Updated: Dec 24, 2020
T.J. Watt - Watt was really the only player on defense that had a standout performance. The defense still forced no turnovers and they could have really used one in this game with the offense turning it over three times. Watt had four total tackles, a sack, three tackles for a loss and a quarterback hit.
Diontae Johnson - Johnson had eight receptions for 59 yards (7.4 average) and a touchdown in the game. It was a gritty performance by Johnson, as he stepped up for the offense in the second half and was Ben Roethlisberger's go-to receiver (Johnson led the team in targets with 13). Johnson also had no drops in the game, an issue that has plagued him this season, leading the league in drops with 12. They showed during the broadcast that Johnson was out on the field over three hours before the game catching passes from all different angles working on his hands.
Benny Snell Jr. - Snell gave the run game a much-needed spark rushing for 84 yards on 18 carries and a touchdown. Snell averaged an outstanding 4.7 yards per attempt and had a long of 29 yards. Snell also had three receptions for 23 yards to finish the game with 107 yards from scrimmage.
Slow start - The offense went three-and-out on their first two possessions for the game, and Roethlisberger was off-target on several throws. On the first play of their third possession, Roethlisberger and Maurkice Pouncey had a bad quarterback-center exchange and Bengals' linebacker Josh Bynes recovered the fumble at Cincinnati's 20-yard line. The Steelers' defense was able to hold the Bengals to just a field goal after the turnover. With 12:05 left in the second quarter, the Steelers had just two yards of offense and two turnovers. The last time the Steelers didn't have a first down on their first five possessions of a game was in 1986. The Bengals led 17-0 at halftime and all 17 points came off the Steelers' three turnovers. The offense also had just 40 total yards in the first half and two first downs. The Steelers have had just one touchdown drive on their opening possession this season and that was against the Tennessee Titans in Week 7. Before that, they didn't have an opening drive touchdown since Week 15 of 2018 against the New England Patriots.
JuJu Smith-Schuster - On third-and-7 from the Steelers' 48-yard line with 55 seconds remaining in the first quarter, Roethlisberger completed a short pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster who got lit up by strong safety Vonn Bell, causing Smith-Schuster to fumble the ball. The call on the field was originally an incompletion but it was challenged by Bengals' head coach Zac Taylor, and the ruling was overturned to a fumble recovered by Cincinnati. The Bengals' offense took advantage of the turnover and drove down the field on a seven-play, 38-yard scoring drive that was capped off by a 4-yard touchdown run by Bernard to give the Bengals a 10-0 lead with 12:05 remaining in the second quarter. Haden failed to tackle Bernard on the touchdown run. Smith-Schuster finished the game with just three receptions for 15 yards and a costly fumble in the first quarter. If you're going to dance on the opposing team's logo pregame and post on TikTok, you probably should produce more on the field. Bell had a big hit on Smith-Schuster in the first quarter and caused a fumble with the Bengals recovering the loose ball. The Bengals' defense was playing with a lot of energy and were talking a lot in the first half. Smith-Schuster's pregame antics definitely played some role in that. The bigger issue, however, is that Smith-Schuster just didn't have a productive game, and the Steelers got embarrassed by losing, 27-17, to a Bengals team that was formally 2-10-1.
Ben Roethlisberger - On third-and-14 at the Bengals' 48-yard line with 6:01 left in the second quarter, Roethlisberger threw a horrendous throw that got picked off by cornerback Mackensie Alexander and was returned 21 yards to the Steelers' 41-yard line. Another 15 yards was added for a late hit out of bounds by right tackle Chuks Okorafor. The Bengals got the ball at the Steelers' 26-yard line and would score three plays later on a 14-yard touchdown pass by Ryan Finley to Bernard to put the Bengals up 17-0 with 4:20 left in the second quarter. Inside linebacker Avery Williamson got beat in coverage over the middle on the touchdown. Roethlisberger was 7 of 16 for 19 yards, no touchdowns, one interception and had a quarterback rating of 25.0 in the first half. It was also Roethlisberger's fault on the fumble on the bad quarterback-center exchange with Pouncey in the first quarter that led to a Bengals' field goal. Roethlisberger was better in the second half but there were still some questionable passes. He should have got picked off in the fourth quarter by cornerback William Jackson III, but he somehow dropped the ball. Roethlisberger finished the game 20 of 38 (52.6%) for 170 yards, one touchdown, one interception, a lost fumble and had a quarterback rating of 62.4. Both Roethlisberger's completion percentage and quarterback rating were season lows after coming off his worst game of the year in both areas the week before. After scoring 24 points or more in each of their first 10 games of the year, the Steelers haven't scored 20 points in four consecutive games. The last time that occurred with Roethlisberger as a starter was in 2004 (Weeks 11-14), which was his rookie season with the team. The Steelers scored 69 points during that four-week stretch in 2004, the Steelers have scored 68 points in their last four games, so it's the lowest amount of points scored in four straight games in Roethlisberger's career.
Run defense - The defense gave up too much in the run game. I mean, they gave up a 23-yard rushing touchdown to Ryan freaking Finley on a read-option that gave the Bengals a 24-10 lead with 11:21 remaining in the fourth quarter. Outside linebacker Alex Highsmith crashed down on running back Samaje Perine on the read-option and Finley ran into the end zone untouched for an easy score. On the scoring drive, 65 of the Bengals' 80 yards on nine plays came via the run. Overall, the Bengals rushed for 152 yards on 41 carries (3.7 average). Bernard led the team with 83 yards rushing on 25 carries (3.3 average) and had a touchdown. Finley rushed for 47 yards on 10 carries (4.7 average) and had a touchdown. It was imperative that the Steelers shut down the run and forced the Bengals to be one-dimensional with a quarterback that was making his fourth career start and first start this season. Finley completed seven passes on just 13 attempts (53.8%) for 89 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. Finley was able to post a 101.1 quarterback rating. He did his job and did not lose the game for the Bengals, who were 14-point underdogs against the Steelers. Finley didn't turn the ball over and he threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Bernard and ran for a 23-yard touchdown to boot.
No turnovers on defense - The Steelers were minus-3 in turnover differential. The Bengals scored 17 points off the three turnovers. That's the game right there. The defense has not forced a single turnover in just three games this year and two of them have occurred in their last three losses -- against Washington and the Bengals.
Third-down offense - The Steelers were 4 of 16 on third downs against the Bengals and in their last two games, they have converted just five first downs on 26 attempts on third down.
Alejandro Villanueva - Villanueva struggled against Carl Lawson in their first meeting in Week 10, and he flat out just got dominated on Monday night. Lawson had just two total tackles but had a sack, a tackle for a loss and a glaring six quarterback hits in the game. On the Steelers' final drive of the game and facing a fourth-and-10, Lawson beat Villanueva off the edge and hit Roethlisberger as he threw an ill-advised pass to Washington that flew over his head for an incompletion. Game over.