Mike Tomlin has been one of the better coaches in the NFL for more than a decade.
He knew he had Mason Rudolph just making his second career start. He knew James Conner can catch the ball well out of the backfield. Rudolph completed 24-of-28 passes. Conner caught the ball eight times for 83 yards. The Bengals never seemed to know if he was going to run, stay home in pass protect, or move into the flat. It was a fantastically designed plan.
And then there’s Jaylen Samuels, who did pretty much everything except complete a pass to himself. He was 3-for-3 throwing the ball. He ran 10 times. He caught eight balls, either coming from the backfield or splitting out in motion.
Welcome to the 2019 Pittsburgh Steelers. No reliance on one big back. No depending on Big Ben to throw 60 times. It’s about using who you have, maybe in an unconventional role, to get the result you need.
Having a defense get after the quarterback doesn’t hurt either. Pittsburgh smothered Andy Dalton to the tune of eight sacks and Cincinnati was able to only gain 175 yards of total offense, averaging 2.7 yards per play. After playing better, but falling short against San Francisco, this was the type of game the defense, and Steelers needed in general in order to perhaps save their season.
Steelers Odds for Week 5: Steelers Week 5 Preview Against the Ravens
Pittsburgh is far from out of it. Neither Cleveland or Baltimore have separated themselves, so even at 1-3, the Steelers are just one game out in the division a month into the season with all four games left against the teams ahead of them in the standings. You’d rather be the hunted than the hunter, but it’s not the worst place to be in at the moment.
Is the “by any means necessary based on personnel” philosophy sustainable, though? We’ll get a bit of that answer this week against the Ravens. Baltimore has a reputation of being a stout defense, but has struggled in the secondary this season, giving up significant chunk plays to the Cardinals, Chiefs, and, most recently, the Browns. They’ve also given up big rushing performances. The style of play the Steelers used against the Bengals may be the perfect formula for a Baltimore team that all of a sudden finds itself needing to win high-scoring shootouts rather than low scoring brawls.
The early line against the Ravens has Baltimore giving 3.5 points. If I’m a Steelers fan with a couple extra bucks in my pocket, I’m running to my local, legal establishment to take that line. The game is in Pittsburgh and the Ravens are just 1-7 in their last eight divisional games against the spread. Based on what we’ve seen the last two weeks, unless Lamar Jackson goes off, I can see the Steelers winning the game outright. The points are just a bonus.