While the divisional games between the Ravens and Bengals have brought some crazy results in recent years, the ones between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati allow fans to expect the unexpected. A number of elements made for a frustrating afternoon, both in and out of the Bengals’ control, but the team battled them all to drive for a possible game-tying situation at the end of the contest.
Here are some of the best and worst sights from the Steelers’ 24-16 victory over the Bengals in Week 2.
Poise: The Bengals faced major adversity in multiple forms and still kept their cool for the entire 60 minutes. Sure, there were hard feelings towards the officiating staff when the game was over, but a few targeting scenarios by Steelers players and very few calls going the Bengals’ way were ingredients to a possible powder keg situation.
Yet, through it all, the offseason messages from owner Mike Brown and the coaching staff seemed to have been heard. Maybe it had to do with the fact that they weren’t in the friendly confines of Paul Brown Stadium, but a myriad of factors could have led the team to a Wild Card-like implosion. Instead, they battled back and almost tied the game as time was expiring.
The Comeback: Technically, this could be wrapped in the “poise” portion, but the fact that the Bengals battled back to potentially tie the game in poor weather, with deplorable officiating while on the road against one of the best teams says a lot about this squad. It was a far-from-perfect day from Cincinnati themselves, so their resolve has to be applauded.
Giovani Bernard as a receiver: With A.J. Green getting shut down on the day and the Bengals’ receivers dropping eight passes, Pittsburgh allowed Andy Dalton to dink-and-dunk his way towards a possible comeback. Bernard finished as the team’s leading receiver in all major categories with nine receptions, 100 yards and a 25-yard touchdown.
Tyler Boyd: In last week’s five keys to victory, we noted the need for the Bengals to have their ancillary weapons step up. With Green shut down and Tyler Eifert still on the sidelines, the rookie receiver made quite a few plays in the middle of the field. Though the fourth quarter fumble mars his overall day, it shouldn’t have even been ruled as such. Boyd finished with six catches for 78 yards, with four of the grabs giving the Bengals first downs.
The Starting Cornerbacks: Shutting down Antonio Brown was undoubtedly one of the major points of Paul Guenther’s game plan and both Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick came up big on Sunday. Both had an interception of Ben Roethlisberger and though Kirkpatrick dropped another, their efforts helped lead Brown to have a four-catch, 39-yard game.
Mike Nugent: Heinz Field is notorious for being a graveyard for even the best of kickers, so combining its reputation with rain throughout much of the afternoon didn’t bode well for Nugent. But, after kicking the game-winner last week in New York, the veteran had 10 more points on Sunday, converting every field goal and extra point opportunity.
The Run Game: While most would think it “ugly”, most knew it would be tough sledding against the always-stout Steelers front seven anyway. After making many tough runs against the Jets, Jeremy Hill wasn’t able to harness his 2014 tackle-breaking ability against Pittsburgh. While Bernard was excellent in the passing game, he didn’t help out Dalton on the ground either, managing just 17 rushing yards. Hill and Bernard combined for 17 carries for 39 yards and a paltry 2.3 yards per carry average.
Dalton’s Sensing of Phantom Pressure: There were instances when the Steelers were pressuring Dalton, but he tended to have some skittish feet Sunday afternoon. It’s never easy going up against the relentless Steelers pass rush, but a combination of receivers not getting open, dropping passes when they were and Dalton in his second start since getting injured led to his seeming to sense pressure that wasn’t necessarily there. This was especially evident by the offensive line’s allowance of just one sack in Dalton’s career-high 54 pass attempts.
Shawn Williams and Darqueze Dennard: The Bengals are relying on these guys to have big defensive impacts this year and it hasn’t gotten off to a good start. The two defensive backs were responsible for coverage on some of the Steelers’ big offensive plays Sunday. Dennard was covering Sammie Coates on his two receptions for 97 yards, while Williams and Jones had apparent miscommunication on DeAngelo Williams’ crushing fourth quarter touchdown reception.
Alex Erickson, the Punt Returner: After an outstanding preseason, the Bengals went with the devil they didn’t know in Erickson, over the one they did in Brandon Tate for their final roster selection. So far, Erickson has shown a frustrating penchant for fair catching balls inside the 10-yard line. Darrin Simmons has been visibly upset and the pinning of Cincinnati deep in their own territory, which, to be fair, wasn’t all on Erickson, was still a major factor in the contest.
Drops: Eight catchable balls were dropped from four different receivers, including Green. Sure, the rain didn’t help, nor did the officials not calling some late hits, but it was a major part of the frustration on the day. When you play a good team, especially the Steelers on their home turf, unforced errors can’t be made. To be fair, the Steelers had their issues with catching the football as well, but you can’t grab a tough win by committing similar mistakes.
Lack of a Pass Rush: After being one of the NFL’s most dominant groups in rushing the passer last season, consistency has been lacking in 2016. Will Clarke had a sack of Roethlisberger on Sunday, joining Margus Hunt as two pleasant surprises thus far, but tackling remains an issue this season, as bringing down Big Ben proved to be difficult once again.
Officiating: Though it’s easy to overreact right after a game, this was one of the worst displays of refereeing a football game I’ve ever witnessed. And, believe me, this writer has seen quite a few football games in his 34 years.
Holds and late hits weren’t called, two wrong calls on two different fumbles changed the complexion of the game, and two pass interference penalties against the Steelers were ticky-tack. People are quick to groan about officiating in sports when their team loses, but there was no excuse for the performance of the refs in a game they were supposedly “on high alert”.