PITTSBURGH — Like almost everything that occurred in last Sunday’s game, the way the Pittsburgh Steelers effectively put away the Cincinnati Bengals in the fourth quarter was not a thing of beauty.
The Steelers went out on a grind-it-out drive of 12 plays and 68 yards that was culminated by running back DeAngelo Williams catching a 4-yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger with 6:54 remaining.
That put the Steelers ahead 24-9 on a rainy day at Heinz Field that included very few splash plays. However, it enabled Pittsburgh to eventually win 24-16 and increase its record to 2-0 going into Sunday’s game against the Eagles (2-0) at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
The drive was similar to how the Steelers took control of their season-opening 38-16 victory over the Washington Redskins. Williams capped a 13-play, 73-yard drive with a 15-yard scoring run to give the Steelers a 31-16 lead with 7:13 left.
“That’s what it’s all about — finishing the game,” left guard Ramon Foster said. “Coach (Mike Tomlin) puts it on our back and Ben, first thing he says walking to the huddle — ‘This is on you guys, let’s milk this clock and let’s get it going.’”
“We have to do that. We have to be the team that closes out games in the fourth. We can’t start strong and not finish. That’s who we have to be.”
The Steelers are fourth in the NFL in scoring offense (31.0 points a game), sixth in rushing yards a game (135.5 yards a game), 12th in passing offense (270.0) and eighth in total offense (405.0 a game).
While truly quantifying an offensive line’s play beyond team statistics can be difficult, Pro Football Focus’ grades give high marks to right tackle Marcus Gilbert, Foster and right guard David DeCastro in the early going.
Gilbert ranks seventh among the NFL’s 67 tackles who have played enough snaps to qualify with an 83.8 grade. Foster is 16th among 69 guards with a 78.5 mark while DeCastro’s 78.0 grade ranks 20th.
However, four-time Pro Bowl and two-time All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey’s 49.6 grade puts him just 26th out of 32 players at his position after he missed last season because of an ankle injury.
Alejandro Villanueva, tasked with protecting Roethlisberger’s blind side, is just 51st among tackles with a 47.7 mark.
However, the Steelers’ perfect record, and the way the line has performed in the fourth quarter are more important to Foster than grades from a third-party source.
“It starts and ends with us,” Foster said. “The better we play and the more efficient we are. Those kind of games go in our favor.”
Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley agrees.
“Everybody says you win in the trenches, but you really do,” he said. “The line has to be the leader of the offense.”
While the line has played well so far, DeCastro believes it can perform better. An All-Pro performer last season, he felt the Steelers could have done better than their averages of 3.4 yards a rush and 6.6 yards per pass attempt against the Bengals.
“It’s frustrating, obviously,” DeCastro said “We want it all to go smooth, but at the same time, it’s football. They are going to make their plays. They have good guys across from us. We know that. We just have to stick with it and try to get better.”