Well crap. This isn't a fun article to write. As we all know, the Bengals lost to the Steelers and in doing so suffered one of the worst games for injuries in recent memory. Still, the team will pick up the pieces and look to finish the last three weeks the way this season started. Let's take a look back at the keys to victory and try and see what went wrong.
The Steelers started with the football and marched down the field for a touchdown. The Bengals looked poised to answer with some tough football. The screen to Tyler Eifert and then him running down the sideline for about a 40 yard gain was awesome. That was great football and the Bengals were not intimidated. Then, Andy Dalton threw an interception at the 3 yard line and the Bengals' scoring chance ended. Not only did their opportunity to score come to a halt, but Dalton was injured on the play and Eifert was injured moments prior by a hit to the head by Mike Mitchell. It was all downhill from there with backup AJ McCarron expectedly unable to keep up with the Steelers.
Run the ball
Jeremy Hill finished the day with 16 yards rushing. Giovani Bernard had 40 but 18 were on one play. The Bengals did not have success running the ball. They were forced to throw the ball a lot to try and get back into the football game. It may be unfair to pick apart the Bengals' offense too much. The playbook was dramatically smaller when Dalton left the game with injury. AJ McCarron came in and played OK. He didn't seem afraid to throw the ball around but his reads and accuracy were not there. The Bengals were not in a position to establish the run after their first series.
Keep Andy Dalton clean
Well, I can extend this to the Bengals quarterbacks in general. The Offensive line did a decent job against Pittsburgh's front. However, a young quarterback held the ball too long and didn't make it through his progressions as quick as a veteran would. This is not a dig on McCarron, he was thrown into the fire with very little NFL experience.
Secondary needs to cover
The Bengals' secondary was on the field a lot. Time of possession heavily favored the Steelers for this game. Pittsburgh enjoyed 11+ more minutes of offense compared to the Bengals. Sure, there were times when it seemed the coverage was soft, but it is better to contain than to get beat deep by this team. That fact that the Steelers settled for so many field goals is a testament to the secondary.
Disrupt on defense
This phase of the game was a let down. The Bengals' front generated very little pressure on Ben Roethlisberger on Sunday. Some fans screamed for holding calls, but as I re-watched the game, there was no real blatant calls missed. I was surprised at the lack of pressure on Roethlisberger.
When the Bengals beat the Steelers earlier this season, we heard cries from the Steelers fans blaming injuries and the fact that Ben Roethlisberger was in his first game back from injury. Bengals fans also have a legitimate excuse as to why Cincinnati lost on Sunday with the same reasons. However, there is no category that account for these types of things and Cincinnati needs to continue to play football. Perhaps a situation arises where these two teams meet again when both are healthy, then we can worry about the Steelers. For now, they don't matter to the Bengals at all.