Steelers 36, Bengals 10: Steelers let their fans catch their breath

We needed that one, didn’t we?

After three straight Sundays of sitting on the edge of our seats until the final minute, Steelers fans could sit back and breathe easy in the waning moments of Sunday’s 36-10 win over the Bengals at Heinz Field.

The Steelers (9-0) came into this game coming off three wins that came down to a missed field goal with 19 seconds left and two goal-line pass breakups as time expired. This was their most dominant performance since their last home game, a 38-7 win over the Browns in Week 6.

There will be some consternation about the Steelers’ inability to run the football. They scratched out just 44 yards on 20 carries Sunday.

The Steelers ran for more than 100 yards in each of their first five games, dipped to 94 yards in Week 7 at Tennessee, and have put up 48, 46 and 44 yards in the three games since.

It’s something we need to keep an eye on, but let’s not quibble right now. The Steelers are 9-0 and despite their ground slump they’re on pace to score 481 points this season, which would shatter the franchise record of 436 in 2014.

Remember the Todd Haley days when the Steelers, star-studded with Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, were touted as a 30-point-per-game offense? Well, that’s what they’re averaging now. They’ve scored 36 or more points in three straight home games for the first time in franchise history.

Due to COVID-19 protocols, Ben Roethlisberger spent the week home-schooling his kids and couldn’t practice, yet he distributed the ball to seven receivers Sunday. He threw for four touchdowns, two to Chase Claypool and one each to Diontae Johnson and JuJu Smith-Schuster. Roethlisberger has 22 TD passes this season. He’s throwing them at a clip that would surpass his career high of 34 in 2018.

While the offensive line is having a hard time prying open holes for James Conner, the unit is doing a good job enforcing social distancing between Roethlisberger and opposing pass rushers. Roethlisberger was unsacked for the second straight game Sunday. It’s just the second time in his career he hasn’t been sacked in two straight games. He’s been sacked on just 2.9 percent of his pass attempts, which would be a career low.

Not only is this offense out-performing the Killer B’s of the Haley Era, but it’s also accompanied by a better defense. The Steelers were sixth in the NFL in yards allowed through Sunday afternoon’s games, according to Team Rankings. They lead the league in sacks (36) and are tied for the league lead in takeaways (17). Between 2013 and 2016, the Steelers never ranked in the top 10 in yards allowed per game.

Then in 2017 they drafted T.J. Watt, and they’ve been among the top six in yards allowed every year since. Like Roethlisberger, Watt is also working on a career high. He has nine sacks through nine games. That sack-a-game pace would eclipse the 14.5 he had last year.

Watt had two sacks Sunday, both in the second quarter when the Bengals still had a shot at making it a ballgame. The first came on third down (the Bengals were 0-for-13 on third down) to force a punt with the Steelers leading 19-7. The Steelers kicked a field goal but left enough time for the Bengals to try to get a score before the half, and Cincinnati was getting the ball to start the second half.

The Bengals (2-6-1) moved to the Steelers’ 35 with 29 seconds on the clock, then Watt sacked Joe Burrow for an 11-yard loss to knock the Bengals out of field-goal range and preserve the 15-point lead that the Steelers had at the half.

Then in the second half, the Steelers blew past the 24-point benchmark for the ninth straight game. The only other time the Steelers have scored at least 24 points in nine straight games was in 2016, when they did it from Week 10 through their wild-card win over the Dolphins.

The Jaguars, who the Steelers visit next week, are 31st in the league with 30.9 points allowed per game. That’s better than the Cowboys, however, and the Steelers barely escaped Dallas with a win in Week 9.

And the Packers barely escaped their own home field with a win over Jaguars on Sunday, trailing by a field goal in the fourth quarter before pulling out a 24-20 win.

So even though the Steelers are 9-0 and the Jaguars are 1-8, Steelers fans know better than to expect an easy win over such a downtrodden team.

Hopefully Steelers fans enjoyed their breather Sunday, because next week we should expect to be back on the edge of our seats.

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets.

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