The Pittsburgh Steelers finally got their first win of the season during an AFC North Monday Night Football battle against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Aside from an early turnover, this contest was all Pittsburgh, all the time. The end result was a 27-3 victory that sends the Bengals back to Cincinnati with an 0-4 record and a real shot at a top-five pick next April.
Here are the biggest winners and losers from the Monday Night Football action.
Winner: Steelers running backs feast
Throughout most of the game, Pittsburgh’s run game wasn’t particularly strong. But both Jaylen Samuels and James Conner managed to provide a huge spark to the Steelers. They did it by taking outlet passes and making plays after the catch.
The two running backs combined to catch 16 passes for 140 yards and one touchdown. Conner’s relentless run after a short pass in the third quarter, which set up a Samuel rushing score and gave the Steelers a two-touchdown lead, was the play of the night.
Samuels and Conner did get the ground game going late, combining for 68 rushing yards while totaling 208 yards and two touchdowns from scrimmage on the night.
Loser: Bengals offensive line was a disaster
Cincinnati’s offensive line collapsed on key passing downs that led to Andy Dalton being sacked an absurd eight times on Monday night. Right tackle Bobby Hart and left tackle Andre Smith were both responsible for awful sacks in the first half, one of which resulted in a turnover.
The run game wasn’t much better for Cincinnati’s offensive line. The Bengals had just 29 rushing yards in the first half and finished with 73 on the game. ESPN’s Field Yates summed up the offensive line perfectly after Dalton’s sixth sack of the night midway through the third quarter.
Winner: Mason Rudolph let the game come to him
Steelers fans want to see more big plays down the field. That’s what they’ve gotten used to seeing on a regular basis ever since Ben Roethlisberger took over. Rudolph, to this point, hasn’t done much of that, but when he has taken shots downfield the results have been fantastic.
On Monday night, Rudolph was very conservative, but that’s all the Steelers needed from him. He showed excellent composure in the pocket, evaded pressure in Roethlisberger-esque fashion, and completed a very high percentage of his passes.
All told, the second-year quarterback had 229 yards and two touchdowns on 24-of-28 passing while earning his first career win, and he got the Steelers off the schneid in the process.
Loser: Cincinnati’s secondary got roasted
The Steelers kept very conservative in the passing game during the first half Monday night. But one play was too easy, and Mason Rudolph had to finally take the deep shot in the third quarter. Diontae Johnson got wide open in the deep middle of the field as the Bengals busted coverage, and Rudolph had no trouble finding him.
Dre Kirkpatrick and safety Jessie Bates both thought the other was going to run with Thompson as he crossed the field. Neither did, and the rookie receiver’s first NFL touchdown was as easy as they come.
Winner: Steelers defense has much-needed get-right game
Coming into Week 4, Pittsburgh featured the second-worst total defense in the NFL, allowing 442 yards per game. The Steelers also allowed 28.3 points per game, which was the fifth-worst mark in the league.
Needless to say, we had big questions about the defense’s ability to slow down a Bengals offense that has put up huge yardage totals in previous contests. The Steelers answered that question in a big way, shutting down Cincinnati’s offense from start to finish.
We’ll see soon enough if this was just a mirage, or if Monday night’s performance was a sign of things to come. The Baltimore Ravens are coming to town Sunday, and they can put up points in bunches.
Loser: Andy Dalton was bad with a capital B
In every aspect, Dalton had a brutal night in Pittsburgh. He displayed extremely poor pocket awareness, which, compounded by his offensive line’s struggles, was a nasty combination. He lost a fumble when Bud Dupree swiped from behind him, and he never even knew there was pressure coming.
When Dalton did have time to throw, he made some good passes but was inaccurate more often than not. Never was this seen more than on the interception he threw early in the fourth quarter into the end zone, sealing Cincinnati’s doom.
All told, Dalton completed just 21-of-37 passes for 171 yards (4.6 yards per attempt) with no touchdowns and one pick. Yuck.