Being a Cincinnati Bengals fan right now is like riding a roller coaster. We’re up when they beat the Minnesota Vikings, we’re down when we lose to the lowly Chicago Bears, and now we’re up again after a great win over the Steelers in Pittsburgh.
The Bengals hadn’t won in Pittsburgh since 2015, and quarterback Joe Burrow had never won on the road. That all changed Sunday when the Bengals absolutely dominated the Steelers in a 24-10 win.
Here are some things that went right, some that went wrong and a look ahead at Thursday’s game at home against the Jaguars.
Joe The Giant Slayer
For a long time, the Bengals have been the little brother to the Steelers. Since 1991, the Bengals have only won 16 of the 63 games against the Steelers, including two playoff losses. With a 25 percent winning percentage, it’s hard to see the Steelers as anything other than big brother. Even the Bengals wins were fairly close, the majority of them being within one score. This game felt different, though. The Bengals came out and dominated from the first whistle to the last. The offensive line kept Burrow clean and opened holes for Joe Mixon to average five yards per carry (more on the line later). The defensive line put pressure on Ben Roethlisberger all afternoon, sacking him four times and forcing several errant throws. The secondary kept everything in front of them and rarely gave up big plays. The Bengals truly played a complete game, winning in all three phases, and dominated the Steelers in a way I haven’t seen in a very long time.
Dude, Where’s My Car(man)
Jackson Carman got his first start at right guard in Week 3 against the Steelers due to an injury to Xavier Su’a-Filo, and against a division rival gave up no sacks, hits or even a single pressure on his quarterback. In fact, he was highest graded starting offensive lineman on the afternoon when it comes to pass blocking, according to Pro Football Focus, with a score of 68.8. The next highest was Riley Reiff with a 68.0.
Carman struggled at times with run blocking, but overall he didn’t disappoint. The Steelers were missing their chanticleer, TJ Watt, but Pittsburgh’s defensive unit was still listed as one of the best in the NFL heading into Sunday’s game.
The starting right guard job may be Carman’s to lose.
The Bengals defense, under the direction of defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo, is the third ranked against the run and the pass after three games. Many fans wanted a new defensive coordinator after the 2020 season, but head coach Zach Taylor stuck with Anarumo, and it seems as though it has paid off. The third-year defensive coordinator constantly had Big Ben under pressure without sending extra rushers. When he did dial up a blitz, it came at the right time. There were very few miscues on defense throughout the afternoon. The unit was able to force two turnovers, both interceptions by linebacker Logan Wilson, which the Bengals offense turned into 14 points.
The Chase Starring Charlie Sheen
The Ja’Marr Chase pop culture references are going to be tough moving forward if the rookie wide receiver continues to amaze. He caught four of his five targets for 65 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday, including an amazing 34-yard touchdown grab to finish out the first half. Bengals fans were split this offseason over the Chase vs Penei Sewell with the fifth-overall pick debate, and it will be years before we truly know which pick was correct, but it has been fun watching Chase work.
The Burrow-to-Chase LSU connection is alive and well, and I hope we’ll get to enjoy watching Chase continue to put up record-breaking numbers for the rest of the season. As of right now, he’s the youngest player in NFL history to have four touchdown catches in his first three games. The previous record holder was Randy Moss. That’s good company.
Same Old Joe
After Burrow’s devastating knee injury suffered in Week 11 of the 2020 season, Bengals fans weren’t positive he’d be ready to play in the beginning of the regular season this year. Luckily, he bounced back quickly and was ready to play against the Vikings in Week 1. However, he looked, at times, a little uncomfortable in the pocket. That likely had a lot to do with pressure coming up the middle more than anything, and while he looked good, he didn’t look the same.
That changed on Sunday as Burrow looked relaxed and confident in the pocket. He even ran the ball on a designed quarterback run at one point, for a nice gain that resulted in a first down. I think it’s safe to say he’s all the way back now.
Criminal by Fiona Apple
Hey, Eli Apple didn’t play terrible enough to make a reference to a “bad apple,” but he didn’t play well enough to not be mentioned at all. Roethlisberger and the Steelers knew the weak link in the Bengals secondary was Apple on Sunday, as Big Ben targeted receivers being covered by Apple a whopping 16 times, which was seven more than the second most targeted defensive back, Vonn Bell. On those 16 targets, Apple gave up nine catches for 65 yards, but nearly gave up a huge touchdown pass to James Washington on a deep bomb down the left sideline. Luckily, Roethlisberger barely overthrew Washington, but Apple was beaten badly on the play.
Hopefully, Trae Waynes is healthy enough to play on Thursday, as is Chidobe Awuzie, who left late in the game due to a groin injury.
Here’s a look ahead at what the Bengals need to do to take care of business against this Thursday’s opponent, the Jacksonville Jaguars.
- The Jaguars, under direction of Urban Meyer, have struggled on offense and defense. They’re 0-3 heading into Week 4, having lost to the Texans, Broncos and Cardinals. Rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence has only completed 54.2 percent of his passes and has thrown seven interceptions to five touchdowns. The Bengals need to be on him often and early, forcing as many mistakes as possible.
- The only thing that seems to be working for the Jaguars offense is running the ball. Running back James Robinson is averaging over five yards per carry. However, if the Bengals can jump out to an early lead, it should take the option to run the ball away from Jacksonville. The defense also would be smart to focus on stopping the run, forcing Lawrence to try to win the game for them.
- Keeping Burrow clean in the pocket is a must. On Sunday, the Jaguars only got one hit and nine pressures on Kyler Murray on 34 pass attempts. The Bengals offensive line needs to provide the same sort of protection for their quarterback.
- The Bengals have opened up as a 7.5 point favorite at home on Thursday. Hopefully they don’t let that big division win in Pittsburgh get to their heads and look past a struggling Jaguars team. It’s time to take care of business and show the rest of the NFL the Bengals aren’t the Bungles anymore.
To wrap things up, here are some random Week 3 thoughts:
- It was good to see Cam Sample register the first sack of his career on Roethlisberger on Sunday.
- Logan Wilson is the real deal, and might be one of the best coverage linebackers in the NFL.
- The Steelers played worse than I’ve seen them play in a very long time on Sunday. I know they were banged up, but they looked poorly coached and completely unprepared for the game.
- Mike Hilton was looking to put Big Ben in the dirt on a play where he was five yards over the line of scrimmage before the ball was snapped. He tried to time the snap right but was too early, and the play had to be blown dead because there’s a chance he would have killed Roethlisberger if the officials allowed the play to continue.
- The Bengals still made me nervous by running empty sets as much as they did, but I also think putting so many weapons out wide might have stopped Pittsburgh from sending extra pressure on Sunday on obvious passing downs.
- The Steelers didn’t have a first down that wasn’t a result of a Bengals penalty until the second quarter.
- The roughing the passer call that extended the Bengals’ second touchdown drive was very questionable, but I’ll take it.
- The Bengals absolutely imposed their will, especially in the running game on Sunday. The offensive line got a great push off the line and the Bengals just pounded the ball late in the game to keep the clock running.
- Trey Hendrickson is a pass-rushing machine. It appears, at least for now, his 13.5 sack 2020 season with the Saints was not a fluke.
- Larry Ogunjobi and B.J. Hill came up big again for the Bengals. Hill notched his second sack on the season on Sunday.
- Due to the strength of schedule, the 2-1 Bengals currently sit in first place in the division over the Browns and Ravens.
- Many came into the season thinking the Bengals would be the worst team in the division, even if they finished with a record close to .500. It’s still too early to make any major predictions, but I think it’s safe to say, at least right now, Pittsburgh is the worst team in the AFC North.
- This makes me happy.