PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers played one of the best halves of their season and one of their worst in the same game. It resulted in a 37-30 loss to their division rival, the Cincinnati Bengals, but did provide some tangible evidence of steps forward.
The offense put up more points than they have all year, new playmakers emerged and the kicking game steadied. There are still many holes in this flawed team that are only becoming more apparent as time wears on, but the limited improvements are there and the Steelers have things to build on as they prepare for the home stretch of a difficult season.
Dive into the successes and failures of this week's Steelers football with four winners and three losers.
Wallace was one of the few pieces in the Steelers secondary that found any success against a prolific Bengals passing offense. The resurgent Joe Burrow threw for 355 yards and four touchdowns while Tee Higgins, stepping into a bigger role with Jamar Chase unavailable, went for nine catches and 148 yards.
But Burrow's affinity for turnovers against the Steelers reappeared and Wallace was at the center of one. He made a diving interception at a clutch moment in the second quarter. His effort to secure the turnover put the Steelers near midfield with 35 seconds left before intermission and the offense turned that opportunity into three points and a 20-17 lead.
Sims' afternoon got off to a rough start, with him mishandling a kickoff and taking it out of the endzone when he should have just taken a knee and escaped with a touchback in the first quarter. But that was really his only mistake of the game.
Sims has been excellent in the return game ever since taking over for Gunner Olszewski as the primary returner. Against Cincinnati, Sims returned five kicks for 120 yards, including a 26-yarder and 37-yarder, both in the second quarter, that set up short fields and touchdown drives for the offense.
Wright, the emergency place kicker brought in to replace injured starter Chirs Boswell, missed a pair of kicks in last week's 20-10 win over the Saints. He bounced back in a big way and contributed to the Steelers' highest scoring output of the season with perfect marks on all his attempts on extra points and field goals. This stint as a Steeler got off to a shaky start but he has rebounded and given his team confidence that he's capable of covering for Boswell for as long as he's out.
Freiermuth's role in the passing game has been shockingly limited this season. Why the talented former second round pick has been so underutilized is one of the most mystifying stories of the Steelers' underwhelming season but he wrote a different script against the Bengals, catching eight of his 12 targets for 79 yards.
There were still some miscommunications between he and Pickett at a couple of moments, but all in all, it was a step in the right direction for the offense. It's no coincidence that his best game coincided with the Steelers' most prolific offensive performance of the year.
This was a disappointing game for Maulet, who has earned himself more playing time while the Steelers dealt with injuries in the secondary. He had played well, but it is nights like this, when Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins have their way with Maulett in coverage, that serve as a reminder of why he's not a full-time starter.
He can certainly be a solid reserve but the team desperately needs Witherspoon, who has missed six of the last seven games due to injury, with his skill and size back in the lineup to contend with the league's best.
Pickett played one of the best halves of his professional career, completing 14 of his first 19 passes for 141 yards and a 24-yard touchdown, the longest scoring pass of the season for the Steelers. But his second half was a completely different story - 11 completions out of 23 attempts for 124 yards and no touchdowns.
He was the victim of a one-dimensional offense that couldn't run the ball or protect him well enough over the final 30 minutes. Pickett isn't blameless for this team's struggles but he hasn't gotten much help either. The Steelers are asking a rookie to carry them to scores and that is an untenable strategy. There have been apparent improvements, but they will become harder and harder to find if he continues to have to carry so much of the responsibility for making the offense work.
The Front Seven
The Steelers rode a dominating defensive performance to a win over these same Bengals in Week 1. They sacked Burrow eight times and forced five turnovers. He was, to put it mildly, uncomfortable all afternoon and the Steelers used that to their advantage.
They followed a similar script in the first half against Cincinnati this time, but couldn't finish the job, both on a play-to-play and full-game basis. T.J. Watt said postgame that his unit - which sacked Burrow just twice this week - said postgame he felt that the defense was getting pressure, but was unable to get him on the ground. The defense hit Burrow a total of seven times, but none of them seemed to affect him as he torched the Steelers, even without his top wideout and running back.
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