The Bengals lost to the Steelers 24-16 and that’s really all that matters. The offense did not look good at times, the defense struggled at times, special teams were questionable at times. Let me get through the analysis first. Too many passes from Andy Dalton – 54 on the game. This was a product of being behind and from having absolutely no running game whatsoever (18 rushes for 46 yards). I was not impressed with the play calling, Zampese did well against the Jets adjusting to the defensive scheme. That didn’t happen this week. Too many throws short of the sticks, a bootleg on fourth and one, an unimaginative rushing scheme. In a word, it was disappointing.
Defensively, Darqueze Dennard struggled. Yet again, Steelers tight ends killed the defense – be it Jesse James (really?) or some dude named Xavier Grimble. I contend that you could win a fantasy league by dropping and picking up tight ends the week before they play the Bengals. The D managed two picks of Big Ben; but, Dre Kirkpatrick and George Iloka both dropped potential interceptions – Iloka’s could have stopped a scoring drive. The rush defense continues to be worrisome.
Special teams – the Bengals were continually starting in a hole in the first half because Alex Erickson felt the need to fair catch punts inside the 10-yard line (I saw a stat that the Bengals started drives at their 10, 9, 9, 8, 8, and 3). If a player from the kicking team is behind you, maybe you should catch the ball – but Erickson looked like the resurrection of Brandon Tate – waving for fair catches as soon as the ball was kicked.
So, yes – the Steelers were the better team on the field on Sunday. They executed plays and the Bengals did not. However, I need to address the elephant in the room – an elephant wearing a black-and-white striped shirt (and I’m sure there will be Steeler fans accusing me of whining and crying … blah, blah, blah). All week, on all NFL programming, we were told that the referees were going to be “aware” of the extracurricular activities that always come up when the Bengals play the Steelers.
There were no extracurriculars – all credit to Pete Morelli and his crew. However, in being aware of plays after the whistle, they seemed to totally forget what offensive holding looks like. Yes, you can call holding on every offensive play, it happens in the trenches. That said, there were times that blatant holds were absolutely missed. On one play in the first half, Michael Johnson was put in a sleeper hold that would have made the great Rowdy Roddy Piper proud … in front of the ref … uncalled … first down Steelers. On another play, Carlos Dunlap sped past tight end Jesse James – who promptly reached out and horse-collared Dunlap to the ground … in front of the ref … uncalled. On another running play, David DeCastro reached out and grabbed Rey Maualuga by the collar and pulled him in like he was dancing with him at his senior prom … uncalled. In the second half, Andy Dalton threw a pass, the defender took two-and-a-half steps and planted his helmet in the middle of Dalton’s back knocking his helmet off … in front of Morelli … uncalled. Mike Mitchell was his Mike Mitchell self, head hunting receivers … launching himself at AJ Green’s head (who thankfully ducked out of the way) – no calls.
The coups de grace came down to two knees. On third and goal, CJ Uzomah pulled down a floating pass from Dalton in the back of the end zone late in the first half. It was called incomplete; but, replays show that Uzomah’s knee was down, in bounds. Should Marvin have challenged? Yes, but he didn’t and the Bengals settled for a field goal. It was a missed call – but I’ll put blame on Marv for not challenging.
The biggest knee issue happened on the Bengals final drive. Tyler Boyd caught a pass in the middle of the field and was tackled by James Harrison. After Boyd’s knee hit the ground the ball came loose and the Steelers picked up the loose ball. On the field it was ruled a fumble and recovery by the Steelers. As with all turnovers, to the replay we go. The refs on the Bengals sidelines told Marvin (according to Richard Skinner) that the call was going to be overturned. The Steelers defense got ready to come back on the field. The Bengals offense was ready to come back on the field. Supposedly the Steelers radio crew acknowledged that it was not a fumble. So it was a forgone conclusion that the drive to potentially tie the game would continue. Until Pete Morelli came out to the field and announced that the play would stand as called. Ugh. There may be apologies, there may be acknowledgment of a blown call … little consolation to a team (and fan base) that always seems to be on the receiving end of blown calls.
Would the Bengals have scored and converted the two-point conversion? We have no way of knowing. The Steelers executed, the Bengals didn’t. The Steelers won, the Bengals didn’t. It’s a long season and the Bengals need to make some adjustments, it’s time to see what this team is made of.