The Bengals offense wasn’t all bad on Sunday. They put together some nice touchdown drives in the first half, but the unit couldn’t get anything going in the second half. What makes this proverbial pill so tough to swallow was that after the first half you could see where the weaknesses were in that Steelers defense and how the Bengals were going to be able to take advantage of it.
Their zone was allowing receivers to set in the middle underneath the safeties, while their run defense was so aggressive they were biting on any first movement. This made it possible for Joe Mixon to scamper if he could escape the first level and it meant the defense would bite on play action most plays. Alas, it wasn’t to be as the Steelers adjusted after half time while Cincinnati seemed intent on playing the exact same game plan as they did in the first half.
Mixon starts shining
Mixon hasn’t put up a dominant yards per carry average this year, but it would be extremely hard to do that when hit in the backfield as often as he has been. To no fault of his own at that. This week Mixon pulled out some of the most dominant runs of his young career in addition to snagging three receptions. If you give the guy a chance he will make the defense pay.
Naturally, you follow up on your young back averaging almost 7 yards per carry in the first half of a close game by not giving him any in the second half. How you can seriously justify that decision is beyond me. His vision at such a young age is astounding and I truly believe he’s created in the same mold as a Le’Veon Bell in terms of play style. The Bengals coaches will give Mixon the ball in games where it isn’t working, but the one game he’s primed for a breakout they cut him off. It’s like they don’t want to be working for this team next year.
Bill Lazor has some great play designs, but the one thing I’m questioning is his handling of the running back situation. It seemed like we were moving towards a healthy dose of Mixon and Giovani Bernard. That would have been fine, but now it seems like Jeremy Hill is working back into the rotation for no real reason other than to take touches away from the two backs who actually produce. Even more than that, Bengals running backs only ran the ball 14 times total. All game. We received lame duck excuses from Marvin Lewis for not running the ball that much, but this was a close game for the majority of the contest. It wasn’t like the passing game was doing much of anything the second half either.
Positives in the negatives
Execution wise the Bengals didn’t really deliver either, and that’s probably true for both sides of the ball. That said, I did notice some nice scheming and play design by Lazor even though the team wasn’t able to take advantage of it.
Early in the game, when the Bengals actually had a rushing threat, Pittsburgh was willing to bit on it hard to shut it down. Lazor drew up an unconventional play action by faking a toss that had the entire front seven of the Steeler defense biting.
C.J. Uzomah gets wide open on the release into the flat and it should have been a touchdown. Andy Dalton sidearms the pass and throws it low and the team just wasn’t able to capitalize. It also appeared that the linebacker was possibly able to tip the pass. Luckily the drive would end in a touchdown anyway, but it’s nice to see a coordinator able to pick on a defense’s tendencies.
Andy Dalton - Now with 50% less situational awareness
Aside from some nice play calling early and Mixon having a good first half there wasn’t much to talk about. Dalton threw two interceptions in the second half, and even though both were deflected they’re still completely Dalton’s fault.
The receivers job is to try and make a play on the football, but if you can’t properly place the ball you’re just asking for bad deflections and tips to happen. Sadly, Dalton looked shattered in the second half with constant pressure coming after him, most of the time from rookie T.J. Watt. Anyone defending Dalton’s composure simply needs to look at the play of him throwing away the team’s final fourth down opportunity.
I commend Lazor trying his best to try to defend Dalton for this decision, but the absolute lack of situational awareness is horrifying. Despite rolling into this game off of two wins and a bye week to rest up, this squad has plenty of problems.