When we create this weekly feature, we usually mine out some positives, even in the worst losses. And, if you’ve been around the Cincinnati Bengals for any amount of time, ugly losses are more frequent than with other teams.
After another demolition handed out by the Steelers and the product the Bengals fielded on Monday night, it’s nearly impossible to find positives from Week 4. Sure, Joe Mixon had some highlight plays, but that’s about it, in terms of moral victories.
Here are the best and worst from the Bengals’ 27-3 loss to Pittsburgh.
Andy Dalton: We mentioned it in the postgame reactions, but No. 14 is picking up some bad habits because of his offensive line. In previous years, Dalton would scramble away from pressure and, at times, make an ad-lib play. It wasn’t overly-frequent, but it has happened.
This year, Dalton is running for his life and attempting to get the ball out as soon as possible. It’s resulting in throws that lack velocity, passes getting batted down and the lack of those aforementioned improvised plays.
Body language: When the Bengals forced the turnover in the first quarter, their energy level was high and it seemed like a solid back-and-forth was going to be on display. Unfortunately, things started to snowball on the Bengals and they familiarly climbed into their proverbial shells.
“Business decisions” were being made by veterans, in terms of effort, while even the usually-calm Dalton was seen both slamming his helmet on the sideline and being visibly upset on the field. The all-too-recognizable look of “here we go again” that plagued the 1992-2002 era of Bengals football made its return on primetime.
More injuries: These happen from week-to-week, but with high-profile players already limping, losing more who have been pressed into action is adding fuel to the fire. The latest and most severe is that of John Ross, who shot off to a productive start to the year, but fell off in recent weeks.
Andrew Billings left with a head/neck injury, while Andre Smith, who is filling in for the still-unavailable Cordy Glenn, had an arm injury. With so many players out of the lineup, this has become a year to evaluate a number of players for 2020 and beyond. It’s just a shame it’s occurring so early in the season.
The offensive line: The anti-Dalton-ites can harp on the quarterback’s issues (there are many) all they want, but to omit the offensive line as the major problem with this team would be criminal. The line is full of has-been’s, never-were’s and those of backup-level talent, so it’s no surprise they are the worst unit in the league.
Giving up eight sacks on the road will never lead to a win, much less a competitive contest. Cincinnati wanted to see how Dalton would fare in Taylor’s system, but they didn’t fully set him up to be as successful as possible with that atrocious line.
Coaching: Zac Taylor gave his team an impassioned plea after their last-second loss to the Bills last week, attempting to rally the troops for a mid and late-season surge. If we’re taking Monday night at Heinz Field as the sample size, it fell on deaf ears.
Aside from the young head coach potentially losing some of the veterans already, Taylor looked in over his head on primetime T.V. His play calls on offense lacked any kind of creativity and the Bengals’ offense was simply banging its head against the wall.
He wasn’t the only coach who should be raked over the coals, though. Lou Anarumo made inexplicable calls where Billings and Sam Hubbard were dropped into zone coverage, while his unit put on a clinic on “how to miss a tackle”.
However, the coaching issues could probably be summed up with two words: Jim Turner.
Tackling: There are few things more frustrating to watch in football, especially when it’s surrounding the team you’re pulling for, than seeing players miss tackles that should be made. Cincinnati’s defenders routinely slid off of Pittsburgh’s offensive players, proving that the issue wasn’t just one that occurred under Teryl Austin.
We knew the linebackers were a liability and they continued to prove it Monday night, but few players were immune to the tackling plague. This comes down to talent, proper coaching and effort by the players. You add it up.
“Out-physicaled”...again: In our weekly game preview, we noted that the key to this rivalry almost always comes down to physical play and emotion. And, as indicative in the historical record between the Bengals and Steelers, Pittsburgh usually channels both of those keys to a win.
There were many examples of this occurring on Monday, whether it was James Conner stomping on Billings’ head in a statement run where he broke numerous tackles, or the Steelers’ pass-rush bringing Dalton down eight times, the narrative in this “rivalry” continues. From this side of the fence, it’s getting pretty old to watch.
Primetime issues continue: Do you believe it, yet? If not, what else is it going to take for you to concede this point? The argument against this idea is that the Bengals play great teams on the biggest stages, which is largely correct, but the Steelers were 0-3 going into the meeting and were not really that impressive, if not for the Bengals being the Bengals.
Point blank, the Cincinnati Bengals do not play well in primetime. They lack the “clutch gene” and shrink when everyone is watching. I’m not sure what the remedy is for this, but it needs to change if they are ever to make a Super Bowl run again.
Glaring issues and questioning the long-term remedies: The team that Cincinnati fielded on Monday barely resembled that of NFL-level. A lethal combination of injuries, poor draft and free agency additions and an inexperienced staff led to the utterly depressing result we witnessed a couple of nights ago.
Unfortunately, not all of those issues have immediate cures. Management will need to invest more resources into areas to be more successful as a franchise and they have not shown the willingness to beef up those needed facets. Cincinnati’s brain trust seems to still have an undeserved confidence from a small handful of quality draft classes from 2010-2012, so until they admit they have made mistakes in the way they operate (when has that ever happened?), we may be resigned to more of the same maddening results down the road.