The Bengals lost another disappointing game to the Steelers. Had Cincinnati been able to beat their hated rival in Week 15, it would have offered just a bit of a consolation prize for a lost season. The Bengals would have been eliminated from postseason contention on Sunday win or lose, as the Ravens beat the Eagles.
But instead, the Bengals completely self-destructed in the second half of the game after leading 20-6 and then 20-9 heading into halftime. An offense that was easily moving the football throughout the first 30 minutes of play seemingly forgot how to play football after exiting the locker room before the third quarter. And a defense that had just one penalty in the first half completely lost its cool in the second half, gifting the Steelers offense with far too many penalty yards. The Bengals finished the game with 8 penalties for 86 yards, while the Steelers actually had one less penalty, but accumulated 104 penalty yards.
Here are my top takeaways from Sunday’s loss to the Steelers.
First half Dalton
Pittsburgh ranked fourth in the league in run defense and second in red zone defense coming into this game. Those things combined to be painfully obvious when Jeremy Hill attempted three goal-line rushes in a row, with all three falling unsuccessful. The third may have been a touchdown, and the Bengals challenged the call, but lost. They then aggressively went for it on fourth down and Andy Dalton snuck in for the touchdown. The Bengals weren’t going to play it safe against their division rivals (in the first half at least) and it was a nice change of pace.
Adam Jones’ taunting
In the second quarter, with the Steelers driving down the field, Adam Jones decided to get in the face of a Steelers player, right in front of an official. The official was actually standing between Jones and the Steelers player who he was walking up to to taunt. My reaction: Seriously, what was he thinking? Why and how would Jones think this was a good idea to taunt a Steelers player? No less, in front of an official. I don’t care what the Steelers player did to provoke it (if anything), Jones simply has no business taunting anyone, at all. Coming into this game, the Bengals were tied for the least penalties in the league, and it seemed like they came a long way from last year’s playoff debacle. But, this game was the one to really test how far they’ve come, and it seems Jones hasn’t come as far as some of the other Bengals players.
Jeremy Hill attempts to rip a Terrible Towel
Win or lose, I personally enjoyed Hill’s attempted destruction of the Terrible Towel. Steelers fans however feel Hill jinxed himself and the team with this disrespect.
First half stats on offense:
Jeremy Hill: 14 attempts for 44 yards and 1 touchdown
Rex Burkhead: 6 attempts for 23 yards
Andy Dalton 1 attempt for 1 yard and 1 touchdown.
Andy Dalton: 10/16, 116 yards, 84.4 passer rating.
Brandon LaFell 6/6, 77 yards
Rex Burkhead 1/2, 18 yards
Cody Core: 2/3, 13 yards
Jeremy Hill: 1/1, 8 yards
Tyler Eifert: 0/2
Brandon LaFell stepped up in a big way in the first half, catching everything thrown his way for 77 yards. Absent from the first half stats is Tyler Boyd, who wasn’t targeted at all against his hometown team.
Second half (only) stats on offense:
Jeremy Hill: 6 attempts for -1 yard
Rex Burkhead: 1 attempt for 9 yards
Andy Dalton: 16/11, 41 yards, finished with a 60.3 passer rating
Brandon LaFell 1/3, 14 yards
Rex Burkhead 0/1, 0 yards
Tyler Eifert: 1/1, 9 yards
Tyler Boyd: 2/3, 13 yards
James Wright: 1/1, 5 yards
What a serious change in production. The Bengals had a total of 49 yards on offense in the second half of the game. That’s simply unacceptable and will almost never lead to a win. It’s simply like the offense slept through the second half and it’s unacceptable from every player involved.
The Bengals’ offense looked dominant in the first half, scoring on all four first half drives (field goal, touchdown, touchdown, field goal) not including the kneel down to end the first half. Then, the second half began and everything changed. The coaches need to figure out what changed, why and how and address it immediately. The transformation on offense from one half to the next is simply unacceptable.
Vontaze Burfict vs the Steelers
After leaving to be evaluated for a concussion in the first half, Vontaze Burfict returned in the second half and the Steelers were not happy to see him. After a Le'Veon Bell 3-yard run, Marcus Gilbert threw Burfict to the ground, after the whistle and then David Decastro wrestled him, getting on top of him and pushing him around. The officials were there for the action, but strangely only ended up throwing one flag, on Gilbert for unnecessary roughness. Just a few plays later, the officials decided to call an unnecessary roughness call on Burfict, his first of the year, for what they felt was a late tackle on Ben Roethlisberger. It seemed Burfict thought Roethlisberger had the ball in his hands, but he didn't, he’d handed it off to Sammie Coates. The play resulted in a 15 yard gain for Coates and then another 15 yards for the Steelers due to the penalty. Coming into this game, Burfict had one penalty for 5-yards all season, for defensive holding. Now, with two weeks left to play he’s had two penalties for 20 yards. That’s not bad, but it would have been great to see him get through the game without a penalty. Though, this call likely wouldn’t have made made on an identical tackle by most other NFL players.
Alex Erickson’s success
The beginning of the season was rocky for the rookie return man, but he’s getting better and better each week and set up the Bengals with great field positioning throughout the game. Erickson had five kick returns and totaled 166 yards, including a long of 72 yards. That amounted to a respectable average of 33.2 yards per return. Erickson has certainly carved out a role for himself on this Bengals team and it’s exciting to see him progress.
Penalties piling up
Defensive offside, defensive holding, defensive holding, unnecessary roughness. That’s what happened on four consecutive plays as the officials let penalties dictate the fourth quarter. After that string of undisciplined play, the Steelers scored a touchdown and took their first lead of the game. After scoring six field goals, it was the Steelers’ first touchdown of the game. Undisciplined play matters, penalties matter and keeping composure matters.
The Bengals’ offense looked great in the first half, and then completely collapsed after halftime, allowing the Steelers to score 15 unanswered points after the half and 18 starting in the second quarter. That’s also on the defense, a unit that looked great, allowing only field goals in the first half and then had a string of bad penalties and allowed a touchdown in the second half. It’s almost unbearable watching a Marvin Lewis-coached game at this point. The Steelers have owned the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium and it needs to change. That’s not up for debate. With Lewis, there’s no reason to believe change will come as the Bengals have beaten the Steelers twice at home since 2003. TWICE. What will it take for the Bengals to realize Lewis can’t get this team to the promise land?
Let me know in the comments!