There’s no one specific thing that contributed to the Bengals loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday. Yet the one factor that caused the most chaos was the loss of Andy Dalton. Despite the offense having to find itself under AJ McCarron, the Cincinnati defense actually played a good game. Despite coming out on the losing end of the 33-20 score, the Bengals defense played well. They came out with fire and performed under pressure after losing Dalton.
The entire week before the game, the talk was about how hot the Steelers corps of receivers had become. There was absolutely no way the Bengals would be able to hang with Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant. Contrary to popular rumors, the Bengals’ defense was able to clamp down on the speedy receivers. All three were held under 100 yards for the game. That was an accomplishment previous Steelers opponents weren’t able to achieve.
The game started much like the first battle in Pittsburgh. Roethlisberger was able to move the Steelers down the field and put the first points on the board. That seemed like an obvious point for fans to start ripping off toupees and throwing adult beverages, but the defense settled down. According to Fox Sports, the Bengals held DeAngelo Williams to 76 yards on 23 carries. Williams had just shredded the Indianapolis Colts defense for 134 yards. Keeping him to 3.3 yards per carry was quite an accomplishment for the men in Orange and Black.
Roethlisberger was able to move the ball effectively because of key third down conversions. If there was one part of the game that needed to tighten up, that was it. Big Ben was able to find Heath Miller and others way too often in critical situations. The Bengals’ defense had developed a neat little scheme that had worked all year. They kept the action in front of them and limited big play opportunities. It worked against the Steelers Sunday. But those pesky third-downs kept the chains moving.
The Bengals kept the receivers and Roethlisberger out of the end zone. In past games, that formula was a guaranteed success. But with the offense not moving the ball, injuries and turnovers, the pressure was bound to cause a slow leak somewhere. Giving the Steelers great field position and not getting enough time off the field took a toll.
Vantaze Burfict played like a man possessed. The statistics from ESPN are eye-opening. The Bengals WILL linebacker recorded 11 solo tackles. That led both teams’ defensive effort. He came to play and proved it on the field, despite thuggish talk from the Steel City crew.
The biggest downer for the Bengals was Roethlisberger being 10-of-11 on third down. For the most part, the Cincinnati defense was able to match the intensity of the Steelers big-bully approach to the game. If the majority of the emotion was harnessed and kept between the white lines, the Bengals win the game and knock the Steelers deeper into a playoff abyss.
The Bengals’ defense was able to play a sound game under pressure. The loss of Andy Dalton was a blow that was felt all the way to San Francisco. The wind was collectively sucked from the stadium and the players. But after the initial shock, the Bengals’ defense played like the unit that has become feared around the league.
If the pick-six by McCarron is erased from the score and his deep interception into coverage is wiped off the board, the score is different. In fact, the defense played well enough to get the win. Unfortunately, football is a game of the here and now. As a Monday morning quarterback, it’s easy to sit back and say what should have happened.
To be honest, the defense played well for the Bengals. If Cincinnati meets the wannabe bullies from Pittsburgh in the post season, changes may make the outcome very different.
[Feature Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images]