The Cincinnati Bengals’ 24-10 win over the Steelers made a statement in the AFC North. Cincinnati showed that they aren’t afraid of Pittsburgh right now and both Baltimore and Cleveland are taking note of their sharing of the AFC North lead with Zac Taylor’s crew.
Many facets of this game were pleasing, if you were a Bengals fan. Controlling a game in Pittsburgh hasn’t been a regular occurrence for Cincinnati, so we’re all savoring it for the time being.
Here are the best and worst facets of the Bengals’ win over the Steelers on Sunday.
Zero sacks allowed:
It was an imperfect day by the Bengals’ offensive line, as evidenced by their collective Pro Football Focus scores, but a goose egg in one of the most important statistical categories was huge on Sunday. This was especially impressive with a rookie getting his first start and Riley Reiff exiting the game with an injury.
Joe Burrow’s bounce-back:
For those who have followed the Cincinnati Bengals for some time, you are very familiar with the “Here we go again” sentiment surrounding this team. It was hard not to let that sentiment creep in when Burrow sailed an interception to their hated rivals on their second possession of the game.
However, as No. 9 usually does, he bounced back to play an incredibly efficient game with three touchdown passes, no other turnovers and a 78% completion rate on the day. It wasn’t just an in-game rebound for Burrow, either, but one from game-to-game. These new Bengals are trying to erase that aforementioned stigma with Burrow at the helm.
Nine plus one equals six:
Ja’Marr Chase is politely telling you to shut up about the debate on the No. 5 pick. He now has four touchdown receptions in three games, with three of them being at least 34 yards.
For reference, the Bengals had just two touchdown plays of more than 20-plus air yards last season. The first fingertip catch was a thing of beauty, to say the least:
Remember when people thought Ja’Marr Chase couldn’t catch— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 26, 2021
Working the middle of the game beautifully:
After the Week 1 win against the Vikings, Burrow noted how the team likes to defer receipt of the football to the third quarter and try and sandwich points around halftime to put their opponents on the ropes. It worked incredibly well in the opener and once again on Sunday at Heinz Field.
Cincinnati scored on the big Chase bomb with :37 on the first half clock as a haymaker to the Steelers. Then, they came out of the midway break and kicked a field goal for another huge momentum swing their way.
The legs on special teams:
Rookie kicker Evan McPherson remains absolutely perfect on all attempts this season. He nailed all three extra points and another big 43-yard field goal to open the second half. Kickoff returns were also a non-factor, with only one of his boomers being returnable.
And, even in his 13th season, Kevin Huber remains a special teams weapon. His five punts netted 241 yards with three of them pinning the Steelers inside their own 20-yard line.
A true team effort:
We could list so many other individuals and position groups for their efforts, but this post would go on and on. Joe Mixon probably deserves an honorable mention for his 90-yard, 5.0-yard-per-carry-average performance, but many other role players chipped in. Mike Thomas and Auden Tate had a couple of big catches, as did rookie running back, Chris Evans.
Though they let up yards later in the game and it wasn’t pretty overall, Darius Phillips and Eli Apple held plays in front of them with starters Chidobe Awuzie (in-game injury) and Trae Waynes both out of the lineup. We’ll talk more about the defense in a second, but a true three-phase win against a team the Bengals rarely play well against.
Many facets of Lou Anarumo’s defense:
Maybe Lou getting “his guys” was what this unit needed after all. The pass-rush has done a one-eighty from last season, with newcomers Trey Hendrickson and B.J. Hill both notching sacks on Sunday. Sam Hubbard is also playing some of his best football, while Larry Ogunjobi, D.J. Reader and Josh Tupou are teaming with Hill inside to create a really solid rotation.
Logan Wilson is making a Pro Bowl bid with his three interceptions thus far and the unit itself is ranked in the top-10 or top-five in the league in categories like: sacks, passer rating allowed, plays of 40-plus yards allowed and, yes, rushing yards allowed. Also, Awuzie and Mike Hilton have been a nice presence in the secondary:
Beating the bully on their home playground:
The sub-header here kind of says it all. Though the Steelers and their fans likely mock Bengals nation as this Week 3 win being Cincinnati’s “Super Bowl”, the reality is that these are building blocks for Zac Taylor and his young team. Pittsburgh might be lesser-talented than Baltimore or Cleveland this year, but you can’t win the AFC North, nor expect to beat those Browns and Ravens squads, if you can’t win a big divisional road game like this one.
And, kudos to Cincinnati—they weren’t goaded into dumb penalties, even though the Steelers tried. Instead, they played methodical, swarming football to give Pittsburgh a taste of their own medicine.
Bengals’ defense allowing Steelers to escape many precarious situations:
Cincinnati did have ample opportunities to really slam the door on this one late in the second half, but penalties and the allowance of letting the Steelers escape bad situations to extend drives was maddening. On the Steelers’ lone touchdown drive, Cincinnati’s defense let Ben Roethlisberger convert three third downs, while also allowing them to move the ball after getting a sack and their being flagged for a holding call.
In the second half, Pittsburgh had two drives that combined for 30 total plays. Thankfully, those netted just three points for them.
Early burning of timeouts:
We’re probably nitpicking here, but Cincinnati used timeouts on both of their first possessions of each half. Now, this can actually be a useful practice to get the right call, especially in a loud away venue, but we also know that using these earlier than preferred can hurt late-half drives.
Three consecutive three-and-out drives in the second half:
For some inexplicable reason, Taylor and Co. dialed up odd plays when Cincinnati should have well been in cruise control. When it was “close-the-door” mode, the Bengals’ offense had a total of 21 yards netted on nine plays over three consecutive second-half drives.
After the Steelers plodded for a field goal on 18 (!) plays, Cincinnati’s focus should have been to grind clock, try to get first downs to rest their defense and roll on home with a win. With about eight minutes left in the game, Cincinnati went in “empty formation” twice in three plays, with one incompletion that was a near-interception. They also had a false start in another empty set, which then prompted them to run out of shotgun for Mixon’s only attempt of the series.
It’s unrealistic to expect the Bengals to get points on every single drive and the last one gets a bit of a pass because the game was finally crawling to an end. However, to not even net a first down on three straight series to close it out was painful—especially when the defense was on the field for 30 plays on two drives subsequent to the Bengals’ offensive stall-outs.
The timeout to negate an offsides:
One of the biggest reasons the team didn’t net a first down on those aforementioned drives was because of a really frustrating sequence of events with just under three minutes to play. Cincinnati had the game in hand on a third-and-1 at their own 21-yard line, as Burrow used the hard count to draw the Steelers offsides.
However, a timeout was called by the Bengals to wipe out the penalty. We’re not really sure if the staff thought they needed to use one to avoid a delay of game call, as Burrow drew them offsides with about 1.5 seconds left on the play clock, but it was a maddening miscommunication that still gave Pittsburgh a tiny bit of life very late in the contest.