Commentary: What The Hell Is Going On In The Second Quarter?

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 04: Brett Keisel #99 and James Harrison #92 of the Pittsburgh Steelers sack Andy Dalton #14 of the Cincinnati Bengals during the game on December 4, 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Let's play a little game called "let's completely disregard a quarter" and then judge where the Cincinnati Bengals are at. We know. The game isn't for everyone; it requires a little imagination and enough maturity to put the Drama Queen impressions of "I know more than you" to bed for at least one post, biting the golden tongue and holding the "Well, you can't take away the second quarter because that's part of the game and without the second quarter, you couldn't have a third or fourth quarter so blah, blah, blah", back for just a moment.

We get it. Nothing in this world can transform the idea that Cincinnati lost in complete domination within every phase of the game like they did against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. It's not like we could say: If we completely remove the second quarter than the Bengals only lost by seven.

But really. What the hell is going on in the second quarter?

The end result is this: Through 12 games this season, the Cincinnati Bengals have been outscored 39-119. Translated into a baseball player's performance at the plate, that wouldn't even sniff the batting title for the past three seasons. And during the last three games the Bengals have been outscored 52-7 in the second.

Andy Dalton has completed 56% of his passes, averaging 47.5 yards passing per game in the second with a passer rating of 65.8. Cedric Benson? Forget it. He's a ghost, registering 93 second quarter yards in 12 games, averaging 2.9 yards/rush -- overwhelmingly his lowest of any quarter this season. Oh, but Bernard Scott plays a lot in the second quarter so at least we have that. Wrong. He's averaging 2.4 yards/rush in the second quarter and failed to registered a single carry against the Steelers during the period.

Theories could be resounding, plentiful. They also can be extremely simple, starting with the offensive line minimizing the holes for Benson and the team's rushing offense. Or the lack of protection. Dalton's been sacked eight times in the second quarter this season, three more than any quarter. Defensively this team relaxes or completely lacks readjustment to an evolving opposing offense. Maybe it's the play-calling or perhaps Cincinnati's "play dead in the second quarter so we look all viper and shit" philosophy that worked for much of the season, unfortunately came to bite them against the Steelers.

In the end it doesn't even matter. In the end I know what you're thinking because I just said it out loud with my interpretation of a vocal exclamation point. That's pathetic!

The Steelers domination Sunday was a highlight film completely derived from the second quarter. When the Steelers scored the game's first touchdown with 12:52 remaining in the second, the Bengals offense went three and out, registering only two yards. Pittsburgh followed that up with another touchdown and received Brandon Tate's Christmas present three weeks early during the ensuing kickoff.

By the time Cincinnati received the football following their three and out earlier in the drive, the Steelers went from a seven-point lead to a 21-point advantage. Yet whatever "comeback fuel" they had remaining, they used in the second quarter, putting together an 80-yard drive, capped by A.J. Green's 11-yard touchdown (actually it was mostly all Green on that drive).

And for a moment, it appeared that Cincinnati was going to make a game of it. Following Michael Johnson's sack with 2:28 remaining in the first half, the Steelers eventually punted the football. Three incomplete passes later and Antonio Brown returned the punt 60 yards for the touchdown, giving the Steelers a 28-7 lead.

Game over.

"I wish I could say much more," said Lewis following the game, "but the game was basically over in the second quarter." Thanks, coach. We're fairly certain mostly every fan realized that.

Now the Bengals actually posted more yards (exactly one yard) than the Steelers in the second quarter. But a handful of three and out possessions book-shelving the offense's best possession during the afternoon quickly put Cincinnati in the meat-grinder. Look at it this way. Cincinnati's touchdown drive in the second quarter went 80 yards. Their total yardage in the second quarter was 77.

We said before Sunday's game that Cincinnati's offense desperately needed to respond to Pittsburgh's scoring drives. This defense can't withstand a good passing offense with the injuries accumulating in the secondary. Though he only had 176 yards passing, Ben Roethlisberger was efficient with two touchdowns, no picks and a passer rating of 117.3. Pittsburgh's rushing offense posted 136 yards rushing, the most allowed this year by the Bengals defense.

Pittsburgh is but one example.

During Cincinnati's regular season opener, the Browns scored two touchdowns to eliminate Cincinnati's 13-point lead. The Buffalo Bills took a 17-3 lead into half time with all 17 points scored in the second quarter. The Titans scored 14 points in the second quarter, taking a 17-7 half time lead and the Baltimore Ravens threw up 14, only to win by seven.

The homer-tastic fan in me says the obvious. Fix those second quarter woes and this team is back on track, wrecking preseason expectations. The weary fan in me suspects that the team is well aware of their their second quarter issues and remain helpless on resolving them.

Regardless of how anyone feels, if those second quarters aren't fixed by next week against the Houston Texans, we could be slowly watching the playoffs fade away.

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