These are not the Steelers you’re used to.
But it’s still the same Ben Roethlisberger, which means they’re always going to have a chance.
With a system, he’s still coming to grips with, a supposed lack of running game and lack of protection, and too many balls on the ground, the Steelers quarterback was undeterred, leading his team to a 24-17 win over the Bengals.
Roethlisberger finished 27-of-37 for 278 yards and a touchdown. (Watch highlights here.)
Those numbers would have been a lot better if not for some problems by his teammates (keep reading), but they were still enough.
You can tell Roethlisberger and offensive coordinator Todd Haley are still learning to dance together. Toes are still being stepped on, between getting the steps just right often enough.
He can still move the pocket to buy time, and he can still gun the ball (as he proved on his touchdown to Heath Miller just before halftime).
But all told, his is a game that is generally greater than the sum of its parts. And for a team in a bit of a transition, that’s something they need to count on.
Here are five more things we learned during Sunday Night Football:
1. If the Steelers have been good at anything over the years, it’s been replacing guys well, and at just the right times.
But there are certain guys they have a hard time doing without.
Without safety Troy Polamalu, their defense lacks any kind of dynamic element. Outside linebacker James Harrison is back in body, but doesn’t appear to be making much of an impact. And their line borders on solid, but can’t change a game.
Where they’ve excelled at filling gaps is on the offensive line. While their blocking has been suspect in the past, they were playing without a pair of starters (inactive center Maurkice Pouncey and right tackle Marcus Gilbert) and kept it going. They protected well, and paved the way for more than enough running, even without their top two running backs (inactives Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman).
2. Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace should immediately ask for the contract offer the team made this offseason, take it, and use the proceeds to by some of the Chargers’ (alleged) stickum.
And then he should pass it around.
Wallace was hardly the only ball-dropper for the Steelers, only the most egregious. You can only get so mad at Baron Batch (who gets few opportunities) or Larry Foote (because he’s a linebacker).
But Wallace wants to get rich for catching passes, so actually catching them would be a nice start.
3. Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins is not a household name, even though he can get in your kitchen in a hurry.
If he played in more prime time games, he would be better known, however.
The son of former Dolphins and Saints safety Gene Atkins is making his own name, showing the kind of strength to push the pocket in addition to his quickness. His 7.5 sacks last year tied for the league lead among interior linemen, and he’s nearly past that already this year (7.0).
4. The Bengals under Marvin Lewis are typically very sound.
There’s not a lot of flash about them (though you could make a case wide receiver A.J. Green was the best player in the building), but the things they do they do efficiently.
They went out and signed a running back whose claim to fame was not fumbling, and while he finally put the ball on the ground this year, BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a good fit. As is quarterback Andy Dalton. Not special, but effective.
Given the self-imposed constraints they’re under (i.e. their lack of scouting resources) It’s not hard to be sound and the Bengals at the same time, but the even keel they play with is a credit to Lewis.
5. That said, Lewis still doesn’t seem to understand when to challenge and when not to. It’s an unusual blind spot for a coach who is good at so many parts of the game.
He burns way too many timeouts on things that might gain him negligible amounts.
He’s not the only coach with that problem, but it’s a persistent issue for a coach who is good at so many of the larger aspects of the game.