Sunday was admittedly a less-than-ideal way for the Cincinnati Bengals to start the season, but let’s do a quick reality check.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are not as bad as you think they are.
So Mitch Trubisky is their quarterback...who cares? The 2019 Steelers went 5-3 with Mason Rudolph under center and were 3-3 with Duck Hodges. They almost made the playoffs.
Pittsburgh still has a defense that’s stacked with stars. They also have a head coach who has never had a losing season in his 15-year career.
They were never going to be an easy out.
Joe Burrow turned the ball over five times, and the Bengals were still within an extra point of winning the game.
That was, of course, a two-part statement, but let’s start with the second part.
How do you keep a game that close when you give the ball away five times? I’m not looking for a moral victory, but it’s clear that there was one massive issue in this game turned it upside down, and it wasn’t Clark Harris’ bicep. If not for an alarming number of turnovers, they would have been fine.
And that brings us to the culprit, Joe Burrow. Do you really think this is going to be a long-term issue for him? Long before I typed the first word of this article, he had already completed a postmortem film session, dissecting every one of his errors. Everything we know about him tells us to bet on him coming back stronger than ever next week.
Would Playing Starters in the Preseason Have Helped?
The two biggest areas to look at here are the quarterback and the offensive line.
They weren’t going to play Burrow after his appendicitis, so that’s off the table.
La’el Collins dealt with an injury during camp and was also unlikely to play even if others on the offensive line had.
Cordell Volson actually did see significant snaps in the preseason, and even that could not prepare him for Cam Heyward.
Jonah Williams looked a bit rusty and may have benefited from some live action, but let’s not forget that they practiced against the Los Angeles Rams’ defensive line.
All things considered, I don’t think trotting the starting five out for a drive against the Rams would have made much difference. In fact, it could have made things much worse. Just look around the league at all the injuries teams sustained during the preseason. The Bengals offensive line still has major depth concerns. It wasn’t worth the risk.
So What Now? Now you go back to work and get better. The offensive line needs to play better, and it can. The defense needs to create turnovers, and it will. The quarterback needs to play better, and he will.
Two Big Things Two Fix
Rather than focus on Burrow’s four interceptions and one fumble, the emphasis should be on the turnover margin. The defense needs to do its part as well, getting the ball back for the offense.
This team dominated at the end of the first half and the beginning of the second half last season, but despite having the ball in these situations they only came up with three points against Pittsburgh. This needs to be fixed.
Jerry Springer-style Final Thought
It’s not about what type of team you have in September. It’s about what type of team you can be in December and January and figuring out how to get there. This loss wasn’t fatal, and the Bengals’ current standing at the bottom of the AFC North is not final. It’s a long season.
Relax and enjoy the ride. Finally, and I can’t overstate this, $@#! the Steelers!