Under further review: When the defense stepped up, the Bengals took advantage

If you took every thing you knew about the Cincinnati Bengals, while applying every bit of team history that you've observed during the Mike Brown era, then the Bengals win over the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday would seem almost foreign. For example, the team's first quarter was an alarming effort at self-destruction. Cedric Benson rushed the football four times for no-yards. Carson Palmer attempted three passes -- two to Coles, one to Henry -- falling incomplete. Kyle Cook missed a block on Casey Hampton, who sacked Palmer. Evan Mathis was called for a false start and Anthony Collins lined up off the line of scrimmage, penalizing the Bengals five yards.

Willie Parker rushed for 53 yards on nine carries while Ben Roethlisberger completed seven of nine passes for 99 yards and a touchdown -- a 149.5 passer rating. By the time the first quarter ended, the Steelers had a 10-0 lead, time of possession nearing 11 minutes and seven recorded first downs. The Bengals had just over four minutes of possession, no first downs and actually lost 20 yards with only one recorded yard on offense -- which was lost on the next play.

This was the first quarter. This was why I said the Bengals had a big DOA stamped on the mid-field team logo. Even though a ten-point deficit is manageable, the score clearly didn't show the team's immense struggle on both offense and defense. Over 17 minutes had passed before Carson Palmer completed his first pass of the game. Over 17 minutes had passed before the Bengals recorded their first first down of the game. Nearly 19 minutes had passed before Cedric Benson recorded more than one yard rushing on the ground. Even though the Bengals would later punt on their fourth possession, when Phil Simms called the drive successful, based on what happened in the first quarter, he was absolutely right in his assessment.

Afterwards, the Bengals offense and defense steadily improved. After the team's fourth straight punt to start the game, the offense went three-and-out only once, punted twice, missed a field goal and scored on three of the final five possessions; two touchdowns in the final ten minutes of the game. Defensively, the Bengals went into shutdown mode in the second half, forcing a pick-six, a missed field goal and two punts. They allowed a 11-play, 85-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter. However, aside from that, with a bit of luck (dropped passes for example) the Steelers offense was largely ineffective.

When the Bengals were hit with a mountain of adversity, they climbed that mountain and won the game. It was foreign to see this after so many times witnessing the Bengals pack it in, following their collective sigh with there's always next week. This team is far different with their motivations and heart.

Did the offense line really play well? You could make the argument that the Bengals offense was as dreadful or successful as the offensive line was. On many of the early tackles by the Pittsburgh Steelers during rushing downs was a result of the line's inability to reach the second level. Pittsburgh's defensive line did a good job holding up the Bengals offensive line from getting in the linebackers way. James Farrior and Lawrence Timmons were on fire early as a result. However, I also noticed that the Bengals offensive line was often a step slow when Steelers linebackers shot through the gaps. Andrew Whitworth, who ended up playing as well as anyone on the team, still struggled with a defender making an inside move.

Aside from the sack allowed to Casey Hampton, Kyle Cook went largely unnoticed. However, after watching the game a second time, he struggled against the massive defensive tackle. So much so that the Bengals decided to only call two rushing plays up the middle, and an additional two off the right guard. Of those four rushing plays, the Bengals gained two yards. Were they trying to protect Cook by not making Hampton a factor in the game? It would be reasonable to think so. However, there really was no reason to run up the gut into the heart of the Steelers defense when the edges were wide open.

The Bengals ran behind Andrew Whitworth six times for 51 yards on Sunday; including a 23-yard touchdown run by Benson. He's not the only reason that Benson averaged 8.5 yards-per-rush when rushing off the left edges. Mathis was solid, as was Dennis Roland, Daniel Coats and J.P. Foschi. Anthony Collins' side saw a good measure of success also, with six runs gaining 23 yards, which included runs of nine and eight yards. As offensive linemen go, the team's left side of the line dominated the Steelers most of the game. Benson found holes, picking up chucks of seven yards three times, an eight-yard as well as the 23-yard touchdown run.

Furthermore, the Bengals were impressively solid defending against the nasty Pittsburgh pass rush. Hampton recorded a sack early in the game and James Harrison recorded a sack in which the Bengals didn't lose a yard when Harrison dropped Palmer at the line of scrimmage. Aside from that, Palmer was only hit two more times and remained on his feet the rest of the game. Some could argue that he panicked when he didn't need to, forcing throws before the receivers went into their breaks. When that happened, the pass visibly sailed over the receivers' heads, typically down the right sidelines. However, it's the survive to fight another day mentality. If you're uncomfortable, throw the pass away preventing a sack or an interception. After watching what happened last year, as well as the interceptions early this season, I think I'll take passes thrown away every time. Once Palmer understands that his line is holding up well, he'll develop more confidence to make plays. For the time being, it didn't hurt the team.

Palmer on third down.
Att Comp Pct. Yards TD INT
10 3 30% 12 0 0
           
Palmer on fourth down.
Att Comp Pct. Yards TD INT
2 2 100% 16 0 0

When momentum was too hard to define. Every football game is based on momentum. It's that invisible ghost that defines the game, which isn't entirely out of the hands of mere mortals. The Steelers had it early. The Bengals took it late. But when did the Bengals truly turn the tide, taking advantage of the momentum with a Paul Brown Stadium crowd that was noticeably loud? We have several instances.

We could go as far back as the 1:15 mark in the second quarter. The Steelers were leading 13-0 when Pittsburgh lined up fourth-and-four at the Bengals 35-yard line. At this point, if the Steelers take a 20 point lead into the lockerroom, the Bengals have a slight to zero chance. Ben Roethlisberger took the snap and felt immediate pressure from the Bengals' star pass rusher, Antwan Odom. Roethlisberger was forced to roll out to his left, where Jonathan Fanene, who had a tremendous game, wrapped the quarterback's legs. Ben doesn't go down easy. And he didn't here. While standing upright, rather than risking a quarterback sack, threw the football away. The Bengals offense took possession with a minute left in the half and managed a field goal. What could have become a 20-point deficit, turned into a 10-point deficit heading into the lockerroom. After stopping the Steelers on fourth down and after scoring a field goal, you have to wonder how much the players used that.

On the Steelers first possession of the second half, after hitting Heath Miller for five yards and after Hines Ward was called for his second offensive pass interference (which I simply noted as thanking the football gods for currying favor with the Bengals), Santonio Holmes sprinted off the line of scrimmage and kept going. Roethlisberger expected Holmes to run a hook-route and threw it as such. Johnathan Joseph watched Roethlisberger all the way. After allowing a second quarter 51-yard pass to Mike Wallace, Joseph tried to redeem himself all game. If it wasn't for his good hits, or sure tackles, it was the interception that Joseph returned to the endzone, giving the Bengals the first touchdown in the game.

After a long kickoff return, the Steelers start their second second-half possession on the Bengals 40-yard line. Momentum was nearly crushed when Roethlisberger hit a wide open Limas Sweed in the endzone. Sweed's natural enemy, the ground, knocked the football out of his hand, preventing the easy touchdown. On the next play, Jeff Reed missed a 52-yard field goal attempt.

Even though Sweed dropped the easy touchdown pass and Reed missed the field goal attempt, the Bengals didn't take advantage, going three-and-out; actually run-run-pass-punt. The Steelers went 75 yards on 11 plays on the ensuing drive, finishing the drive with a one-yard touchdown run by Roethlisberger. Rey Maualuga was carted off and whatever momentum the Bengals built, was dying (if not dead).

Then the Bengals performed their best fourth quarter performance since Carson Palmer engineered a 24-point fourth quarter, throwing three interceptions against the Baltimore Ravens in 2004.

Times each wide receiver was targeted

Receiver Target Catches Yards TD
Chad Ochocinco 11 5 54 0
Andre Caldwell 9 6 52 1
Laveranues Coles 7 5 34 0
Chris Henry 3 1 19 0
Brian Leonard 2 1 11 0
Cedric Benson 2 1 5 0
Daniel Coats 1 1 8 0
  35 20 183 1

Breaking down the quarters. The game was never out of reach in terms of the score. In terms of the performance, it was dreadful early. When it mattered most, Carson Palmer and Cedric Benson came through in the fourth quarter. Both scored touchdowns and recorded their strongest quarter. Furthermore, the defense rose as well, limiting Willie Parker and Ben Roethlisberger to their worst quarters in the game.

Carson Palmer

  Att Comp Yard TD INT Rating
1st 3 0 0 0 0 39.6
2nd 13 7 81 0 0 72.9
3rd 4 3 6 0 0 77.1
4th 17 10 96 1 0 94.2
  37 20 183 1 0 76.7

Cedric Benson

  Att Yards Avg. TD
1st 4 0 0 0
2nd 4 18 4.5 0
3rd 4 16 4.0 0
4th 4 42 10.5 1
  16 76 4.8 1

Ben Roethlisberger

  Att Comp Yard TD INT Rating
1st 9 7 99 1 0 149.5
2nd 10 6 81 0 0 85.5
3rd 9 7 81 0 1 64.5
4th 3 2 15 0 0 78.5
  31 22 276 1 1 95.6

Willie Parker

  Att Yards Avg. TD
1st 9 53 5.9 0
2nd 5 19 3.8 0
3rd 6 14 2.3 0
4th 5 7 1.4 0
  25 93 3.7 0
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