It’s almost like the Bengals shit their pants whenever they roll into Pittsburgh. We’re talking about a Bengals squad that’s 8-21 against the Steelers since 2003, that hasn’t won during this “rivalry” since Nov. 1, 2015, and has lost eight of their last nine against the Steelers.
This offensive line, pieced together by “talented scouts” and a tenured coaching staff, has been a monumental failure and that showed on Sunday. Andy Dalton, who shrivels during games of postseason consequence, was not unlike an escaped convict. Yet, when he wasn’t sacked, pressured, or thrown around, he turned into the star in a Memento remake. “Who is A.J. Green?” Yet, from Jay Gruden, Hue Jackson, Ken Zampese, and now Bill Lazor, the play-calling has traditionally felt chaotic. Defensively, it’s the same. Attributes that made Cincinnati’s defense elite, disappears. Superstars become nominal participants. This usually re-ignites questions about Marvin Lewis’s future. Has he lost the locker-room? Is a regime change needed right now, salvaging a season that could still offer opportunities? Will the Bengals front office actually conduct a coaching search or turn to the laziest solution and hire from within?
If this were any other week, the Bengals would have fought until the end. With the exception of the regular season opener against Baltimore, they’ve done that. Heading into Sunday’s game, Cincinnati produced the league’s second-ranked defense (262 yards/game), the second-ranked scoring defense (16.6 yards/game), and an offense that was gaining momentum. Even the week three loss to the Green Bay Packers, only time the defense allowed more than 20 points or 300 yards, required a hall of fame quarterback to defeat Cincinnati.The passing defense has been amazingly lethal, ranked second in the NFL with one of the league’s most aggressive pass rushes.
With their defense playing well, the offense was afforded time to transition. After failing to score a touchdown during their opening two games, the Bengals axed offensive coordinator Ken Zampese and promoted quarterback Bill Lazor as their new play-caller. Due to Cincinnati’s strength on defense, the offense spent time transitioning with a new play-caller with a simplistic philosophy. It worked.
Despite starting 0-3, the Bengals were building momentum.
Then Steelers week came.
The defense was especially bad on Sunday, sliding off tackles, failing to obstruct lanes, which allowed a patient running back like LeVeon Bell to navigate through Cincinnati’s swiss cheese defense. In the meantime, the Steelers passing offense faced an extremely limited pass rush with a quick-strike philosophy that neutralized Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins, and Carl Lawson. Pittsburgh punted twice while scoring on seven possessions; their remaining possessions were turnover on downs, both inside Cincinnati’s territory.
The offense was worse, which is usually the case against Pittsburgh.
During their opening three possessions, the Bengals scored two touchdowns, generated 165 yards, 10 first downs, while averaging 6.1 yards/play through the midway point of the second quarter. It was within this timeframe, specifically the 1:36 mark in the first quarter, that A.J. Green (three receptions, 41 yards) recorded his final reception of the game. It was also within this timeframe, with 8:37 remaining in the second quarter, that running back Joe Mixon (seven carries, 48 yards) recorded his last rushing attempt. It’s an achievement to render your best wide receiver and running back useless against a division opponent.
After their successful opening, with the game tied at 14 midway through the second, Cincinnati’s offense played seven more possessions, securing 20 yards, and averaging 0.87 yards/play.
At what point does pride and professionalism take over? Robert Golden, Pittsburgh’s up-back on punt team, tossed a perfect throw on a fake punt over cornerback Darqueze Dennard, a former first-round draft pick, picking up the first down. Andy Dalton literally threw the football away on fourth down, essentially sealing the loss. The sad thing is that the Bengals had ample opportunities to recover and the deficit was never more than two possessions. At no point did anyone believe the Bengals would fight through their struggles and compete to win. Then the Bengals literally took a knee in victory formation, during a loss.
This is what happens when Cincinnati plays Pittsburgh: The Bengals quiver with the fear of humiliation. It’s sad. It’s laughable. It’s Bengals football today.