Cincinnati got a much-needed win against one of their biggest foes on Sunday, giving them their first division win of the season. There were many positives to be taken from this one, but some areas remain troubling for long-term success.
Here are the best and worst facets from the Bengals’ Week 11 win over the Steelers.
Samaje Perine steps up:
Joe Mixon suffered yet another concussion against the Steelers, causing the Bengals’ to be suddenly depleted in the position group. Chris Evans was inactive, causing Traveyon Williams to be the team’s kickoff return specialist this week, so it was Perine who predictably stepped in for Mixon.
Perine had one of those magical games he randomly puts forth for the Bengals from time-to-time, notching three touchdowns through the air. He was decisive with his reads and was his usual, physical self. He had 83 yards from scrimmage on 14 total touches and the trio of scores.
Joe Burrow’s gritty, Ja’Marr Chase-less performance:
The Steelers’ defensive front and safeties are formidable, so No. 9 had his work cut out for him on Sunday. This was especially the case with Chase still nursing a hip injury.
Burrow’s ability to move on from one receiving target to the next in a singular game to throw the defense curveballs remains amazing. He started the game with targets to Hayden Hurst and Samaje Perine, then fed Tee Higgins throughout the middle and later parts of the game, only to then rely on Tyler Boyd for the game-clinching drive in the fourth quarter.
He is now a FedEx Air Player of the Week nominee for his stat line of24-of-39 for 355 yards, four touchdown passes and a 104.1 rating.
Pulling away late:
Though this was a one-score decision, Cincinnati held a commanding two-touchdown lead with just over three minutes to play. On the final two Bengals’ drives (onside kick recovery one notwithstanding) that netted 10 points, it was on eight runs of the 12 cumulative plays.
It felt quite a bit like when the Steelers would run Jerome Bettis down the Bengals’ throats to crush their spirits late in contests, didn’t it? Satisfying, right?
Bengals’ second-half defense:
Cincinnati gave up quite a few yards and points in the first half. It was a bit surprising because of the struggles the Steelers had been having on that side of the ball with a couple of rookies in big roles.
But, as they have done all year, Lou Anarumo’s crew stepped up in the final two quarters. Pittsburgh scored 20 points in the first half, but Cincinnati allowed just a field goal for the better part of the second half, save for a garbage time touchdown that came with under a minute to play.
Ancillary weapons contributing heavily:
Aside from other predictable players stepping up in Chase’s absence (Higgins, Boyd, Mixon), this week featured contributions from guys lower on the depth chart. We talked about Perine’s big day, but he wasn’t the only one.
Trenton Irwin had his first career NFL touchdown, along with two other grabs that all totaled 42 yards. Hurst had two catches for 28 yards and even Williams had a nice eight-yard scamper late in the contest.
The resurgence of the guys who kick the ball:
There was some chatter abut Evan McPherson not looking like himself going into the bye, experiencing three misses (two field goal attempts, one extra point) in the two games prior to the break. He rebounded nicely this week, kicking three huge field goals (including a 54-yarder) and all four extra points.
Meanwhile, the punting transition from Kevin Huber to Drue Chrisman went off without a hitch. He boomed three punts for 150 yards, with two landing inside the Steelers’ 20-yard line. All of this from Chrisman and McPherson in cold and rough weather...impressive.
The veteran edge defender really wore down the Steelers’ offensive line, garnering two sacks late in the contest. He also had four quarterback hits, a pass defended and five total tackles.
The rookie Pickett-Pickens connection heats up:
Pittsburgh’s rookie quarterback had been struggling a bit leading up to this one, but he ended up making a few plays—particularly in the first half. Pickett had the Steelers unexpectedly up at halftime, thanks to the usage of seven different targets.
One of which had his second-best game in the pros with George Pickens going for 83 yards and a score on four grabs. His 33-yarder was a beauty and the Steelers undoubtedly want to make this a primary connection in the years ahead.
No turnovers forced/losing the turnover battle:
The facet we’ll talk about below feeds into this, but pressures and sacks are coming inconsistently from those not named “Trey Hendrickson”. Regardless, this team manages to get it done without being overly-opportunistic.
But, when you play tough Titans, Chiefs, Bills and Ravens teams, turnovers have to start coming to get the wins.
Where are the other pass-rush options?:
Sam Hubbard applied pressures on Sunday, but the team needs to find someone who can bring the occasional juice aside from the two starting edge defenders.
Cincinnati is missing what they received from the B.J. Hill/Larry Ogunjobi combo last year, while everyone is still waiting for those breakout moments from youngsters Joseph Ossai and Zachary Carter.
The batted passes:
Of eight total passes defended by the Steelers of Burrow, five were at the line of scrimmage. Linemen and/or blitzing linebackers timed their jumps well and T.J. Watt had an insane interception on one of them.
This is a troubling pattern with Burrow against the Steelers. There were three others by Pittsburgh linemen in the Week 1 contest, including yet another Watt interception. With the offensive line playing better as the weeks go on, other teams may resort to this tactic and hone in on the film from the two games this year to see what they might be able to exploit.