Let me set the scene. Sitting with my cousin Jarrod, the Bengals made me look godly. I figure they make most offenses look godly, why not me? I told him before each series in the first half exactly how each drive would end up. I predicted that the Bengals would score first. That the Steelers would answer with a touchdown. That the Bengals would punt. That the Steelers would score a touchdown. That the Bengals would score (touchdown or field goal). That the Steelers would score a touchdown. I was like that guy in the NFL commercials that predicts exactly what John Lynch was going to say. My cousin was the Giants fan that believes cell phones can also make toast. I kid. I kid.
While my cousin is a fan of collegiate football, specifically that saturating wardrobe of scarlet, I understood why. He follows the Bengals like most normal people -- not the variety that spends countless hours researching and examining small points that did little in the big picture of any game. He was born and raised in Cincinnati and after a career in the military, he returned to Cincinnati several years ago. The Bengals are his number one NFL team. But far away from the rankings that includes anything Ohio State. Why?
The Bengals piss him off. It's hard for a lot of people to reach deep and pull for a team that's lost its fifth game of the season, lost eight of their past 10 and sport an 7-11 record in the past calendar year. Some are revisiting the emotional disgust that vividly resides in our memory for seasons that was expected to end five years ago. My cousin and I even debated if the Bengals would, not only lose to the Ohio State Buckeyes, but be dominated by the scarlet and gray. Think about it. The Buckeyes would control the clock, convert third downs and finish drives with touchdowns. I won't discuss the madding difference between defenses though. That's just too much for a single post. And perhaps pessimism sours the logical argument that nine times out of ten, professionals are superior to college players -- even though many Ohio State Buckeyes go professional.
What's more frustrating is that two first-round cornerbacks have done next to nothing this season. Our linebackers are in short supply. Our defensive linemen, other than Justin Smith, have become MIA. Our receivers are two of the best in the league. Our linemen are good and have protected Palmer well and enabled Watson to have decent yards-per-carry. It doesn't help when our best player, Carson Palmer, is indirectly neutralized by the performance of Ben Roethlisberger. Meaning we have little advantage between the head-to-head match-up between both quarterbacks.
I'll explain my reasoning while I played the role of Nostradamus.
Bengals would score first. After forcing the Pittsburgh Steelers to punt on five plays to open the game, the Bengals ran 13 plays gaining 68 yards on the game's first scoring drive -- a field goal. Chad Johnson caught three of Palmer's six completions for 21 yards including a ridiculous 11-yard grab down the right sidelines. Crazy. Re-donk-u-lus. Johnson lined up wide right and jogged down the sidelines. Palmer threw short to Chad's outside shoulder. About 10 yards upfield, Chad turned, caught the pass and let his body go limp falling out of bounds.
When the scoring drive went from potential touchdown to easy field goal.
The situation was first-and-ten at the Pittsburgh 13-yard line. Palmer had just completed a 14-yard pass to T.J. Houshmandzadeh on a long third-and-eight. The call: Kenny Watson misdirection to the right. The result: six-yard loss. Eric Ghiaciuc lined up against Pittsburgh's nose tackle, #98-Hampton. The Bengals center allowed Hampton to take a short-side (where the field is shortest between sidelines) A-gap slant and played like a left tackle on pass protection. While Ghiaciuc tried to push Hampton away from the play, the nose tackle penetrated too much forcing Watson to shift right.
Even though Hampton was three yards in the backfield, it still looked like the play would work. Bobbie Williams had #93-Eason tied up while #26-Townsend was blitzing wide from the short-side. Here's where the play went dead. Hampton, by this time disrupting Watson's timing while tying up his legs, allowed the Steelers linebackers to gash through the lanes originally opened for Watson. #50-Foote made first contact after Stacy Andrews waited for the linebacker to come to him at the second level. He barely touched him. Daniel Coats lined up at the right tight end. #53-Haggins, outside linebacker covering Coats, dropped back into coverage. Coats ran towards the linebacker, but Haggins, responsible for containing the edge, eliminated any chance Watson had at positive yardage.
Watson got the call on the next play gaining six yards returning to the original line of scrimmage. After an incomplete, the Bengals kick a field goal. The drive was a good start to the game. Sadly, the Bengals would get only two more possessions in the first half.
The Steelers would score a touchdown: Also known as Leon Hall can't defend a double-move to save his life drive. Let's provide the basic disclaimer here for Leon Hall. He's still a rookie. However, he's a first round pick that's supposedly drafted for the talent of defending double moves.
The first, on second-and-two at the Pittsburgh-42 yard line, was a 42-yard pass caught by Santonio Holmes. Leon Hall lined up -- across #10-Holmes wide left -- about a good 8-9 yards off the line of scrimmage. My complain last week remains. We don't chuck receivers at the line of scrimmage and we play a soft as hell zone allowing patterns and timing routes to go unchallenged. Holmes ran a 10-yard slant route forcing Hall to shift his weight forward -- trying to jump the route. To Holmes credit, it was a nice move. Once Hall bit on the slant, Holmes ran vertical catching the pass with 2-3 yards separation. Like most of Lewis' challenges, it failed miserably.
The second, on first-and-fifteen at the Cincinnati 21-yard line, was a 21-yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward. Again, Leon Hall sat 10 yards off the line of scrimmage allowing Ward to do basically whatever he wants. It was a similar double-move that Holmes put on Hall. After ten yards, Ward took a step in to show a slant route. Hall bit. Ward went went out towards the back left pylon. He was wide open.
Leon Hall looked horrible for two reasons.
- Cushion. A 10-yard cushion enabled the Steelers passing offense to maintain maximum timing and rhythm.
- Double-move. While trying to jump both routes, Hall took himself completely out of position biting on the first move.
Hopefully this is a learning experience rather than a forecast of things to come with Hall.
The Bengals would punt. I don't have the numbers. I simply told cousin that the Bengals are horrible at responding to early touchdowns by the opponent. After Glenn Holt caught an eight-yard pass, Kenny Watson picked up nine yards over the middle. On second down, Palmer chucked a pass deep right to Chad Johnson double covered. The football bent back the fingers on Chad's right hand. The pass was inches too long. On third-and-one, the offense calls Kenny Watson's number. Watson searched and searched for a lane. He found one, backside, about two gaps to the left of the intended point of attack. #43-Polamalu tracked Watson and made the hit several feet from the first down marker. The Bengals punt. The media questions. The crowd boos. And I tell my cousin...
The Steelers would score another touchdown. I defended myself from being a pessimist at this point. I've seen the sequence so much it's almost like an accepted fact. The Steelers went 80 yards on 12 plays in 7:09 on a balanced (six runs, six passes) sustaining drive. Which included a Landon Johnson mistackle that would have dropped #38-C.Davis for a five yard loss on a short pass. The mistackle allowed Davis to pick up five yards setting up a 3rd-and-4 rather than a 3rd-and-14. Like it really mattered. #7-B.Roethlisberger found #83-Miller for a 23-yard pick up.
The Steelers converted three third-downs on the drive. Including a 7-yard pass to Holmes with the Bengals' John Thornton twisting and turning Roethlisberger's ankle. A defensive tackle failing to bring down a quarterback, no matter how big, is one of many reasons we fail to succeed.
The Bengals would score. This time, I felt they'd respond to a Steelers score. Optimism was close to breeching the surface. A touchdown would make it interesting. A field goal would, at this point, seem defeated. Palmer completed all seven passes for 46 yards on the drive converting the first two third downs moving the ball to the Pittsburgh 11-yard line with four minutes left in the half.
First play, hand off to Watson for no-gain. Second play, Palmer pump faked left, looked right and dumped off to Kenny Watson over the middle for a four-yard gain. Third play, Palmer fires left to Reggie Kelly for a five-yard gain. Crowd pumps up. Head coach says, "let's go for it". Bengals call timeout. Bengals kick harmless field goal. The crowd boos, loudly. The media questions.
The Steelers would score another touchdown. This time I didn't say a word. I just turned my head, caught my cousins eye and we both let out that laugh where you expect something bad to happen. Not ha-ha funny. Rather, ha-ha, this doesn't look good because we can't stop the Steelers offense and our defense is embarrassing, funny. Long story short, the Steelers went nine plays for 67 yards on the touchdown drive leaving the Bengals no time at half-time.
The Bengals offense would get the ball three times in the second-half going three-and-out, touchdown (17 plays, 88 yards) and Kenny Watson fumble.
Another 100-yard rusher. The Bengals, for the season, have allowed 821 yards on 161 carries against seven opposing feature backs. Five have recorded 100 yards rushing or more -- Jamal Lewis (215), Shaun Alexander (100), Sammy Morris (117), Larry Johnson (119) and Willie Parker (126). Opposing feature backs are averaging 5.0 yards per carry and 117.2 yards per game.
Did you know: Opposing teams have scored points in the second and fourth quarter of each game. Of the 28 quarters played this season, the Bengals defense has shutout the opposing team's offense in only five -- four shutouts in the third quarter.
Not so 100 yards rushing. The Bengals rushing offense recorded 91 yards rushing. This is the fifth game this season that the Bengals failed to record 100 yards or more as a team.
Speaking of quarters: The Bengals defense has allowed 82 points in the second quarter -- 37 in the past three games -- for an average of 11 points allowed per game in the second quarter.
Where are you Chad? After catching four passes for 37 yards in the first half, Chad caught one pass for 14 yards in the second half -- 1:27 left in the third quarter.
Five: Chad Johnson's last touchdown was the Dawg Pound leap during a week two loss to Cleveland (45-51). He's been shutout from the endzone in five consecutive games. The last time Johnson was shutout of the endzone in October, was 2002.
Did you know #2: In six straight games, the Bengals defense has allowed two or more touchdowns to the opposing team's leading two receivers. Add up the numbers of the opposing team's two leading receivers in their respective games and it looks like this: 93 receptions, 1,229 yards receiving, 14 touchdowns.
Deltha's interception. Probably could be labeled a bad pass rather than a great pick, Deltha O'Neal's interception in the third quarter was his first pick since September, 24, 2006 against... the Steelers, week #3.