The Bengals lost to the Steelers on Sunday but the defense had a very good outing. They faced one of the hottest offenses in the NFL and one of the more deadly quarterback - receiver combos in football. Cincinnati also stopped the run until they ran out of gas, forcing Pittsburgh to punt eight times. We go to the tape to take a closer look at what happened at Heinz Field when it comes to the Bengals' defense.
It's a stretch to say Cincinnati shutdown Antonio Brown, as the rainy conditions, a bad throw by Ben Roethlisberger on fourth down and a drop were big factors in his performance, but we can say the secondary in particular held its own. They did allow a couple of big plays, but those are not the reasons the Bengals lost either.
With terrible weather, the Steelers didn't attempt a pass until their second drive. Pittsburgh faced a third-and-six and despite defensive coordinator Paul Guenther's best efforts to confuse Big Ben, he found Brown for a 16-yard gain. The Bengals ran a cover 2 with two of their cornerbacks deep and Shawn Williams and Adam Jones double-teaming Brown. Cincinnati was showing cover 0, but only rushed their four defensive linemen.
It was a smart thing to do, but Williams misread Roethlisberger's eyes and went for the sidelines, thus creating a perfect spot for the pass, catch and first down.
The look the Bengals threw at the Steelers should have worked, but Big Ben had a lot of time to find Brown with Pittsburgh keeping six in protection. This was the second longest catch of the day for the talented receiver.
Roethlisberger had time to throw often, sometimes because of holds the referees didn't see, sometimes because of his ability to avoid the rush and sometimes because the Bengals couldn't get him. That is where breaks like this happened and Cincy was happy that he didn't see the open receiver.
This is why it's so hard to play against the Steelers' quarterback, even though he threw it out of bounds on this play. If one of your corners messes up in cover 3, you're probably doomed.
On his first interception, the Bengals went all blitz on fourth down and got lucky again that Big Ben just missed Brown badly. The receiver was running a deep in route and despite the pressure - Williams was a free runner on the play - Roethlisberger had time to set his feet and throw accurately, but he didn't.
Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus says he believes the throw was affected by the rain given "its funky flight". Jones was in fact beaten on the play. He gave Brown a 6-yard cushion that should have allowed the Steelers to get a first down, and I think it was because they saw what happened on Monday to the Redskins in the same situation. Pittsburgh loves the big play and Jones was expecting a go route isolated one-on-one against him.
I'll take the interception even though an incompletion would have been better for the Bengals, but it's hard to take credit for this play.
On the Steelers' next drive, they got their first key play of the game, a 44-yard pass to second-year receiver Sammie Coates on third-and-nine. Much has been said about Darqueze Dennard and how he got beat, but I think we can't forget just how much time Roethlisberger has to throw and keep the play alive.
All five options are covered, including DeAngelo Williams by linebacker Vinny Rey on the top of the picture.
I agree that Dennard looked really slow but this should have been a coverage sack had the Steelers' left guard not held Margus Hunt. That missed hold allowed Roethlisberger to pull a spin move and find Coates deep, setting up their first touchdown of the game two plays later. Dennard has to play better nonetheless if he wants to keep the nickel back job with Josh Shaw waiting in the wings. The former first round pick gave up another first down to Eli Rogers on Pittsburgh's next drive.
That drive ended with a great play by Jones, who diagnosed the Steelers' intentions and prevented Darrius Heyward-Bey from making the catch and getting the first down on third-and-three. The veteran cornerback read Roethlisberger's eyes all the way and made the right play, reacting as quick as possible and hitting the receiver hard to turn the ball loose.
Jones wasn't as good two drives later, as on third-and-10 he got saved by Brown's drop. The Bengals were playing cover 2 man and he was caught expecting the deep comeback to the sidelines. Instead the Steelers' receiver turned inside and with the middle of the field wide open almost caught Big Ben's desperation heave. It should have been a 20-yard gain but instead it forced Pittsburgh to punt.
Shaw was better than Dennard and he already showed what he could do in the Bengals' Week 1 game against the Jets, but it seemed like the Bengals didn't trust him in man coverage. A good play on a deep throw to Rogers should change that. It was a poor throw by Big Ben but Shaw stayed with the receiver strike by strike.
On the Steelers' last drive before halftime, and just a play earlier than Kirkpatrick's interception, Pittsburgh converted a third-and-two this way.
Coverage on the play was perfect, and only that pump fake and the "work" of the left guard allowed them to convert.
The Bengals got the ball following it thanks to Kirkpatrick's pick nevertheless. The much-talked about Alabama product had a very strong game on Sunday and this play was a great example of what he did well. He stayed with Coates and when the receiver turned his head to locate the football, so did Kirkpatrick. That awareness of where the football was going allowed him to slow down and gave him advantage to catch the ball. It wasn't an easy catch, though, just a great play. In a contract year, these kind of plays could be huge for his future earnings.
His speed showed again in the second half and again matched up against Coates, but that time he dropped the interception, although the Steelers were on third down. At 6-foot-2 and with his athleticism, it's fair to wonder what could he become if he were to play like that on a weekly basis.
George Iloka could have had another pick on the next drive, as he read Roethlisberger's eyes perfectly and broke up a pass intended to Brown. This time the Bengals ended up paying for it, as the Steelers scored a touchdown a few plays later after converting a third down on another impressive effort by Roethlisberger under pressure. Had Cincinnati had more success rushing the quarterback - or had the referees called some more holds, the game could have been way different.
Pittsburgh then took a shot at Dennard, who was outside filling in for Kirkpatrick; Shaw manned the slot. Coates easily blew past by him and Williams, the deep safety on cover 3 and was at the right side to provide help against Brown. This is just a good design by the Steelers to beat the coverage, taking advantage of the one on one.
Coates had two catches for 95 yards, all on Dennard.
Besides Dennard's two miscues the other big play given up by the Bengals' secondary was a 17-yard gain to Brown in which the receiver beat Williams badly on third down at the beginning of the fourth quarter. That time Brown was again double-teamed as Jones was closely behind Williams to help. Williams seems to be one to blame as well for the last touchdown of the game, as he was supposed to cover the right flat but left the running back wide open for the score.
DeAngelo Williams would also produce a 20-yard gain of a short check down, but that was mostly a product of the Bengals' defense being gassed and unable to tackle after yet another short drive by the offense.
Adam Jones might not have been able to cover Brown on his own for the entire game, but he still showed he's at the top of his game with the game on the line. On third down and with more than three minutes left, he gave his team a chance at a comeback blanketing Brown one-on-one. Jones got away with a little bit of contact, but as the referees were allowing the Steelers to hold in the line of scrimmage, I don't think that should be concerning. This was a great play by Jones.
Overall, I think the Bengals' secondary had a pretty solid outing. Of course it was probably harder on the quarterback given the weather conditions, but it's not an easy task to go up against one of the best offenses in the NFL. Jones was solid, Kirkpatrick was surprisingly good and Shaw did his job again. Williams is still a work in progress in coverage, and Dennard needs to find his way back into form if he wants to stay involved. I said last week that I like the Bengals' depth here and Sunday's game just confirmed it, despite losing.