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What we learned from the Bengals’ loss to the Steelers

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The Bengals suffered a decisive loss in Pittsburgh that was the final nail in the coffin for the Bengals’ playoff hopes. Here’s what we learned from it.

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NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Playing the Steelers in Pittsburgh has always been the toughest game on the schedule, and it probably will stay that way for a long time.

The odds of walking away with a victory this past Sunday were incredibly slim, looking at it optimistically. But it is not the loss that hurts; it is the way the Bengals lost that is disheartening.

The first quarter and a half were great, as the Bengals went toe-to-toe with the Steelers. After going three-and-out on the crucial final drive of the second quarter, the offense disappeared. A.J. Green had no catches and Joe Mixon had no carries.

The longest drive of the second half was 19 yards on five plays that lasted 2:29 (There was a fumbled snap on the next drive that cost the Bengals 24 yards; otherwise the Bengals would have more than 19 total yards in the half).

The second half offense was worse than the Week 1 offense. Someone lost their job over Week 1-2. Perhaps someone else should lose their job over this game.

For the sake of learning, I will go back and relive this pitiful performance so you don’t have to.

Here’s what we learned.

Marvin Lewis and Bill Lazor need to have a talk

What was going on with the play calling? There were some weird play calls in the first two weeks of the season, but the person responsible was let go. Not only is the first time the offense under Bill Lazor has regressed, but it actually resembled the old offense led by Ken Zampese.

When the Bengals don’t use their two most powerful weapons in an effective elimination game, you scratch your head. Even if the team still ends up losing, at least they could go to bed that night knowing that they gave their best shot. That was certainly not the case on Sunday.

Why didn’t Mixon get any carries in the second half? Even after dropping the goose egg, he still led the team in carries and had 40 more yards than Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill. His 6.9 yards a carry was a season high and was much improved over his season average leading into the game. So once again, why did he not get the rock?

"He was in there in the third quarter," Marvin Lewis said. "Whatever plays are called are called."

Are you kidding me? Marvin, you are the head coach. If there is something wrong with the play calling, you do something about it. When the season is on the line and your job security is diminishing, you need to start showing some leadership. Either take over the play calling yourself or sit down with Lazor and have a discussion on what you want the team to look like. You two need to be on the same page. That way, "whatever plays are called," might be callsthat move the ball down the field.

It is true that Mixon was on the field. He was in the game for 22 snaps, compared to Bernard’s 23 and Hill’s eight. If Lewis can’t get the ball to Mixon when he was in the field, perhaps coaching an NFL team is too difficult for him.

Speaking of Mixon...

Joe Mixon has finally emerged as a playmaker

Sort of. After a season of grinding out too few yards behind a porous offensive line, Mixon kind of broke out. Mixon gained 48 yards on seven carries against the Steelers; he has topped that yardage total twice this year but needed at least fifteen carries both times.

Mixon was one of the most hyped rookies on the team coming out of college. To say that this season’s results were disappointing is an understatement. Yet, despite bad play calling, he finally showed that he could go toe-to-toe with Le’Veon Bell. Averaging as much as he did, Mixon would have gained 241 yards if he had as many carries as Bell.

Once the coaching staff gets its act together, perhaps Mixon could finally live up to his potential.

The Bengals have more receivers than just A.J. Green

While Green should have been more involved in the game, was nice to see someone else contribute.

Brandon LaFell led the team in targets and receptions, while only Green had more yards. With John Ross, Tyler Boyd, and Tyler Eifert out, the Bengals need another player to help Green. Enter LaFell.

When the Bengals signed LaFell last offseason, everyone was hoping he would help boost the offense after losing two valuable receivers in free agency. That never really materialized, though, since most of LaFell’s production last year came after Green’s season-ending injury. LaFell has been silent this season as well. Hopefully, he can continue to step up and help the offense get more than 19 yards a half.

Other receivers that could help include Alex Erickson. The Bengals found a hidden gem in this undrafted free agent. While he is mostly used as a kick returner, he seems to get catches despite his low snap counts. He only had one target on Sunday, but it was the longest reception on the day by six yards.

The playoffs are out of reach, and there is nothing to lose. Would it hurt to try to factor him in? I don’t think it would.

Finally, some great news...

The Bengals have found a new CB1 in William Jackson

Adam Jones has been Antonio Brown’s one weakness against the Bengals, but he was kept out of the game with a back injury. Who would be the next man up? Dre Kirkpatrick? Darqueze Dennard?

Cue William Jackson.

The second-year player from Houston was a large part of why the Steelers kicked field goals instead of scoring touchdowns. There were several drives that ended with Jackson in the end zone keeping the ball away from receivers.

Jackson earned a PFF grade of 92.3, which was the highest on the team by 13 points, ahead of...wait for it...Cedric Ogbuehi. Yes, you read that correctly.

Jackson left Brown on an island, allowing no catches on four targets. In total, Ben Roethlisberger had a passer rating of 39.6 when targeting Jackson, completing one out of six passes for three yards.

Jackson has been outstanding so far this season. He intercepted Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau Field and took it to the house, he shut down one of the best receivers in the NFL, and he’s not even a starter.

What can he do if he plays every snap?

Again, what do the Bengals have to lose from such an experiment?