It’s almost too easy to say that Andy Dalton was up to his old tricks.
Dalton’s record in primetime is nothing short of terrible; his mark of 6-20 bears that out. Dalton also can’t beat the Steelers. He is 3-13 against Pittsburgh, and Monday night’s 27-3 debacle marked nine straight losses.
But what is harder to see is that the responsibility for all of this failure cannot and does not rest solely on the shoulders of the big redhead. There is plenty of blame to go around.
There is a coaching staff that, for whatever reason, just doesn’t want to run the football. It doesn’t matter what Zac Taylor said he was going to do when he got here, and it doesn’t matter how good of a day Joe Mixon might be having.
Remember the comments of offensive coordinator Brian Callahan to Bengals.com way back in April when Cincinnati’s offense was just beginning to take shape?
“You’re going to have to be able to run the ball in the league,” Callahan said. “This best teams at the end of the year do that well. It sets up everything...Without making any proclamations, we’re going to want to run the ball and run it well.”
Things at least started off on the right foot. On the Bengals’ first possession, Mixon carried the three times for 10 yards and had a pass reception for another three yards.
Pittsburgh fumbled on its first possession and the Bengals recovered at the Steelers’ 15-yard line. Three straight passes (only one of which were completed), and Cincinnati settled for a field goal and its only lead of the day, at 3-0.
Cincinnati’s next possession? Three passes (a completion to Mixon that lost a yard and two incompletions) and punt. And the one after that? A Mixon run, two more incompletions and another punt.
Now it was the defense’s turn to assist in the meltdown. Pittsburgh quarterback Mason Rudolph came out looking like Peyton Manning; exploiting the Bengals’ total lack of a coherent linebacking corps with little dump passes over the middle before finding a wide-open James Conner for a 21-yard touchdown reception.
The Bengals finally went back to Mixon on the next possession, and he responded with carries of nine, five and two yards before a Dalton fumble ended the drive. Pittsburgh took a 10-3 lead into the half, and Cincinnati never came back out of the locker room. Or maybe they just wished they hadn’t.
The Steelers scored on three of their next four possessions, continually taking advantage of a wide-open middle of the Bengals’ defense. Whether it was safety Jesse Bates III not knowing who to cover, or the linebackers just being a couple of steps too slow, Rudolph met with little to no resistance.
Cincinnati went three-and-out on its first possession of the second half (two incomplete passes and a sack), and the game was over.
And, lest we forget, the Bengals’ offensive line was abysmal. Dalton was sacked a career-worst eight times and was hit a total of 12 times. He barely had time to think, let alone throw the ball. Yet he still managed to complete 21 of 37 passes. His yards per completion? 4.6. Mixon finished with 15 carries for 62 yards, and average of 4.1 yards per carry. Oh, what might have been.
And Cincinnati’s vaunted defensive line didn’t do the offense any favors. Pittsburgh came into the game having surrendered four sacks. Rudolph was sacked twice in his debut last week. The Bengals generated no sacks and not even a single quarterback hit.
Rudolph had all the time in the world to pass, and finished with 24 completions in 28 attempts for 260 yards, an average of 8.2 yards per completion, two touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 124.6.
So, as tempting as it may be to put the blame on Dalton for yet another primetime disaster, don’t. From the head coach through every man who stepped foot on that field Monday night, this one was a total team effort.