A friend of mine who happens to be a Steelers fan - nobody is perfect - said to me yesterday that the game was terrible and both teams looked horrible. I had to agree, but also said that of course the game was bad, that is the effect of playing in Pittsburgh, everything is horrible there. But I think many fans and some media had it wrong on Twitter calling out the Bengals' offensive line. They made some mistakes, but so did the rest of the offense, including the coaches. We reviewed the tape for further review.
In the first quarter Cincinnati had the offense rolling short pass after short pass, taking what the Pittsburgh defense was giving. That was, of course, until the Steelers started to bring pressure on quarterback Andy Dalton. They also got flagged early on, with right tackle Andre Smith getting his first penalty of the game on a false start. Right guard Kevin Zeitler shined in the first drive with a great pull block on a play where tailback Jeremy Hill burst onto the gap after one cut. He took down three Steelers defenders, not too shabby.
That was the only run they attempted in the initial drive. Bodine's first sight came on a first down with the Bengals close to the red zone. The receivers were running deep routes and Andy Dalton had no time because of his center. The much maligned second-year player, Russell Bodine, surrendered the pressure against Cameron Heyward. Cincy kept six to block five but could not handle it.
It resulted in an incomplete pass, and still was second down. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson went deep again, and despite the clean pocket nobody was open and Andy scrambled for a gain of five. The blitz eventually got to Dalton, but the longer it takes to develop the route the harder is to attack the blitz.
They would fail to convert on third down but it was a good design isolating tight end Tyler Eifert wide left.
Then, in the second drive, the offensive line managed to keep a clean pocket on a deep throw to Marvin Jones against the blitz and also on the first sack. The Bengals were running verticals again on third and 13 after a false start call on left tackle Andrew Whitworth. There was nobody open.
The Steelers saw what pressure could do to Andy Dalton and turned up the heat. In the following drive, after another false start - this time on extra offensive lineman Jake Fisher - the Bengals' quarterback kept the ball for way too long and Bodine gave up yet another pressure. Bodine had another bad play but A.J. Green was wide open and Dalton never saw him and he should have gotten rid of the football quicker.
The swing pass to Bernard that followed was just a weird play, with Russell Bodine leaving the line of scrimmage to block somebody downfield.
The offense had a tough time recognizing the Steelers' blitzes and it showed when Pittsburgh attacked Giovani Bernard when he was kept to pick up the rush. The Bengals kept seven to block five but it looked like this:
The Steelers were also ready to take advantage of Russell Bodine and Dalton was able to complete a short pass to Green for eight yards with Jeremy Hill barely picking up the blitz in the fourth drive. Cincinnati lost the chance to score on the fumbled snap some plays later though, and were forced to punt.
The second half was a bit different, as the Steelers had consistent pressure on Dalton. It was a matter of the Bengals failing to get a grasp of how the Steelers were getting home in my opinion, as you can see here in the first drive of the second half where Lawrence Timmons got the pressure over Giovani Bernard.
If Bodine would have blocked well, it would have been a different play, but they thought Pittsburgh was bringing six instead of five and the right flank was open.
On third down Dalton only scrambled after the Steelers were ready for the out routes and nobody was open, but the pocket was fine. They also gave up another sack off a bootleg where again there was nobody open and Eifert was tasked with blocking a nose tackle. When it seems Green is breaking free on a go route on the right side, Dalton saw the defenders and did not make the throw.
The safety was there, but I think that play requires that shot to be taken.
There was also the third and 34 play where Andy had both Sanu and Eifert open but scrambled after "feeling" the pressure. Not that a short completion was going to mean anything, anyway, but Dalton never set his feet onto the ground and ran away quickly.
Bodine had another bad play on a run where Jeremy Hill gained five yards. If the center makes a different block the Bengals' running back could have had a huge play.
Left guard Clint Boling had the rare poor effort in the touchdown drive, surrendering the pressure on that shovel pass, which Bernard took for 23 yards down the middle.
Overall, yes, the offensive line was not as elite as we are used to seeing, and Bodine was especially bad, trying his best to kill some plays and fumbling one snap. And yes, they were flagged three times for false starts and also had the illegal peelback penalty. But, Pittsburgh is a tough, noisy place to play, and the Steelers were bringing up a lot of heat. The Bengals still had a solid afternoon and got the win in the end.
Meanwhile, some playcalling and bad decisions by Dalton were as crucial to the game as was the offensive line's play.