Those looking for the 2016 Steelers to dominate with their passing attack are disappointed. Those looking for them to attack the opposing quarterback with a variety of pressures are disappointed. Those looking for tight coverage on opposing receivers instead of that blasted tackle-the-catch philosophy are disappointed.
Game action from Week 2 against the Cincinnati Bengals.
It's two weeks into this regular season, and probably the only people the Steelers haven't disappointed are the ones only interested in them getting off to a fast start. Because today, after a 24-16 victory over the defending AFC North Champion Cincinnati Bengals, the Steelers are starting a season 2-0 for the first time since 2010.
Almost immediately after their 2015 season had ended with a loss in the playoffs to the Broncos in Denver, the Steelers started focusing on the importance of being home during the playoffs. And with home-field advantage awarded in the NFL based on regular season record, the Steelers understood their path to staying home come January involved getting off to a better start in September.
This is Mike Tomlin's 10th season in the job, and only three times over the first nine years have the Steelers had a winning record over the first quarter of the 16-game regular season – 2007, 2008, and 2010. They aren't there yet in 2016, but 2-0 is a good place to start, with a game in Philadelphia next Sunday to be followed by a Sunday night battle against the Kansas City Chiefs at Heinz Field.
Some of the patterns that first emerged in Washington, D.C., last Monday night again were apparent on the floor of Heinz Field during the victory over the Bengals, but an interesting facet of this Steelers team so far is that it's finding ways to accomplish the winning of games in a manner that wouldn't have seemed predictable the day after the preseason ended.
To a football coach, that's exactly what he means when he uses the word, "resilient," and in an NFL where parity has become a fact of life, a resilient team just might be the best kind of team to be.
Against the Bengals, the Steelers began on offense by using Le'Veon Bell as a battering ram in an attempt to induce the Bengals out of a defensive alignment that deployed two high safeties on every play. Run the ball successful early in the game, the thinking went, and then the Bengals will have to bring one of those two safeties closer to the line of scrimmage; and once that happens Antonio Brown and his crew will have much more freedom to frolic in the open spaces.
The Steelers defensive plan, boiled down to the basics, was to prevent A.J. Green from detonating.
"(Green) is a guy who can change the climate of a game in an instant, and has," said Coach Mike Tomlin 48 hours before kickoff. "We were there in a playoff game, and we were up, 13-0, and there were about six minutes left in the first half. Boom. He drops a bomb on us, goes about 70 yards, and it's game on. The whole climate of the game changed on one play. Those are the type of abilities that he has, and he displays them consistently. The Bengals were in a tight ballgame last week against the New York Jets. He dropped a bomb on them. Boom. The climate of the game changed in an instant, and that was Darrelle Revis across the line of scrimmage from him. Green is that type of player. He's impactful. He can change the game in the blink of an eye."
Maybe it was the steady rain, maybe it was a couple of first half interceptions, but the Steelers' offensive plan didn't unfold as drawn up. The defensive plan was working nicely, with Stephon Tuitt assigned to Green all over the field all the while knowing he would have help designed into every situation.
With the Bengals unable to run the football (46 yards on 18 attempts for a 2.6 average), Andy Dalton tried to kill the Steelers with 1,000 paper cuts. He completed 31-of-54 for 366 yards, and as impressive as those numbers might seem, his 6.8 yards per attempt proved the ball was going to just about every eligible receiver on the roster except Green.
And so when it came time to convert third downs (4-for-16), convert scoring opportunities in the red zone (0-for-3) or in goal-to-go situations (0-for-1), the Steelers defense was preventing the Bengals from getting the ball to their weapon of mass destruction, and the results were these: in their first 12 offensive possessions of the game, the Bengals punted nine times and settled for three red zone field goals.
The Steelers offense wasn't electric by any means, but it was more efficient than Cincinnati's. Actually, more resilient is a better description, because the Bengals also defused the Steelers WMD by limiting Antonio Brown to 16 yards receiving in the first half, 39 for the game. What was different was the Steelers got 132 yards from scrimmage and a receiving touchdown from DeAngelo Williams, plus two more touchdowns from a couple of tight ends who are afterthoughts on every opposing defensive coordinator's to-do list.
The Steelers are 2-0, and if neither of those wins were pretty, both could be described as beautiful because they advance the theory that this 2016 edition will be a resilient one. And besides 2-0, there is nothing the better Steelers could be.