PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers still don’t have a sack, at least a sack of consequence, through two games.
They also don’t have a loss, a trade-off they can live with while their defensive front four searches for consistency. While Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton threw for 366 yards and a touchdown without an interception in Pittsburgh’s 24-16 victory on Sunday, the overwhelming majority of Dalton’s 31 completions were dump offs to running backs and tight ends. Superstar wide receiver A.J. Green was kept under wraps.
Green finished with just two receptions for 38 yards while getting shadowed by Pittsburgh’s Ross Cockrell.
“I felt like it was a pretty dominant performance,” Steelers safety Mike Mitchell said. “I felt like it was a pretty dominant performance by the group … We were able to take (Green) out of the game.”
Pittsburgh disguised a lot of its coverages, but the primary responsibility for covering Green at the line of scrimmage fell to Cockrell, who spent most of last season as a backup after getting cut by Buffalo at the end of training camp. And yet there he was, marking one of the best players in the league and more than holding his own.
“We threw the bus at them,” Cockrell said. “We played zone, man, blitz. We threw it all at them to try to limit (Green’s) touches because the more he touches the ball, the more chances he has to change the game. That’s all we wanted to do.”
Pittsburgh’s only “sack” came when Dalton was touched down by linebacker Arthur Moats while scrambling for no gain in the third quarter. The Steelers forced Dalton to make quick decisions, and he chose to play it safe rather than force something to Green.
“We’re not getting the sacks we want, but Andy Dalton wasn’t comfortable back there,” Cockrell said.
GETTING IT RIGHT? The Bengals (1-1) never led but twice appeared to be on the wrong side of a potentially game-changing call. Tight end C.J. Uzomah was ruled out of bounds after making a leaping grab in the back of the end zone in the third quarter; replays suggested Uzomah may have gotten his knee down. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis didn’t challenge, saying he was told Uzomah was out.
Cincinnati was driving with a chance to tie with less than two minutes to play when the ball squirted loose from rookie wide receiver Tyler Boyd after Boyd was hit by linebacker James Harrison. The call stood upon review even though it seemed Boyd’s right knee was down before he lost control.
“I was told it was down even by officials on our sideline,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. “They didn’t see it that way overall, so that’s all that matters.”
NOWHERE TO RUN: The Bengals ran for just 46 yards on 18 carries and didn’t have a run over 10 yards. Through two games Cincinnati is averaging 2.78 yards per carry. The inability to get anything going on the ground forced the Bengals into a ton of third-and-longs Sunday, a main reason Cincinnati went 4 of 16 (25 percent) on third down. The Bengals failed to reach the end zone on two trips inside Pittsburgh’s 20.
“It made a difference in the football game,” Lewis said. “We didn’t have enough positives on first down, and we didn’t convert the third downs.”
HOLDING TIGHT: So much for concerns about a drop off at tight end for the Steelers with Heath Miller retired and Ladarius Green nursing a knee injury. Second-year players Jesse James and Xavier Grimble both caught touchdown passes from Ben Roethlisberger, and veteran David Johnson helped open holes for running back DeAngelo Williams.
“These are the guys who play for us now,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said. “They’re capable and we have a great deal of confidence in them, and they delivered today.”
HEADING HOME: Cincinnati missed a chance to open with two road victories and will try to regroup next week against Super Bowl champion Denver. The Bengals fell 20-17 in overtime at Denver last December with backup quarterback AJ McCarron filling in for Dalton. Cincinnati moved the ball pretty well against the NFL’s best defense even with Dalton out, controlling the clock for more than 37 minutes.
PHILADELPHIA FREEDOM: The Steelers travel to Philadelphia next Sunday. The teams played in a preseason game last month, though most of Pittsburgh’s regulars sat out. The Steelers haven’t started a season 3-0 since 2010, when they won the AFC title on the way to a Super Bowl loss to Green Bay.