The Bengals had a real opportunity to win the game this weekend, but came up short once again. In every game there are a handful of plays that have a major impact on the outcome.
These seven plays were the difference between winning and losing for the Bengals.
1. A Blown Coverage
The Bengals carried a 7-3 lead into the second half. They were able to force a three-and-out on the Steelers’ first possession, but not the second.
On second-and-17 from their own 21-yard line, Steelers quarterback Devlin Hodges threw a 79-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver James Washington.
If you look at everyone except for safety Jessie Bates III, this appears to be Cover 3, but Bates stays low and covers the crosser rather than the deep post. This is a coverage we have seen out of the Bengals all season and it has caused them problems. In fact, back in Week 1 something similar led to a touchdown by Tyler Lockett.
This is a flawed coverage. Bates and two linebackers are in close proximity to tight end Vance McDonald, Bates really doesn’t need to be there, but this leaves the middle of the field wide open and forces cornerbacks B.W. Webb and William Jackson III to each play half of the field.
Webb has no leverage on the ball and Jackson takes an angle that is too deep, allowing Washington to get to the outside.
It is possible (and not uncommon) to run an inverted form of Cover 2, but here like in the Week 1 play against the Seahawks, the cornerbacks are far too wide for that.
The Bengals have had issues covering the deep middle this season, and this is just one more example. This coverage is unsound and should be scrapped.
Not only did this play give the Steelers the lead, it gave them renewed confidence. The defense needs to prevent big plays like this from happening. This touchdown was the result of a major schematic flaw that has not been addressed despite it being exposed in Week 1.
2. A Red Zone Penalty
To the Bengals’ credit, their offense responded after giving up that score. On the first seven plays of the next drive, the Bengals picked up four first downs and drove 62 yards to the Steelers’ 15-yard line.
On first-and-10, Joe Mixon picked up three yards. The Bengals ran the ball again on second down, and that is the play in the clip above. As you can see, right guard John Miller is called for a hold and there is really no arguing the call.
Steelers linebacker Mark Barron (No. 26) was walked up into the A-gap just inside of Miller, who puts his hand on Barron’s back and is almost grappling with him by the time Mixon gets to the line of scrimmage.
This holding call puts the Bengals in second-and-17 and despite what you may have heard on Monday Night Football, red zone penalties are not a good thing. The Bengals have struggled in the red zone and in long yardage situations all year. This penalty put them in a bad situation and killed the drive.
Two plays later, they were forced to kick a field goal. This tied the game at 10. The Bengals defense stepped up on the next drive and forced a three-and-out. Unfortunately, the offense wasn’t able to do anything on the plays that followed and the ball went right back to Pittsburgh.
3. A Missed Opportunity
The clip above is third-and-nine. The Steelers were playing Cover 1. This means they were in man coverage with a safety helping out in the deep middle of the field. At the top of the screen, Alex Erickson runs an out and up. Steelers cornerback Joe Haden bites on Erickson’s initial out-cut leaving Erickson open down the sideline.
All that’s needed now is an accurate throw from Ryan Finley, and that isn’t what Erickson’s given. There is pressure in Finley’s face and he does not step into the throw. As a result he lofts the ball out of bounds, where Erickson has no shot of making the catch.
If Finley and Erickson were able to connect, Erickson would have easily gotten inside the 20-yard line and would have had a chance to score. They would have at least had an opportunity to kick a field goal and take back the lead, but instead they came away with nothing.
The Steelers picked up one first down on the ensuing drive, but then the Bengals defense stiffened.
The Bengals’ next possession took the game into the fourth quarter. Unfortunately they were only able to pick up 7 yards before punting.
4. and 5. Penalties Keep Drive Alive
The Steelers gained two yards on the first two plays of the next drive and faced third-and-eight in the clip above.
They looked to get the ball to Washington for the first down, but the pass fell incomplete. A late flag came in and pass interference was called on Webb.
This is textbook defense by Webb, He looked to secure the tackle with his downfield hand while playing the ball with his upfield hand. Webb was a tad early to secure the tackle, but this was a pretty picky call.
The clip above is the very next play and another pass interference call on Webb.
This time the contact is more obvious, but it appears that both players are making contact with each other. It is probably Webb’s left arm under Deon Cain’s right arm that draws the call.
The Steelers gained six yards on the next three plays combined, five of which were from a neutral zone infraction. All-in-all, the Steelers gained only three yards on the drive, but earned two first downs and got into field goal range due to 39 penalty yards.
Penalties didn’t just hurt the Bengals on this drive, penalties were this drive.
They kicked the field goal and took a three-point lead.
6. Highs and Lows
Again, the Bengals offense responded to the score. They drove down the field with a 30-yard reception by Erickson and runs of 11 and nine yards by Mixon.
That led to the clip above. first-and-10 on the Steelers’ 30 yard line. Wide receiver Tyler Boyd dragged across the formation, then turned his route up. He was able to get a few steps on linebacker Devin Bush who was covering him man-to-man.
Unfortunately, the ball was thrown behind him, and he had to turn back, allowing Bush to catch up. Bush knocks the ball out of his hands and it is ruled a fumble. Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick picks up the fumble and returns it for 36 yards.
This was a crushing blow to the Bengals. They had put together a nice drive and this was a big play that got them near the end zone, but a turnover ended the drive. If the ball was thrown in front of Boyd, he may have been able to score and the turnover certainly would not have occurred.
The Steelers did not score on this drive, but they did flip the field. When they got the ball again after a Bengals punt, they were able to extend their lead to 16-10 with a field goal
7. Another Turnover
The Bengals got the ball back with three minutes and 10 seconds left to play and one last chance to get in the end zone. After an eight-yard completion to Giovani Bernard the Bengals had second-and-two on their own 29-yard line.
Finley looks right at Tyler Eifert’s out route, but for some reason doesn’t pull the trigger.
The Bengals got a nice bump this week at left tackle with the return of Cordy Glenn. but here he doesn’t set deep enough and Bud Dupree is able to beat him. Finley fumbles on the play and Dupree’s recovery essentially ends the game.
Glenn and Finley share the blame on this play. The Bengals needed this drive to win the game and they came up short without even getting very far down the road.
Bengals have six losses by:— Lance McAlister (@LanceMcAlister) November 24, 2019
1, 4, 3, 6, 7, 6.
For a winless team, the Bengals are oddly competitive. They have played in a lot of close games, but they need to figure out how to come up with the plays that win those games.
Penalties, turnovers, and one massive defensive miscue made all the difference in this game.