The Bengals’ second game of the 2016 NFL season is in the books, and it was a bad loss. Granted, the Bengals were only beaten by eight points. But, it might as well be a million because a loss is a loss, and it happened to come against arguably the Bengals’ biggest competitor in the AFC North.
It’s a tough loss to endure. But, if there is a bright spot in all of this, it was the performances of a few players on each side of the ball, receiving good grades from Pro Football Focus. On offense, we saw a few players step up like Andrew Whitworth (77.2), Kevin Zeitler (75.9), Russell Bodine (75.5), Tyler Boyd (73.1), and Clint Boling (72.6). Those are some decent numbers, but all five of the top graded defensive players graded higher than the top offensive players. On defense, Vincent Rey (91.1), Carlos Dunlap (84.1), Dre Kirkpatrick (83.7), George Iloka (82.1), and Geno Atkins (78.1), all showed the offense how it’s done. And, it’s actually quite great to see guys like Rey and Kirkpatrick having such strong outings.
In a complete turnaround from last week against the Jets, the Bengals offensive line looked to be the strongest part of the Bengals’ overall offensive performance. Quarterback Andy Dalton was sacked only once and pressured on only 15 of his 57 total drop-backs. Andrew Whitworth was particularly good, as always, recording a solid grade blocking for the run (77.2), and an even better grade blocking for the pass (81.2). He only allowed a single pressure on Dalton in 60 total passing situations throughout the game.
One of the reasons that the Bengals’ offensive line performed so much better this week is the fact that center Russell Bodine actually had a very good game this week. Granted, he was worse against the pass rush (62.5) than he was blocking for the run (72.6). But, he outplayed two of his fellow offensive linemen to put together a respectable performance. He looked good more often than not in the preseason, so hopefully this is a sign that the embattled center is starting to figure out how to play well in the NFL.
Despite the quality performance by the Bengals’ line, for the most part, the running game looked absolutely hopeless. 46 yards on 18 carries between Dalton, Jeremy Hill, and Giovani Bernard is just plain embarrassing. However, it is worth noting that those numbers might be simply due to the Steelers being so good on defense.
Bernard and Hill may have combined for just 39 total rushing yards, but they gained a total of 41 yards after contact. That means they were more effective running the ball after contact than before and were consistently getting hit and taken down before crossing the line of scrimmage.
Given the overall decent performance by the offensive line, it further shows how inefficient Bernard and Hill were at running the ball. They only combined to force a single missed tackle in the running game. On that note, however, they were much more effective in the passing game. Bernard caught nine of his 10 targets for 101 yards, 99 of which came after the catch. Jeremy Hill forced two missed tackles in the passing game, on top of his one in the running game, on his way to 37 yards on three catches. That helped him achieve an impressive elusiveness grade (52.4), which ranked higher than all but seven other running backs this week.
At first glance, Andy Dalton’s 366 yard, one touchdown day looks pretty good. His final rating (84.3) wasn’t great. But, it did beat out Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (78.5). However, once you start to break down his performance, it was a pretty disappointing day.
For the most part, the Steelers absolutely shut down Dalton and the passing game in the areas in which he normally thrives. For example, he was only 10-18 for 96 yards on short, middle of the field passes. Normally, Dalton’s timing and quick release allow him to thrive on short passes, but it wasn’t meant to be this week.
He also performed poorly when throwing to his top two targets, A.J. Green and LaFell. When throwing to them, he only completed five of his 14 attempts for 77 yards. In fact, Green recorded his worst overall grade (46.6) since Week 15 of the 2014 season. The difference is, the Bengals’ running game was so electrifying in that 30-0 win over the Cleveland Browns (244 yards on 45 carries and three touchdowns), that Green could afford to sit back and record a measly five receptions for 49 yards.
Overall, you have to respect the defensive effort put up on Sunday. It wasn’t enough to win the game, but an equally good performance from the offense likely would have been enough to win the game handily.
The highest graded player on the team was Vincent Rey (91.1) as he was an absolute stalwart in the running game and pass coverage. Against the pass, he only allowed a total of 10 yards on five targets and, against the run, he recorded six stops and an excellent grade (93.2). He might have recorded one of the best scores in the NFL this week had it not been for a poorly graded performance as a pass rusher (47.4).
Rey didn’t have a single pressure throughout the entire game, but the rest of the team made up for it. Carlos Dunlap led the unit with five of the team’s 25 pressures. He ended up with a good pass rush productivity grade (12.9). Unfortunately, the unit as a whole was only able to convert one of those 25 pressures for a sack.
Interestingly, Kirkpatrick had one of his best showings while PFF was not high on Adam Jones in Week 2. Jones was PFF’s 81st ranked cornerback this week (37.5). His statistics benefitted from a pass thrown behind the receiver in the first quarter that gave Jones his interception, an Antonio Brown dropped pass in the second quarter, and an overthrow by Roethlisberger in the third quarter. He also missed a tackle on Fitzgerald Toussaint in the running game. Meanwhile, Roethlisberger was 0-3 with an interception when targeting Kirkpatrick in coverage.
The Bengals performed relatively well against the run, only allowing 94 yards on 32 carries by DeAngelo Williams. Unfortunately, it was the Steelers’ ability to run the ball even remotely effectively that made the difference in a rainy game. But, that still doesn’t take away from the impressive performances against the run by Dunlap (91.6) and Karlos Dansby (77.9).