All the way back in Week 1, the Cincinnati Bengals turned the ball over five times against the Pittsburgh Steelers, which promoted chatter regarding how the Steelers’ Cover 2 defense was the Bengals’ kryptonite.
10 weeks later, the Steelers didn’t think to bring it back out without having to face Ja’Marr Chase again. The result was the Bengals’ other No. 1 receiver, Tee Higgins, having himself an extraordinary day featuring nine receptions and 148 yards.
Not much went down in the first quarter for Higgins, but Joe Burrow hit him on three consecutive plays early in the second quarter, and the Steelers stayed in the same coverage for all three plays.
The Steelers brought a five-man pressure on this play and played man coverage with a free safety helping out in the deep middle.
The Bengals were in a single-width formation, with all-three wide receivers and Samaje Perine lined up to the left side and only Hayden Hurst line up to the right.
The Steelers elected not to flip their corner to the other side if the formation, so Levi Wallace was matched up with Hurst while safety Terrell Edmunds matched up with Higgins in the slot. This was a mistake.
On this 3rd and 4 play, Burrow found Higgins across the middle for a 24-yard pickup.
On the very next play, the Bengals came out in another empty formation, with two receivers spread out to the right and three receivers spread out to the left. Higgins was the the second receiver on the left.
Matched up against the Steelers’ nickel back, Higgins threatened vertically and got the defender to turn his hips. This opened up Higgins for a six-yard gain on the hitch route.
Higgins lined up outside on the top of the formation for his third consecutive reception. This time he ran an out route that Cameron Sutton could not get to fast enough and picked up 13 yards.
The Bengals were able to take advantage of bad matchups to get the ball to Higgins for his first two receptions, but this time he got it done against the Steelers’ best cornerback.
The Steelers ran a more traditional Cover 1 on this play. They had man coverage with inside help both underneath and over the top.
The Bengals came out in a bunch formation with Higgins on the outside. Once again, Higgins threatened the defender vertically, but hitched up and picked up 12 more yards.
The Steelers tried to get tricky on this play. Although they lined up with two deep safeties, Minkah Fitzpatrick ends up playing robber, looking to jump the underneath routes. He’s too late to the party, though, and allows Higgins to make the catch for a 17-yard gain.
On this play the Steelers run Cover 3, a defense which is notorious for giving up the flats. Higgins runs another out and makes a leaping catch to haul it in for 12 yards.
With the Steelers in Cover 3 yet again. Burrow hit Higgins in a tight window to add 16 yards on this play.
The Bengals lined up in the bunch again on this play, and Pittsburgh countered with Cover 1. Higgins had a great release. He stemmed to the outside, but once Wallace turned his hips, Higgins came back inside, releasing vertically right off his back. After stacking Wallace, Higgins continued to gain separation and was able to haul in the pass for 33 yards.
This was another great route by Higgins. He lined up inside, once again, drawing the coverage of nickel back Arthur Maulet. A subtle jab step to the outside was enough to get Maulet to lean and turn and allow Higgins to get inside leverage and pick up 15 more yards with a catch.
The Bengals did a tremendous job of taking advantage of what the defense was giving them, specifically by moving Higgins in the formation and creating matchups. This will be even more fun to watch when Chase is added back to the equation,