Andy Dalton had a rough first half completing only 50 percent of his passes (16 of 32) in a game-plan that primarily featured an aerial assault. Most of Dalton's passes sailed over open receivers, which suggests that while the game plan was solid; the quarterback wasn't. Eventually the Bengals settled into a groove in the second half with a far more balanced offense and an efficient Andy Dalton, who completed nine of 13 passes in the second half for 115 yards passing and a touchdown.
I know most really want Giovani Bernard to carry the load at running back but I loved how the team used him and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Bernard was the threat, scoring two touchdowns on nine touches and 65 yards from scrimmage. Green-Ellis was the clock-eater and short-yardage converter. Cincinnati generated 127 yards rushing against the Steelers, which is the second-most in Marvin Lewis' tenure against Pittsburgh.
This group is developing into one of the league's top tight end duos. Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert featured the most effective skill position on offense in consecutive weeks, combing for nine receptions for 132 yards receiving against the Steelers. Gresham posted 66 yards on six receptions and Eifert added three catches for 66 yards, including a 61-yarder during Cincinnati's first touchdown drive.
You have to give credit to cornerback Ike Taylor, who generally does a good job covering A.J. Green. Monday Night was no different with Green posting six receptions, on 14 targets, for 41 yards receiving. Mohamed Sanu vastly improved from Chicago, posting five receptions for 40 yards and picking up two first downs. Marvin Jones posted three receptions for 35 yards and two of those catches led to first downs. But in comparison to running back and tight end, the wide receiver group was arguably the least effective.
Solid evening for the offensive line, who didn't allow a quarterback sack and was a big part for Cincinnati's successes on the ground game, who again generated 127 yards -- the second-most against the Steelers during the Lewis era.
The defensive line was awesome, again. They accounted for two quarterback sacks on Ben Roethlisberger, two tackles for loss, and six additional hits on the quarterback. But more impressive was the defense holding Pittsburgh's running game to only 44 yards rushing and a 2.8 yard/rush average.
The reduced time on the field is clearly translating well for Rey Maualuga, who posted eight tackles against the Steelers. He had several solo stops that could have become larger gains in the running game. His instincts appear to be back, as is his aggressiveness. Vontaze Burfict continues to show why he's the team's best linebacker, if not the most consistent and effective defensive player. James Harrison didn't produce a statistic on the stat sheet on 14 defensive snaps.
Terence Newman led the team with two passes defensed, added a tackle-for-loss and finished third with six tackles. Leon Hall added a pass defensed and tackle for loss, but only allowed six receptions on 15 targets against receivers he covered.
It was Adam Jones that was heavily picked on by the Pittsburgh Steelers and he didn't play well as a result. Of the five receptions that he allowed, Steelers receivers generated 119 yards receiving (including 66 yards after the catch). It's the second week in a row that the opposing quarterback posted a pass rating of 100 or better on passes to receivers that Jones covered.
However, the Bengals secondary was responsible for both of Pittsburgh's turnovers, with Reggie Nelson's interception and Jones' forced fumble on tight end David Paulson.
Mike Nugent nailed both field goal attempts and Kevin Huber averaged 46.6 yards/punt on seven kicks. So in that regard, special teams was solid. However, Cincinnati had no return game with Tate's lone kickoff return going 17 yards and the punt return game between Tate and Adam Jones averaging 5.4 yards per return. Antonio Brown returned one punt 40 yards and Felix Jones opened the game with a 34-yard kickoff return. Special teams also had multiple penalties.
I didn't get the play-calling at the end of the first half, when the team nonchalantly allowed a lot of clock to expire before deciding to generate points. They had 1:49 remaining on a possession that began from their own 15-yard line with three timeouts remaining. Perhaps it was the criticism last week that forced conservative play-calling but unfortunately, they were reduced to a Hail Mary with five seconds remaining.
Beyond that, the coaching was good. Jay Gruden's second half adjustment was impressive, shifting the team's game-plan from a heavy passing offense to a more balanced approach that invited a second half running game.