PITTSBURGH — The Steelers got on the board for the 2019 season on Monday, and they did so in impressive fashion, dominating AFC North rival Cincinnati Bengals, 27-3 at Heinz Field.
Quarterback Mason Rudolph finally looked the part of the top prospect he was deemed to be in the 2018 NFL Draft, passing for two touchdowns and completing 24 of 28 passes for 229 yards while leading the team to his first career victory.
Rudolph benefitted from a changed-up Pittsburgh offensive game plan that saw the Steelers lean on jet sweeps, pop passes and the Wildcat formation to spread out the Cincinnati defense.
In the second quarter, Rudolph found running back James Conner on a sprint-out pass for a 21-yard that erased the Bengals’ early 3-0 lead.
On the opening drive of the third quarter, the Steelers used the legs of Conner and Jaylen Samuels — and the Wildcat — to go 80 yards in eight plays, with Samuels using a Wildcat keeper to the right side from 2 yards out to make the Pittsburgh lead 17-3.
Both Steelers backs were prominent in the offensive game plan. Samuels had three passes for 31 yards, 10 carries for 26 yards and eight catches for 57 yards. Conner finished with 10 carries for 42 yards and eight catches for 83 yards.
The Steelers defense was dominant throughout, sacking Andy Dalton eight times, forcing him to fumble once and intercepting him once. On the possession following Samuels’ score, Dalton was sacked by Cameron Heyward for an 11-yard loss and threw incomplete twice.
A short punt gave the Steelers prime field position, and offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner took advantage. After running mostly short passing routes into the flats combined with the ground game all day, he finally took a deep shot and the Steelers were rewarded when Rudolph found a wide open Diontae Johnson for a 43-yard score to put the game out of reach.
The 1-3 Steelers moved to one game back in the AFC North, while the Bengals fell to 0-4. Cleveland and Baltimore are tied for first place at 2-2. The Steelers host the Ravens next Sunday, Oct. 6 at 1 p.m. at Heinz Field.
Highlights of Alex Highsmith at Steelers Practice 12/4/20
The Steelers take to the practice field for the first time in over a week to now prepare for their upcoming game against the Washington Football Team on Monday evening. This clip shows Alex Highsmith, who will see additional time with Bud Dupree out for the season, going through drills.
Footage courtesy Pittsburgh Steelers
T.J. Watt Continues Torrid 2020 Season with AFC Defensive Player of the Month Award for November
Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt has been named the AFC’s Defensive Player of the Month for November, the NFL announced on Friday morning.
Watt was also AFC Player of the Month in September of this year and continues to be a top candidate for the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year.
In November, Watt recorded 18 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 17 quarterbacks and defended three passes. Throughout the entire season, he leads the NFL with 11 sacks and 19 tackles for loss, on pace to exceed all of his totals from his Pro Bowl season in 2019.
“He studies the game,” Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler said on Friday. “He’s always up there looking at film, grabbing film when he can, getting in some of the coaches offices and looking at film on his on his opponents.”
The Steelers will need to lean on Watt even more after the loss of his cohort at outside linebacker, Bud Dupree, for the rest of the season, but that doesn’t mean that it’s going to be easy for other teams to key on No. 90 in black and gold.
“This guy studies the game and it’s a constant thing for him to do, because the game changes quite a bit,” Butler said. “It’s going to change from one week to the other. The more you do the same thing in this league, people are going to find you out. And so, he’s trying to, again, do stuff different and keep on top of his opponent. That’s probably the best thing that he does.
“I think he uses his mind as well as anybody.”
With Bud Dupree Out, Mike Tomlin ‘Comfortable and Confident’ with Rookie Alex Highsmith at OLB
One of the most enduring of Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin’s famous saying has been “next man up.”
That mantra will be put to the test in a big way for the Steelers defense, as Tomlin confirmed on Thursday that outside linebacker Bud Dupree will miss the rest of the season with a “significant” knee injury suffered Wednesday evening against the Baltimore Ravens.
The next man up will be rookie outside linebacker Alex Highsmith. In 11 professional games since the Steelers drafted him out of UNC Charlotte in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft, Highsmith has recorded 20 tackles, three tackles for loss and one sack. Thus far, Highsmith has worked as a rotational backup to Dupree and T.J. Watt, and also as the fifth linebacker in a 2-5 package the Steelers have been using. Now, Tomlin is expecting him to step up into a starting role, and he’s confident he’ll be able to.
“I’m just as comfortable and confident as I was in Robert Spillane when we called upon him, or Kevin Dotson, when we called upon him on the other side of the ball,” Tomlin said on Thursday. “That’s life in this business. Those guys work behind the scenes every day, very diligently preparing themselves for these opportunities, not only in terms of knowing what to do, but just preparing themselves in terms of conditioning for when we ring their bell.
“And we are ringing Alex Highsmith’s bell now, so it will be exciting to watch him respond to it. But it’ll also be exciting to watch his growth, because growth is associated with experience, and no doubt in the upcoming weeks, he’s going to be gaining a lot of that.”
Part of Tomlin’s confidence stems from the fact that while Highsmith is a rookie, he’s an older, more experienced player than most NFL rookies.
“In the interview process, I was really impressed with his maturity,” Tomlin said. “But you know, that’s not surprising given that he was a fifth-year senior. Oftentimes, we’re not drafting a lot of fifth-year seniors these days, so he had a maturity level that was beyond where he is in this process. But he’s probably older than most rookies.”
At 23, Highsmith is older that fellow rookies Chase Claypool and Anthony McFarland Jr. and is even older than second-year players Justin Layne and Benny Snell and third-year players Ola Adeniyi and Chukwuma Okorafor.
So while the Steelers will be leaning on an inexperienced linebacker, they won’t necessarily be leaning on an immature one.