There are a handful of plays that determine the outcome of any game.
Last week, I wrote an article on game-changing plays which featured eight plays that led to the Cincinnati Bengals losing to the Dallas Cowboys. This week we’ll look at 10 plays that resulted in the Bengals upsetting the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Last week the Bengals fumbled three times, and the result was 17 points for the Cowboys. This week it was the Steelers who were careless with the football and the Bengals who took advantage.
Fumble! pic.twitter.com/91NX4lcfKF— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) December 22, 2020
The Bengals and Steelers each went three-and-out on their first two drives, but the third possession went even worse for the Steelers.
On the first play of the drive, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger came out from under center, without securing the ball. Bengals linebacker Josh Bynes fell on the ball after it ricocheted off of the pulling guard.
This gave the Bengals the ball in the red zone. They were able to pick up a first down, but a false start and a sack pushed them back and they settled for a 34-yard field goal from Austin Seibert.
The Bengals defense forced another three-and-out on the ensuing possession. Then Seibert missed a 55-yard field goal, giving the Steelers good field position.
The Bengals defense responded, holding the Steelers to three total yards on first and second down.
December 22, 2020
That brought up third-and-seven.
Roethlisberger threw a short pass to wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster who was running across the formation. Safety Vonn Bell broke on the route and separated Smith-Schuster from the ball.
Linebacker Jordan Evans was right there to recover the fumble. The play was initially called an incomplete pass, but a successful challenge gave the Bengals the ball at the Steelers’ 38 yard line. Seven plays later, Giovani Bernard ran it in for a four-yard touchdown.
At that point the Bengals defense had two turnovers and 10 points as a result, but they were not done yet.
Trailing by 10 points in the second quarter, the Steelers finally converted a first down for the first time all night, but it took them four downs to do it. After moving the chains once more they ran a jet sweep to wide receiver Chase Claypool on second down, but defensive end Carl Lawson made a phenomenal play that set up third-and-14.
Awesome play by Mackensie Alexander pic.twitter.com/YoDhAuiSxe— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) December 22, 2020
Slot cornerback Mackensie Alexander let Claypool run by as he dropped into the hook. Roethlisberger inexplicably tried to throw it over Alexander to Smith-Schuster, but Alexander went up in the air and made the pick.
The Bengals had other opportunities for interceptions in this game, but they couldn’t come up with the catch. This time, they made the play. Three plays later, Bengals quarterback Ryan Finley connected with Bernard for another touchdown. This gave the Bengals a 17-0 lead and not unlike the 17 points the Cowboys scored in the first half of the previous game, all 17 came off of turnovers.
The average drive length for the Bengals first two touchdowns was a mere 32 yards. Turnovers forced by Bell and Alexander set the offense up very nicely.
The Steelers got the ball back and on third-and-three Alexander made a great play that should have forced another three-and-out, but there were multiple flags on the field.
One was holding on the Steelers, the other was taunting on Alexander for celebrating his play on the Steelers’ sideline. The penalties were offsetting, leading to a replay of the down.
Mackensie Alexander getting the penalty that prevented them from getting off the field on 3rd Down, then responding by making the play to force the punt on the very next play, may be the best thing I’ve seen all year from this team pic.twitter.com/93bURTQE7K— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) December 22, 2020
This is the type of situation that has hurt the Bengals in the past. A dumb penalty giving the opposition another opportunity.
Fortunately, Alexander responded. He made an awesome play on the slant forcing the Steelers to punt.
This was a situation that had the potential to lead to a major momentum swing, but Alexander stepped up and shut it down.
Red Zone Defense
Thanks in part to Alexander, the Bengals managed to go into halftime up 17-0, but the Steelers fought back in the third quarter.
The Bengals went three-and-out on their first two drives of the second half, while the Steelers scored a touchdown on the first drive and drove steadily down the field on their second. They took the ball all the way down to the seven yard line, but then the Bengals defense tightened up.
The RB is helping the LT with Carl Lawson, but ADG forces him to come off and Lawson gets the pressure pic.twitter.com/fIYYXWgIGv— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) December 22, 2020
With a little help from Akeem Davis-Gaither, Lawson was able to pressure Roethlisberger on this third-and-goal play, helping to keep the Steelers out of the end zone.
They would end up kicking the field goal and making it a one-score game, but this was still a huge stop for the Bengals defense.
The Steelers had all the momentum and while this play didn’t swing it back in the Bengals favor, it at least slowed down the Pittsburgh serge.
3rd and Short Stop
Josh Bynes pic.twitter.com/FOft92agmu— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) December 22, 2020
The Bengals went three-and-out, punting the ball back to the Steelers.
A few plays later, Pittsburgh faced third-and-one. They showed jet sweep action, but gave the ball to running back Benny Snell instead. Bynes was not fooled and tackled Snell for a loss of two yards.
This forced a three-and-out from a Steelers offense that seemed to have gotten their act together in the second half. This was another big push in Cincinnati’s favor, but in order to take the momentum back they needed to respond offensively.
I don’t think we are talking enough about how ridiculous this play was pic.twitter.com/iGpvz2qcca— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) December 22, 2020
The Bengals managed to move the chains on their next drive, but on 1st and 10 the pressure soon closed in on Finley, and it looked like he would be sacked.
Although it would have only been second down, it would have been second and very long and the Bengals are just not equipped to deal with that situation. Poor quarterback play and poor offensive line play do not pair well with 10-plus yard situations. A sack here likely would have ended this key drive.
Miraculously, Finley escaped! Ducking the pressure, stepping up in the pocket, and slipping between his own linemen, he managed to find A.J. Green over the middle for the first down. This ability to create time with his feet and find an open receiver to move the chains was, dare I saw, Burrow-esque. It was a huge play, that kept the drive alive.
RB motion leaves no LBs in the box - QB draw all day— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) December 22, 2020
Great play call! pic.twitter.com/vC8HqvIEPC
The Bengals drive went on, but soon they faced third-and-five. Fortunately, Zac Taylor dialed up a great play call.
Expecting a pass, played Cover 2 Man.
This means that they had two high safeties to prevent a deep pass, allowing five other defenders to play tight man coverage underneath. Marcus Allen was the only linebacker in the box. He was responsible for covering Samaje Perine, so when Perine went in motion, Allen went with him.
With the box open, this was a perfect time to run the quarterback draw. Finley picked up eight yards and the first down.
Run Ryan Run
Just Ryan Finley doing Ryan Finley things pic.twitter.com/PAL1usqfQd— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) December 22, 2020
Two plays later, the Bengals ran a Zone Read.
This means that they ran a zone play, but did not block the edge player on the backside, in this case, Alex Highsmith. Instead, Finley had to read him. Because he bent hard down the line of scrimmage in pursuit of the running back, Finley pulled the ball and took off running. With no one on the backside of the defense, Finley ran the ball 23 yards for the touchdown.
This was the response the Bengals needed from their offense.
You may have noticed that all the offensive plays that I have highlighted in this article came on this one drive. That is because the Bengals’ other scoring drives came on short fields following turnovers. This, on the other hand, was an 80-yard touchdown drive that gave the Bengals a two-score lead.
It was a good thing too because the defense fought on the next drive, but the Steelers offense was eventually able to drive down the field and get in the end zone.
The Bengals were nearly able to end the drive twice, but a dropped interception and a defensive pass interference call on 4th down kept the Steelers’ hopes alive. They eventually scored, but the Bengals forced them to take nearly six minutes off of the clock in the process.
What the Bengals really needed after that was a nice long scoring drive from the offense, but that was not to be.
The Bengals moved the chains once on the drive with a Finley run, but he was stopped short of the marker on the next third down.
Great play pic.twitter.com/2EkPEMiczV— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) December 22, 2020
The Steelers got the ball back with 2:17 to play, down by only one score.
They had a chance to put together a drive and tie the game, but the Bengals’ defense shut them down.
The most impressive play of this four-and-out stand by the defense came on third down. The Steelers looked like they had a good shot of completing this deep ball, but Darius Phillips made an incredible play.
The offense couldn’t manage to pick up the game-sealing first down, but a Seibert field goal put the game out of reach for the Steelers with only a few seconds to play.
This week the Bengals made the plays they needed to get the win. Although their offense struggled, they managed to do just enough to get the job done and came up with a big drive when the team desperately needed it. The defense finally generated turnovers which led to 20-points and came up with the four-and-out stop to close out the game.
The Bengals have played some good games offensively and some good games defensively but the units have failed to complement each other until now. In this game, both units stepped up at key times to get the win.