The Bengals’ offense has struggled to put together a complete drive all season and Monday night was no different. They have produced far too many three-and-outs but even when they get a first down, their drives often fizzle out before they get into the end zone.
A lot of times it is a penalty or sack that throws the drive into a tail spin. They have a tough time recovering from these losses of yards that put them quite literally behind the chains. This is a team that cannot afford to be off-schedule; trying to make up for not progressively working towards a first down. Even when they string together a few first downs, they have been unimpressive in the red zone.
These factors played a big part in their loss to the Steelers on Monday Night Football as you will see in this drive-by-drive breakdown.
The Bengals started their first drive strong. They recorded two first downs and drove into Steelers territory. On second-and-five, they gave up their first sack of the game and after losing nine yards, they faced third-and-14.
The Bengals do not trust their offensive line to protect in obvious passing situations, so on this play they threw a screen to running back Joe Mixon that resulted in a three-yard gain, forcing them to punt.
Their second drive started on the Steelers’ 15-yard line after linebacker Nick Vigil forced a fumble by Steelers rookie wide receiver Diontae Johnson. Despite their excellent field position, the Bengals were not able to get the ball in the end zone. They went three-and-out, not doing anything schematically to try to get a player open in the end zone.
On first down, Dalton forced a ball to a covered Auden Tate in the end zone. On second down he threw a quick pass to Tate on a hitch that did not give the second-year wide receiver any opportunity to pick up additional yards. This resulted in third-and-five. Tyler Eifert was able to get a step on his man but was unable to make the touchdown reception. The Bengals came away with only three points.
It is troubling that in three plays the Bengals only threw the ball to Tate and Eifert who are bigger guys who can make contested catches and did not try to scheme open quicker players like John Ross III, Alex Erickson and Giovani Bernard.
After a couple more three-and-outs, the Bengals put together a nice drive in the middle of the second quarter, They started off on their own 25-yard line and drove down inside the Steelers’ red zone. Then on first-and-10, Dalton was sacked and coughed up the ball in the process. Another sack and another failed red zone performance.
With less than a minute to play in the half, the Bengals got the ball back with no timeouts left. Their odds of getting into position to kick a field goal before the half were slim to begin with, but a sack on the second play of the drive squelched any hope that they had.
The Bengals defense played alright in the first half and they went into halftime down 10-3. This is disappointing because with better play in the red zone they could have been tied or even in the lead. Worst case scenario: they should have been down by only four points, but due to the strip-sack, they were down by seven points.
The Steelers were able to put together a touchdown drive to start the second half and extended their lead to 17-3.
The Bengals did not answer. Dalton threw an incompletion on first down and was sacked on second down, putting them in a third-and-21 situation. The Bengals ran no routes on third down that put them in any kind of position to convert and were forced to punt once again.
The defense promptly gave up another score and the Bengals were now down by 21.
On the Bengals’ second drive of the half they were able to pick up two first downs and move into Steelers’ territory. However once they crossed midfield, the drive fell apart,
Dalton was sacked on first down. Then he was caught trying to change the play at the line and called for delay of game. After an incompletion on second down, he was once again sacked on third down. That brought on fourth-and-29 and the Bengals had to punt once again.
At the end of the third quarter, they put together a pretty strong drive. They started on the 20 and five first downs and zero sacks later, they had first-and-goal from the 10-yard line.
Then they chose to run the ball on first and second down (the first down run may have gone into the stat book as a pass to Mixon for a loss of one, but it was a jet sweep and we all know it). On third-and-eight, Dalton tried to throw the ball to Eifert, who was bracketed by Steelers’ defenders. A false start by Michael Jordan, pushed them back even deeper. On fourth-and-13 they once again did little to try to get anyone open and Dalton threw an interception.
Even if they had managed some points on this drive, they used up nearly 8 minutes, which they really couldn’t afford trailing 24-3. It is worth noting that despite the defense’s problems in the second half, if the Bengals had done better in the red zone in the first half, this drive could have put them within one score.
The Steelers were able to use another six minutes on the next drive before picking up three more points.
The Bengals’ next drive was a struggle. It took them four downs to get a first down. On the next set of downs they gave up yet another sack. This put them in third-and-18. They were able to convert, but only because they had two downs to do it.
A false start by Bobby Hart put them right back behind the downs with first-and-15 and even with four downs, this time they were unable to recover. The game ended fittingly, with another sack (the EIGHT of the night) that gave the Steelers the ball back allowing them to take a few knees for the win.
The Bengals have struggled to move the ball consistently. Even when they execute a few plays well, they tend to shoot themselves in the foot with penalties, sacks, and bad red zone play-calling. If they were better in these areas, they would have been competitive in this game, but their inability to do so led to an embarrassing performance on a national stage.