The last time the Bengals swept the Steelers in the regular season was in 2009, which was the last time Carson Palmer took the team to the playoffs. The last time they won three in a row against the Steelers was in 1990. The only players on the team who could possibly recall that are Clark Harris and Kevin Huber.
This was a historic win for the Bengals. Not only did they further separate themselves from the Browns and Steelers in the race to win the division and helped cement themselves in the AFC playoff picture, but they exorcised some black and yellow demons that have plagued the team for the last several years.
Here are a lot of things that went right and a look ahead at the team’s upcoming game at home against the Chargers.
Over the last two weeks the Bengals offense has leaned on running back Joe Mixon, and it has paid dividends. Mixon carried the ball 28 times for 165 yards and two touchdowns, averaging just under six yards per carry. Over the last two weeks, he had 58 carries for 288 yards and four touchdowns. This has allowed the pressure to be taken off of Joe Burrow’s shoulders as he hasn’t been asked to do as much, and it has helped open up the passing game as the defense stacked the box to stop Mixon.
This is also showing the Bengals are forcing Mixon to earn the four-year, $48 million extension he signed. If he plays the way he has over the last two weeks and stays healthy, he’ll be worth every penny.
Ben Roethlisberger rarely got a clean pocket on Sunday as the Bengals pass rush kept him from getting comfortable all afternoon long. The Bengals did sack Roethlisberger three times, and those three sacks came from B.J. Hill, Sam Hubbard and, as usual, Trey Hendrickson. Hendrickson’s sack also forced a fumble, his second strip sack in two weeks, which was again recovered by Hubbard.
Hendrickson now has 10.5 sacks on the season, which is tied for sixth most in the league, and Hubbard has seven. Hill is third on the team with four.
Pick your poison
Do you want to sell out to stop the run? Okay, good luck covering the Bengals receivers one-on-one. Want to focus on Ja’Marr Chase? That’s fine, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd are there. Want to focus on the passing game? Okay, here comes Mixon again.
This offense looked deadly on paper this offseason and as we are beginning the second half of the 2021 season, it’s clear they are starting to put things together. The Bengals have scored 73 points over the last two weeks, and they aren’t showing signs of slowing down.
Apple of my eye
Eli Apple put together his second consecutive solid showing this week. He only gave up one reception and logged his second interception in the last two weeks. He finished with a coverage grade of 74.2, according to Pro Football Focus, which was good for fourth best on the team throughout the game.
The best coverage grade belonged to Mike Hilton, the former Steeler, who also picked off Roethlisberger and ran the interception back for a touchdown, which was his first pick-six in his entire football career.
The Bengals host the Chargers in Week 13 in another extremely important game when it comes to the AFC playoff race. As it stands right now the 7-4 Bengals hold the fifth seed and the 6-5 Chargers are clinging on to the seventh seed. This game is a must win for both teams to stay in the playoff picture.
Here are some things the Bengals could see on Sunday.
- The Chargers have one of the best passing attacks in the NFL as they currently have the sixth most passing yards in the league. They haven’t been as effective on the ground, but their running back, Austin Ekeler is one of the best pass-catching running backs in the league and is heavily involved in the passing game. The offense also boasts two top-tier wide receivers Mike Williams and Keenan Allen.
- The Chargers’ defense has allowed the third most rushing touchdowns in the league with 15, and they have allowed an average of 4.7 yards per carry, which is the third worst in the NFL. Look for the Bengals to focus on getting Mixon going again on Sunday.
- One story line that had many thinking the NFL would flex the Chargers-Bengals game to Sunday night is the battle of the two top quarterbacks drafted in 2020, Burrow and Justin Herbert. Herbert won the 2020 Offensive Rookie of the Year, an award many thought Burrow would win before his knee injury. This game could very well come down to which quarterback makes more plays or more mistakes.
- Joey Bosa is one of the most talented edge rushers in the league and has logged 7.5 sacks. Offensive tackles Jonah Williams and Riley Reiff (if he plays) will have their hands full to make sure Bosa isn’t in Burrow’s face every time he drops back to pass.
To wrap things up, some random Week 12 thoughts
- The Bengals looked like a different team over the last two weeks after they lost two straight heading into the bye week. They also didn’t wait until the second half to get things going like they did against the Lions and Jaguars. The Bengals scored on their first four positions of the game. I like seeing them come out of the gates sprinting.
- Burrow’s rushing touchdown to cap off the first drive was a thing of beauty. I think it’s safe to say the knee is okay.
- Higgins’ long touchdown grab in the second quarter over James Pierre was Randy Moss-esque.
- I’m not going to say the cornerback isn’t a position of need for the Bengals and I won’t say that I’m comfortable with Apple starting over the long haul. I will say, however, that I’m not necessarily worried about Trae Waynes’ availability moving forward.
- Burrow was sacked twice on Sunday, but in general, had time to throw when he needed it. The offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage, especially in the run game, opening up some holes that I could have gained positive yardage on.
- Any day your team pulls their starters because they’ve laid a beat down on a division rival is a good day.
- I liked this.
- The Bengals’ chances of going to the playoffs, according to FiveThirtyEight, are 67 percent. If they win on Sunday against the Chargers, that goes up to 80 percent, with a 41 percent chance at winning the division.
- This could have been the last time Roethlisberger faced the Bengals as a member of the Steelers. What a send-off.
- The Steelers aren’t a bad team. They’re not good, but they’re not among the worst teams in the league. This was a great win against a middle of the road opponent. The Bengals should have won, and did so in style.