The Cincinnati Bengals were being crowned AFC North champions after they started the season 8-0. When they beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in in week eight, it seemed like the gap was just too insurmountable for the banged up Steelers to overcome. Well, since that matchup, the Steelers are 2-0, including a much needed bye week, and the Bengals are 1-2. Now, Pittsburgh sits just two games back and they are hot. This could mean bad news for the Bengals.
It really is amazing that the Steelers are even in this situation. Bad news started in the preseason when Maurkice Pouncey broke his ankle. Even before that, the Steelers got news that they would be without star players Le'Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant for two and four games, respectively. When Bell came back in week three, things were looking good until Ben Roethlisberger sprained his MCL in that game, sidelining him for the next four games. During Big Ben's absence, star left tackle Kelvin Beachum tore his ACL, an injury that will keep him out for the season. Roethlisberger came back for the Bengals game, just in time for Bell to tear his MCL and miss the reamainder of the season. It's hard to imagine how good this team could be if they were healthy.
There is one constant through out this whole season, and that would be the best wide receiver in the NFL, Antonio Brown. Even without his quarterback for four-and-a-half games, Brown is still second in the league in receiving yards through eleven weeks. If Roethlisberger played in every game, Brown would be on pace to shatter NFL records. In games where Big Ben plays most of the game, Brown is averaging just short of 160 yards per game. That would put him on pace for over 2500 for the season, and no one in NFL history has totaled 2000. The team's success is in direct correlation with success of Brown.
Along with Brown, the improved Steelers defense can definitely be thanked for the success despite injury. The secondary still needs work, but the front seven has been absolutely spectacular. Pittsburgh sports one of the best rushing defenses in the league. They are also tied for eighth in the league in sacks, something they could not have dreamed of a year ago. One man deserves credit for the defensive improvement and his name is Cameron Heyward. He doesn't always stuff the stat sheet, but Heyward is a menace stopping the run and rushing the quarterback. Heyward has stayed healthy all season, and he will continue to lead this defense towards success.
Simply put, this team is getting hot at the right time. Even without Bell, DeAngelo Williams has done a sufficient job at holding down the fort in the backfield. The defense does allow a lot of yards, but they've good enough in terms of keeping opponents out of the end zone. Ben Roethlisberger, when he's healthy, is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. Williams thinks Big Ben is the best in the league. A lot of people have been agreeing with that statement as of late, as Roethlisberger is looking to lead this team through injury to an AFC North crown.