The Bengals didn’t get the job done on Sunday. It’s a phrase that’s becoming all too familiar and frankly I’m tired of saying it. This season has been wearing on anyone who is at least somewhat emotionally invested in the Bengals. When we look back at the 2016 season, I feel confident that this game, as well as the Dallas game, will be how this year is remembered. Dallas was a talented and hungry team early in the season giving Cincinnati everything they had and thoroughly manhandling them. The Pittsburgh game was a half-assed rivalry game that the Steelers were likely not entirely invested in, because this week’s game against Baltimore is vastly more important. And still, the Bengals lost.
In the beginning of the game, everything seemed to be going right. But once again, the Bengals were out-coached, with Mike Tomlin making the necessary halftime adjustments to stifle anything the Bengals were doing on offense. In fact, I can’t even show you any good game tape from the second half of that game. The amount of 1-yard runs Jeremy Hill accounted for made me think I was seeing double.
So instead, we’re sticking to the first half, to show what the team is capable of when they don’t get in their own way. First, let’s take a look at some excellent ball placement by Andy Dalton early on to Brandon LaFell:
It’s a pretty simple play here, with the Bengals running the Four Verticals concept against a Pittsburgh Cover 2 defense. The running back momentarily draws the linebackers with the play fake, while the receivers try to find space. The back then goes on a short curl as a check down if nothing is there. It’s a very simple play that’s in every team’s playbook.
The Steelers to their credit cover this as best as you probably can. Four Verts is a total mismatch for a Cover 2, where the safeties basically have to commit to either stopping the inside or outside man. The Steelers corners make this play tough because they don’t sit in a flat like a typical Cover 2 and they follow the outside guys. They see no immediate flat responsibility and do the smart thing, which is run with the receiver to provide help. This forces Dalton to fit the ball in a somewhat tight window. Cover 2 has two major weaknesses: The sidelines over the corner and underneath the safety, and deep between the two high safeties.
Dalton picks the sideline and fits it over the top of the corner for a completion. As you can also see in the above frame the middle men are not really an option as the safeties pick them up. This basically then becomes man-on-man coverage with heavy zone support in the middle from the linebackers. It was a great throw by Dalton, but he was definitely not without fault on the day.
However, it’s a dark time for Bengals fans, let’s not go down that path. So hey, check out this sweet run blocking instead! Hint: It’s a nice run and we aren’t playing the Browns, so you probably know who isn’t carrying the ball.
Here’s what was probably my favorite run of the day for the team. They had some longer runs, but this was certainly the best execution they had against the Steelers. Dalton motions in Boyd to block out a linebacker coming off the edge, while Eifert takes a reach block to his inside. The offensive line blows everything down to the left, opening up a hole between Eifert and Jake Fisher. Rex Burkhead took a nice jab step and then hit the hole with some nice burst. It resulted in this:
I mean, really just look at that running lane. The entire Steelers defensive front is handled, with Eifert somehow working not one, but two defenders to the right. Eifert normally isn’t a good blocker, but he has flashed promise. Burkhead got tripped up and only picked up nine yards, but it’s plays like these that take you to the playoffs. The Bengals need a lot of this in 2017. Now check out the play in beautiful GIF form.
It’s a somewhat satisfying play because it shows what this team is capable of when firing on all cylinders, but also disappointing to know that they can’t do it consistently. I’ve been on Marvin Lewis’ case all year about not doing his job well. I have tons of respect and admiration for Coach Lewis - he’s one of the greatest defensive coordinators of all time, and brought the organization out of the cellar that they were doomed to for so long. He sees the problems the team faces, and he always has, but he’s unable to fix it. At the end of the day, that’s the most important factor - being able to fix things when they go wrong. He just isn’t getting it done. Lewis would make a fine front office guy in the future (should he choose to go down that path) either here or elsewhere, but I think it’s obvious his best coaching days are behind him.