CINCINNATI — The Bengals crushed the Steelers 41-10 on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.
Cincinnati improved to 7-4 on the season and swept Pittsburgh for the first time since 2009.
Here are three thoughts on the Bengals following the wire-to-wire win:
Bullies Got Bullied
The Bengals bullied the Steelers on Sunday. Joe Mixon ran for 165 yards and averaged nearly six yards-per-carry. Meanwhile Najee Harris could only muster 23 rushing yards on eight attempts.
That's what the Steelers used to do to the Bengals. They'd beat up Cincinnati. They were generally the more physical team in the trenches.
That's no longer the case. The Bengals outscored the Steelers 65-20 in their two meetings this season.
It's official: Cincinnati has the edge in this rivalry.
“Absolutely, no question about it," Mike Hilton said after the game. "Beating these guys, for me twice, and for some of these other guys three times straight, it’s a big change in the guard in our opinion. It’s giving us a lot of confidence, and guys are excited to see how the rest of the season plays out.”
Multiple Paths to Victory
The Bengals don't need Joe Burrow to throw for 300 yards to win games, which is a welcome sight for him, the coaching staff and for fans.
They won even though their star quarterback didn't top the 200-yard passing mark for a second consecutive week.
Burrow completed 20-of-24 passes for 190 yards and one touchdown.
"He was efficient with the ball," head coach Zac Taylor said after the game. "He made great decisions and was very efficient that way. On offense, they (Burrow and Mixon) set the tone."
Good teams can win in different ways. The Bengals are going to need Burrow to throw for 400+ yards and four touchdowns to win a game at some point this season, but they didn't need it on Sunday.
Instead, they outmuscled the Steelers. They ran it well and moved the ball up and down the field.
The Bengals are comfortable getting into a slugfest in the trenches. They can also spread things out and push the ball downfield. The best teams and schemes change on a weekly basis depending on their opponent.
This team and the coaching staff are both showing that they have the pieces to do that regularly.
"That's usually the best way to approach it, especially this late in the season," Taylor said when asked about establishing the run. "But we also feel a ton of confidence to spread you out with all the weapons we have. We have a lot of confidence right now. We feel we can play a lot of different ways with whatever the game plan dictates over the course of the week, and then however we have to react over the course of the game."
Defense Continues to Impress
This Bengals' defense forced three turnovers and sacked Ben Roethlisberger three times. They've exceeded expectations this season and have successful recovered from an ugly two week stretch against New York and Cleveland.
Trey Hendrickson has 10.5 sacks on the year. Some questioned the signing in March, but he's been as important as any of their free agent additions.
Sam Hubbard had a sack. B.J. Hill had a sack.
The Bengals' defense might not have a superstar, but they have a bunch of quality pieces that fit well together.
Eli Apple is a prime example. He's not the same player he was in Week 1. Not only did he have a big interception for a second-straight week, but he also responded well to adversity in the first quarter of Sunday's game.
Chase Claypool skied over him to make a 41-yard catch. Instead of letting the mistake snowball like he did against the Vikings in Week 1, Apple rebounded and helped the Bengals' defense get off the field on a crucial third down later on that drive.
Roethlisberger was hoping to connect with Claypool in the end zone, but Apple ran with him stride for stride.
Would he have responded that way earlier in the year? He didn't against the Vikings. Instead, he let a missed tackle turn into a penalty, which turned into an Adam Thielen touchdown.
That's just one example of how this defense has grown throughout the season. They were dominant on Sunday and are a big reason why the Bengals are firmly in the playoff hunt.
Taylor posted a 6-25-1 record in his first two years with the Bengals. He's already surpassed that mark this season.
He's 7-4 and 3-1 in the division with two double-digit wins over the Steelers and a blowout victory over the Ravens in Baltimore.
Don't look now, but the third-year head coach might turn things around in Cincinnati.
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