The Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2) took a stranglehold of the AFC North with a dominating 29-14 win over the Cincinnati Bengals (2-4) at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh is the only team in the in division over .500. Here is what you need to know:
1. Le'Veon Bell was once again the best player on the football field. The Steelers rode him. Bell toted the rock 35 times for 134 rushing yards, adding three receptions for 58 yards. Bell's patient style gashed the Bengals underbelly between the tackles, turning would-be two-yard gains into six- and seven-yard carries. The Steelers employed more heavy packages Sunday, utilizing multiple tight-end packages and fullback Roosevelt Nix to help pave the way for Bell. With his 38 touches in the win, Bell has received 25-or-more touches in each of the past four games. Pittsburgh is at its best riding Bell hard, but it's fair to wonder if he can keep up this pace as the season progresses.
2. After giving up two touchdowns on three first-half drives, the Steelers' D clamped down. Pittsburgh allowed just one first down over six drives in the second half, forced two interceptions of Andy Dalton, and earned four sacks. On those six drives, the Bengals earned 19 total yards. Dalton ended with 34 yards passing in the second half. When the Steelers' fast defense is smothering opponents, Pittsburgh is the most balanced team in the AFC, and by far the class of the division.
3. A.J. Green was held in check. Since Bill Lazor became the Bengals offensive coordinator in Week 3, Green has been the focal point of the offense, averaging 7.3 receptions on 11 targets per game for 121.0 yards per contest and three total touchdowns. The Steelers put an end to that trend. Green finished with three catches for 41 yards on just four targets. The All-Pro receiver didn't catch a pass after the first quarter. With the Steelers intent on slowing Green, the Bengals offense was discombobulated and completely off track.
4. The cowboy still has it. Ben Roethlisberger put the early-season questions to bed again, using an array of deep shots and intermediate strikes. His stats don't pop off the page (14-of-24, 224 yards, two touchdowns, no picks and no sacks). But Big Ben tossed plenty of beautiful balls, including a pinpoint pass to Antonio Brown on a slant for the first touchdown of the game. With back-to-back solid outings in pivotal AFC victories, we can put the "Does Ben still have it?" questions to bed.
5. The Steelers moved the ball well between the 20s, but struggled for stretches finishing in the red zone. Pittsburgh settled for five field goals. The Steelers also struggled in short-yardage situations (0-3 on third-and-1 and 0-1 on fourth-and-1). Credit Cincinnati's defensive front with mitigating the damage in what could have been a blowout earlier in the contest.
6. Sometimes the squeaky wheel doesn't get the grease. Martavis Bryant continued to be invisible. After taking the first snap of the game for a 2-yard end around, Bryant saw the ball just two more times, finishing with one reception for three yards. On one second-half deep shot, Bryant got open, but couldn't locate the ball, which fell harmlessly to the turf. The look on Roethlisberger's face displayed frustration with the receiver after the play. At this point, JuJu Smith-Schuster is by far the more reliable player for Pittsburgh.
7. Speaking of Smith-Schuster, the rookie took a wide-open pass to the end zone, which led to one of the more entertaining celebrations:
And later, Pittsburgh unleashed a fake punt late in the 4th quarter to ice the game. Safety Robert Golden unleashed a perfect pass to Darrius Heyward-Bey for 44 yards. It was the longest play of the game.