For the second time this season, the Cincinnati Bengals dominated a division rival that used to give them headaches. This time it was the Pittsburgh Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium.
They won this game behind a strong rushing attack, stifling defense, and smart quarterback play. They were moving the ball at will and held the Steelers’ offense to three points prior to pulling the starters.
Here are five takeaways from Sunday's game:
A Historical Victory
This win by the Bengals was a historical win against the Steelers. The last time Cincinnati swept Pittsburgh was 12 years ago in 2009. The last time that the Bengals won three straight against the Steelers was over 30 years ago (1990).
This was not just a historical victory in terms of a streak for the Bengals, but also a historical blowout for the Bengals. The last time that the Bengals beat Pittsburgh by more than 14 points was 26 years ago in 1995. To go with it being a historical margin of victory, the Bengals also had a historical first half of this game. They scored 31 points in the first two quarters which is the most they've ever scored in the first half against the Steelers. The previous high was 27 points in 1979.
The tide seemed like it started to move in the Bengals' favor after the December victory last year, but now the momentum has fully shifted. It seemed like the Bengals used to blow this game even when they were the more talented team, but that's no longer the case.
Ground and Pound
Joe Mixon was absolutely incredible in this game. From running the ball to stealing the ball from defenders on would-be interceptions, he did everything for this Bengals offense. He carried the momentum from last week into this week to put up an absolutely dominating performance. Mixon is the first player to run for 100 yards in a half against the Steelers since Eddie George did it in 1998. Mixon finished with a career high 165 yards on the ground. This was not just pure volume either as he had 5.9 yards per carry on the day as well. The previous high for Mixon was 162 yards in a Week 17 victory against the Browns. It seems as if the Bengals run game fixed its issues during the bye week. This run game will be crucial next week against the Los Angeles Chargers who have a poor run defense.
The 10 points given up by the Bengals defense this week (really it was only 3 points, but the Steelers threw a garbage time touchdown) is tied for the lowest total given up by that unit this season. They are tied with the Week 3 matchup against the Steelers where they won 24-10. A key for the Bengals defense was to force turnovers. They forced 3 turnovers this week, which is tied for the most turnovers forced by that unit this season.
Mike Hilton's pick-six essentially put the game away before halftime. Another one of the keys to stopping the Steelers is to slow down rookie phenom Najee Harris. The Bengals held Harris to just 23 yards rushing, which is his lowest total of the season. Not only did they limit his efficiency by keeping him below three yards per carry, but they also took the ball out of his hands by taking a 3 possession lead early. This forced the Steelers to start to abandon their run game and try to win by using their woeful passing attack.
Trey Hendrickson Strikes Again
Trey Hendrickson recorded another sack this week which pushes his total to 10.5 this season. It's the most by a Bengals defender since Carlos Dunlap recorded 13.5 sacks in 2015.
He has a sack in seven-straight games. That strip sack gives him three forced fumbles on the year. This moved him to the top 5 in the NFL for forced fumbles. He's also sixth in the league in sacks. While he had some doubters, Hendrickson is proving all of them wrong with his performance this season.
According to FiveThirtyEight’s prediction model, the Bengals currently sit at a 67% chance to make the playoffs. Just like the past two weeks, this upcoming game is vitally important to making the playoffs for the Bengals. If the Bengals can beat the Chargers at home next week, they will move from a 67% chance all the way up to an 80% chance at making the playoffs. Not only should we be looking at the playoffs, but the Bengals also have a shot at winning the division title. They currently sit at a 32% chance at winning the AFC North. If they win next week that chance bumps up to 41%.
Just for fun let’s say the Steelers give the Bengals a little bit of help and they win at home against the Ravens next week. In this scenario, the Bengals become the favorite to win the division at 52%. If Cincinnati can stay hot, they should be a very tough team in December.
The NFL is a league predicated on one game at a time, but these past two weeks have given the Bengals some serious momentum heading forward. If they can capture that momentum and ride it into the playoffs, this team has the ability to be a tough out.
They'll look to make it three-straight wins this week against the Chargers.
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