Second-year cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, starting for the injured Terence Newman, admitted that he had a rocky start against the Steelers on Sunday. On Pittsburgh's first play of the game, a five-yard screen to running back Le'Veon Bell turned into a 20-yard gain after Kirkpatrick was called for a 15-yard face mask. Two plays later, he missed a tackle on a quick pass to Antonio Brown, allowing the receiver to gain 12 yards and an additional first down. Granted, the possession didn't lead to points for Pittsburgh but the field position and ensuing dropped snap by Kevin Huber made it far too easy for the Steelers to take a 7-0 lead.
But as the game continued, Kirkpatrick believed that he was did a "great job out there."
"I knew they were going to try and come at me. As the game went on, I settled I in and I got comfortable," Kirkpatrick said via Bengals.com. "That happens in football. He's a little shifty. It is what it is, we'll go back and watch it and correct it."
In a way, he might be right. Pittsburgh didn't surpass the 200-yard passing milestone and Antonio Brown generated 66 yards on six receptions -- though not all of it to Kirkpatrick's side.
On the other hand, Pro Football Focus disagrees.
According to their postgame review, Kirkpatrick generated a team-worst -4.5 grade with a -1.5 score against the pass. Along with missing a team-high four tackles, Kirkpatrick allowed four of five completions for 47 yards with an opposing quarterback rating of 145.4, including Brown's first quarter touchdown reception. Really?
We'll dispute that.
In fairness to Kirkpatrick, when the opposing quarterback is given eight seconds to find an open receiver, not even Deion Sanders himself could maintain it. However, Brown's touchdown reception wasn't Kirkpatrick's fault. It appeared that the Bengals had quarters zone with Kirkpatrick maintaining the quarter of the field nearest the front right pylon.
Reggie Nelson is clearly covering Brown (or at the very least, inside quarters next to Kirkpatrick) and trailed him throughout the improvised route, cutting inside, bending back around towards Kirkpatrick but then redirecting towards the middle of the field -- with Nelson in tow.
Regardless, Kirkpatrick struggled. All but one pass that targeted him was complete. And his performance against the run, or trying to tackle, needs work. But he's a second-year player that essentially had his rookie season redshirted with injury. So patience is honorable -- even though the Bengals need better production across the board if they're going to survive their postseason run.