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Bengals film room: Mistakes and injuries cause defense to fall apart vs Steelers

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Cincinnati put up a fight against the Steelers until they couldn’t any more. Painful mistakes and terrible injuries helped pave the way to yet another loss to Pittsburgh

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, after the Bengals’ win over the Browns, I came out with a few keys about what Paul Guenther’s unit could do to stop the high-flying Steelers’ offense. The Bengals’ defensive unit was impressive for almost the entire first half but after taking a 17-0 lead with just more than 30 seconds remaining in the first half, they struggled to find their footing again.

In a game Cincy needed to win to stay alive in the playoffs race, they looked as hungry and aggressive as ever before. Nobody could believe those were our Bengals, and a beautiful touchdown pass by Andy Dalton to A.J. Green on third down to cap a thrilling drive at the end of the second quarter had fans and pundits believing Monday could be a Bengals win over the Steelers in primetime under Marvin Lewis. And if the offense was looking great despite losing running back Joe Mixon to a concussion, the defense was keeping Ben Roethlisberger and company in check, with an interception and three straight punts in their first four drives of the game.

Then they surrendered a ton of yards in just 15 seconds. And if you thought that would be the worst sequence of plays for the Bengals defense on Monday night they made sure to top it when they gave up an embarrassing touchdown to Le’Veon Bell in their first drive of the second half. After a Bengals field goal Guenther’s unit responded with a good stand and forcing Pittsburgh to punt, but they would on to give up 13 straight points after that. They also lost their leader, Vontaze Burfict, which probably was way too much for a team that had seen a perfectly legal touchdown throw to Green being taken away on a bogus call by the always suspect referees. The Steelers had the edge mentally and ended up getting the win, again.

So how did the Bengals defense fare overall? Let’s go to to the tape.

They did a mix of things - and it worked

Although it didn’t last, the Bengals came up firing with a beautifully designed blitz that caught Roethlisberger off guard and created an early turnover.

And they actually did a pretty good job hiding their coverages for a while, including Burfict playing the Tampa 2 middle linebacker role off their favoured double A gap blitz look on second down. In a corps that has been decimated by injuries, the loss of Burfict late in the game was way too much for the Bengals’ defense.

But there were other examples of this.

This also extended to the front four, that got its only sack of the game on a nice design that freed up Carlos Dunlap’s path to Roethlisberger on third down.

When and how things went South?

Right after the Bengals made it 17-0 they had a huge chance to inflict even greater pain to the Steelers had George Iloka actually tried to make a play on the ball instead of trying to hit Antonio Brown. To me this play said a lot about why the Bengals ended up losing the game. They lost focus and the edge.

Of course they could have stopped Bell on the following play, but they didn’t, and that takes us to the next key.

Dre Kirkpatrick had an awful night

It didn’t matter who he was matching up with, Pittsburgh went hard after him, play after play. It should’ve been worse.

The Bengals have no interest in benching Kirkpatrick, no matter how fat his contract is, but when they get all their corners healthy they really have to play William Jackson III. I mean...

Sure he and fellow rookie Jordan Evans gave up the most embarrassing touchdown in recent history, but hopefully both will learn, with playing time.

And it’s not only that Kirkpatrick gets burned by any wide receiver in man coverage, he doesn’t help against the run. Compare Darqueze Dennard and Kirkpatrick in consecutive plays that the Steelers ran to the same side and similar concept. (Dennard is in the first and Kirkpatrick the second play below.)

This is an issue. Kirkpatrick has A LOT to work on this offseason and must (MUSSSSSTTTTTTTT) improve.

Burfict’s injury - and others, turned the defense vanilla again

The writing was on the wall after JuJu Smith-Schuster violently ended Burfict’s game with a dirty hit. The Bengals had little to offer with Kevin Minter and Evans as only linebackers and a depleted secondary. As such, Pittsburgh thrived.

And just as a reminder of Lewis’ hopefully-ending era, Pat Sims played three times as much as Andrew Billings because... reasons.