Bengals at Steelers final score: Pittsburgh rides ground game, defense in 27-3 rout of hapless rivals

The Steelers were able to get their first win of the season and the first win of the Mason Rudolph era on Monday night, taking down the Bengals (0-4) at Heinz Field, 27-3. 

Both clubs came out of the gate slow, but Pittsburgh was able to gain some traction offensively thanks large in part to their ground game featuring James Conner and Jaylen Samuel. Rudolph, meanwhile, was an efficient 24 of 28 for 229 yards and two touchdowns on the night as he showed flashes of being a possible heir to Ben Roethlisberger's throne. 

The Bengals simply had no answer for Pittsburgh's front seven as they tormented Andy Dalton throughout the course of the night and is a main reason why Cincy is still searching for their first win of 2019. 

For more on this game, here are our big takeaways from this AFC North contest. 

The Steelers pounded the Bengals on Monday night, but can they keep it going? And which 2-2 teams are for real? Host Will Brinson is joined by John Breech, Ryan Wilson and Sean Wagner-McGough on the Pick Six Podcast to break down those questions and much more. Listen to the full show below and be sure to subscribe right here to get daily NFL goodness fired into your eardrums.

Why the Steelers won 

Offensively, Pittsburgh didn't ask Mason Rudolph to do too much under center. He didn't take too many deep shots and really relied on the running game early. The incorporation of Jaylen Samuels was noticeable after the 2018 fifth round pick saw zero touches in their Week 3 loss to the 49ers and played in just 26% of the offensive snaps. There was a complete 180 with Samuels on Monday night as he rushed for 26 yards and caught all eight of his targets for 57 yards as he was heavily used all over the field. Not only was he a traditional back, but Pittsburgh used Samuel out of the wildcat, a scheme that resulted in his lone rushing touchdown of the night and where he completed three touch passes for 31 yards. 

Mike Tomlin did eventually let Rudolph take a chance downfield and it resulted in a dagger touchdown to rookie Diontae Johnson in the third quarter to really put the game out of reach. 

On the defensive side of the ball, the Steelers suffocated Andy Dalton throughout the night, totaling eight sacks and 12 total quarterback hits. They were also able to create a timely turnover as Bud Dupree was stripped Dalton as the Bengals were in the red zone. The turnover came with just over five minutes to play in the second quarter and Cincy only down four, so, at the time, it was a deflating fumble after the Bengals traveled 46-yards on the drive and chewed up nearly five minutes of clock. After that, this was never truly a contest again.  

Why the Bengals lost 

As we mentioned above, the Bengals couldn't protect Dalton and the offense was stagnant because of it. Those eight sacks were the most Dalton has been taken down in his career as he was under siege all night. 

The Bengals also couldn't take advantage of good field position early. An example of that came after Diontae Johnson's fumble in the first quarter, the Bengals started their drive at the Pittsburgh 15 yard line and came up with just three points. The following drive started around their own 40 and couldn't even move the ball more than a yard going three-and-out. Those quick drives were a theme too as three of Cincinnati's 10 offensive drives were three and out, while seven of those drives were either a punt or a turnover.

Zac Taylor's defense also had no answer for the Steelers backfield attack, specifically James Conner and Jaylen Samuels. Those two totaled 68 yards on the ground, 140 yards in the passing game and two total touchdowns. 

Turning point 

The Steelers really started to separate themselves coming out of the locker room in the second half. The running game was able to be the main pillar in a 75-yard touchdown drive to go up 17-3. Then, Pittsburgh's defense forced a three-and-out, the Bengals had a horrid punt that didn't get out of their own territory and Mason Rudolph needed just two plays to go 43-yards for another touchdown to go up, 24-3.   

Play of the Game 

This pass by Rudolph to rookie Diontae Johnson was what capped off the back-to-back touchdown drives for Pittsburgh to really get out in front of the Bengals. This 43-yard connection really blew the lid off the game for the Steelers and was the biggest throw of the night for Rudolph. Prior to that pass, Next Gen Stats had Rudolph with just 32 total air yards on his previous 21 completions. On that toss alone, the second year signal caller had 29.7 air yards. 

It may be early, but the second year quarterback did show flashes that should have the Pittsburgh brass excited about the future whenever the the post-Big Ben era actually begins. 

Quotable 

"Not look at our standings. Understand that if we take care of business, we don't have have to look around [the division]. We know we haven't played well in September, but let's just keep building on this win." - Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward to NFL Media's Tom Pelissero on keeping pace in the division. 

While the Steelers may not be looking too intently at the standings, all of a sudden they are just one game out of first place in the AFC North and have the Ravens coming to town next week. If they can beat Baltimore and the Browns fall to the 3-0 San Francisco 49ers on Monday Night Football next week, the Steelers are right back in the division race. 

What's next 

From here, the Steelers will stay within the division and at home when they host Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens (2-2) as they try to earn their second win of the season. As for the Bengals, they'll get back to the drawing board and try to figure out how to stop rookie quarterback Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals (0-3-1), who'll be heading to Cincinnati on Sunday. 

To see how this game unfolded in real time, take a look at our live blog below. 

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