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Steelers defense dominates Bengals in 29-14 win

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The Steelers held Cincinnati's offense to just 179 total yards, while holding them scoreless in the second half to collect a third win against the AFC North at Heinz Field Sunday.

Wearing the collar took to new strides for Cincinnati’s offense Sunday.

The unit was muzzled, beaten, bruised and punished by Pittsburgh’s (5-2) unmerciful defense, getting blanked for an entire second half in a 29-14 domination in the division rivalry bout at Heinz Field.

The Steelers are now a perfect 3-0 in the AFC North, clutching a clear-cut two-game advantage over Baltimore.

“We’re going to be real dangerous,” said Ryan Shazier, whose defensive unit corralled four sacks of Andy Dalton—all in the second half—while holding the Bengals without a third down conversion (0-for-5) in the final 30-minutes.

Shazier continued his thought on the defense getting to the quarterback, while noting that two of the sacks on the night came with a rush of just four guys, including a Tyson Alualu sack on Andy Dalton for 11-yards on a first down early in the fourth quarter, forcing a second straight three-and-out.

“We know that we can get pressure like that on a consistent basis,” said the linebacker, who finished with a team-best eight tackles.

Dalton was terrorized by the Steelers’ relentless defensive unit, finishing with just 140 yards through the air on 17-of-30 passing and two interceptions, including a Joe Haden pick on a 2nd and 2 with 6:48 left in the third quarter, as AJ Green tipped the pass thrown to him, which was then corralled by the leaping cornerback at the 40-yard line, later resulting in a 49-yard Chris Boswell field goal to give the Steelers a 12-point advantage.

“We knew how big of a threat (Green) is, and we watched a lot of film to see that if he’s in a certain spot, things like that, we just make sure we stay on top, and he can’t really beat us coming back to the cornerback,” said Haden, who grabbed his first interception in a Steelers’ uniform Sunday.

Green, who was third in the NFL in receiving yards with 504 coming into the game, caught just three passes for 41 yards, which still marked a Cincinnati best.

“We didn’t play up to where we needed to today,” said Green, who had his worst performance receiving in a full game played since Sept. 18 of last year, when the Steelers held the seven-year veteran to 38 yards on two catches.  “They did a great job of taking me away.”

Shazier continued on the smothering of the Bengals’ most dangerous weapon.

“He’s their big play guy,” the linebacker said of Green.  “He’s making huge plays for them, it really allows their offense to play at a really high level, and helps them to really control the game.  When you limit him, you force them to throw it at other guys.  I’m not saying (Dalton) doesn’t trust his other guys a lot, but I know he trusts AJ a lot.”

Cincinnati, who was held to 179 total yards of offense—the fourth-fewest allowed in the regular-season series—never found the scoreboard again after a Tyler Kroft 1-yard touchdown grab midway through the second quarter tied things at 14.

“We were close there going into the half,” said Coach Mike Tomlin, who improved to 16-5 all-time against Cincinnati.  “As the game wore on we made the necessary plays in all three phases, and so I tip the cap to the guys in the locker room.  They understood the s2ignificance of a good performance today and they delivered it.”

The Bengals were held to a dismal 71 yards on the ground, with second round draft pick Joe Mixon leading the way tallying just 48 yards on seven carries.  Veteran back Giovani Bernard was held to eight yards on three carries, adding to just 22 yards in his last three games combined.

“As the game kept progressing, we got a good feel for the game, we balanced ourselves and I thought we delivered,” said Cam Hayward, who finished with four tackles and a sack.

 “This was so much fun, because, when you’re getting off the field, you’re forcing teams into longer down and distances, you’re allowed to play fun ball,” said Shazier.  “That’s when you get turnovers, that’s when you force them to make decisions they’re not trying to make and putting us in good field position.”

The Steelers’ offense, which was led by 134 yards on 35 carries by Le’Veon Bell, scored its only two touchdowns in the first half, including a Ben Roethlisberger-to-Antonio brown 7-yard connection that capped a nine-play, 75-yard drive that ate 5:35 of the first quarter on the Steelers’ opening drive, marking the first time this season Pittsburgh found the endzone on its first drive.

“I felt like we were on a good page today, and we could have thrown the ball all over the place, especially against a good defense,” said Roethlisberger, who finished 14-of-24 for 224 yards and two touchdowns.  “When you are in a groove, you feel like you can kind of do whatever you want throwing the ball, but then Le’Veon comes out like that like that in the second half, especially, so, you just start giving him the ball and throwing on third down, and things worked out.”

Roethlisberger connected with JuJu Smith-Schuster on a 31-yard touchdown play to start the second quarter, marking the only other endzone trip for the Steelers Sunday.

Tomlin kept it simple to close his opening statement during his post-game press conference.

“It was a big day for us,” the coach made it known.

Boz is boss

The Steelers’ kicker was smoother than a 1960’s Rat Pack ensemble at The Flamingo, hitting all the notes (or kicks), going 5-of-5 with a long of 49-yards.  Boswell, who is now 11-of-13 on the season.

“Every kick is the same out there.  You got to do what you’ve got to do,” said the imperturbable Boswell, who has missed just nine field goals in 70 attempts in three years as a Steeler.

“I’m just helping the team secure a win,” the kicker continued.  “I think about every kick, knowing that that kick is going to be the most important.  Whatever I can do for this team to help this team win.”

Fourth quarter trickery

On a fourth down from midfield midway through the fourth quarter, Robert Golden took a direct snap in the punt formation, hurling a 44-yard pass to Darrius Heyward-Bey to the red zone, which set up the Steelers’ final score of the game, a 25-yard Boswell field goal.

“We’ve been practicing that pass for three or four years now,” said Golden, who threw a similar pass in a punt formation against Cleveland in 2014.  “It’s a look that we look for every week.  We practice it every week.  When I get the opportunity to run It, I try and execute it at a high level.”

Roethlisberger poked fun at the wannabe signal-caller, who just so happened to end his night with a perfect quarterback rating.

“Terrible form.  He looked like he was casting like in deep sea fishing,” said a lighthearted Ben.  “Still, it might have been the best pass of the night.”

After the spread

The Steelers came in as 4-point home favorites, covering for just the second time as a home favorite (26-9 win over +8.5 Minnesota.)  They are now 4-3 ATS.

The total, which was set at 40 points, clipped the over for the first time this season with 43 total points scored, marking the first time this season a Steelers game has failed to go under (1-6.)

Up next

The Steelers will travel to Detroit next Sunday to face the Lions in primetime.  Kickoff is set for 8:30 PM.

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