Game Recap: A Bunglefest All Around
Here are my notes for the game. Tomorrow morning the Weiner’s Circle Gang will give a second look at the game. If we can stand to think about it twice…
There were a great many narratives going into this game. Here are just a few of them on the Steelers’ side:
- Ben Roethlisberger isn’t very sharp when coming back from injury.
- The Four B’s are finally together for the first time this season.
- Once Ben is back, Antonio Brown is going to look like his old self.
- And assuming Ben’s his old self, it will be hard to stop Bell, Bryant and Brown.
- The Steelers defense has struggled mightily against top-flight tight ends.
- Also, they aren’t so great at tackling.
And naturally there were a lot of narratives on the other side:
- Andy Dalton has been unflappable, and is a very different Dalton than the Steelers have faced.
- He’s really taking care of the football, and not making costly mistakes.
- The Bengals are no longer the Bungles.
- Tyler Eifert is a top-flight tight end.
- The Bengals have a great one-two punch at running back.
- They also have some very good receivers.
- The Bengals aren’t great against the run.
I’m sure there are plenty more, but those are the ones that come to mind. I suspect most of us looked for a high-scoring game as a consequence of some of the above factors, definitely from the Bengals and also hopefully from the Steelers.
As is so often the case, the reality turned out to be rather different.
After the opening drive, it looked like Ben was back big time. He engineered a beautiful drive ending with Antonio Brown in the end zone. But it was all downhill from there, at least on the offensive side.
About those narratives. Well, for starters, the Killer B’s were back together for precisely 20:46. And wouldn’t you know it was Vontaze Burfict who destroyed Bell’s knee. The same Vontze Burfict who was back for the first time in a year. The speculation was MCL. From the looks of it, that would be the best news. Even if the Steelers had won the game it would have felt like a loss. (The latest is, he’s going to IR.)
Antonio Brown had 6 receptions for 47 yards and a touchdown. Martavis Bryant had 4 receptions for 49 yards. And the leading receiver? None other than Heath Miller, with 10 receptions for 105 tough-guy yards. Yes, the same Heath Miller about which I said the following in my opponent preview:
As far as tight ends go, there is no comparison between [Tyler] Eifert and a still-beloved but aging Heath Miller or a capable blocker but seldom-targeted receiver like Matt Spaeth.
Well, I was right. There was no comparison. Eifert was held to 4 catches for 39 yards. I guess the old man can still get it done. Heath, please forgive me for ever doubting you.
And perhaps the Steelers offense isn’t quite as vile against really good tight ends as we thought. It had occurred to me on Saturday that it would be interesting to look up how the tight ends who have really burned the Steelers defense this season have done against everyone else. But as it happened Chris Adamski of the Trib beat me to it, and wrote up the results in his blog on Saturday.
I won’t go into the details, but in fact how the Steelers have done against the tight ends they have played this season is very much like how the rest of the league has done. In a few cases the Steelers did, if anything, better.
The one anomaly was vs. the Patriots, and it isn’t that Gronkowski had more catches or more yards than he’s averaged against the rest of the league—just more touchdowns. Okay, so they aren’t “just” touchdowns. But the point is, given the circumstances, (the defensive starters were on the field together for the first time, there were “unexplained” problems with communication because of the headsets, it was the Patriots in Foxborough, etc., it wasn’t terribly surprising. The fact is, it seems to be pretty hard to defend these new-school linebacker-size tight ends who are remarkably nimble.
And despite all that, what was Eifert’s line for today’s game? 4 catches for 39 yards, no touchdowns. Had I told you the stat lines for both Eifert and Miller, with no other information, I’m guessing you would have assumed the figures were reversed. Pretty much anyone would have…
And it wasn’t like anyone else had a huge game either, with the possible exception of A.J. Green, who had one more reception and 12 more yards than Miller.
Yes, it was an odd day. Let’s look at some of those other narratives:
How about the one about Andy Dalton? He had thrown exactly two picks so far this season. He threw two of them today. It would have been three, except a offensive holding call negated William Gay’s pick. Which seems wrong, somehow, but I guess the play had already been blown dead.
The Bengals were also exceedingly fortunate with another timely holding call. However, one of those calls haunted them—instead of three points on the board from the successful 37-yard field goal, they had to move back for a 42 yard attempt. Cameron Heyward blocked it and Lawrence Timmons grabbed it. Pretty exciting stuff.
And how about that tackling? It was well into the game before a Bengal had a single yard after the catch other than what they fell forward for, although there were definitely a few missed tackles as the game continued. But as they say the other guys get paid, too, and part of what they get paid for is to elude tackles.
Let’s talk about the Bengals’ two-threat running attack. Strangely, Gio Bernard didn’t even get a carry until well into the fourth quarter, although he had an abortive one earlier in which he fumbled the handoff. The running game, including Dalton and a gadget play, gained a total of 78 yards.
The Steelers, conversely, even without Bell for much of the game, gained more than the average against the Bengals defense, although not much—116 yards. DeAngelo Williams finished with 9 carries for 71 yards. I wish there had been a few more runs sprinkled in there—like say where Ben passed on first down, right to a waiting Bengal.
And let’s talk about those high-flying offenses. As I look at the box score from the game I note the Steelers only managed 5.3 yards per offensive play. Bad is that is, it is better the the 4.6 yards per offensive play managed by the Bengals. And the Steelers’ 6.1 yards per rush looks pretty good next to the Bengals’ 3.4 yards per rush.
In fact, looking at the box score, there are huge similarities. The time of possession was 29:51 for the Bengals, 30:09 for the Steelers. Both teams had many more penalties than their norm, and some of those penalties were back breakers.
Both quarterbacks were sacked three times—the Bengals lost 13 yards, the Steelers 22. Each team had three takeaways, and only ten points total were gained, despite the takeaways often resulting in excellent field position. In fact, it looks fairly pathetic when you lay it out:
- 11:56, 3Q: Cincinnati intercepts ball at CIN 30, returned to PIT 33. Cincinnati offense goes 3-and-out after a big penalty pushes them out of field goal range. Punt.
- 2:43 3Q: Cameron Heyward blocks a field goal attempt, Lawrence Timmons recovers it and advances to PIT 24. An Unsportsmanlike Conduct penalty on James Harrison pushes ball back to the PIT 12. Steelers actually make it all the way the CIN 25, where penalties and sacks move it back to the CIN 35. Punt.
- 9:12, 4Q: Antwan Blake intercepts ball in Steelers end zone and returns it to the PIT 40. Steelers go 3-and-out. Punt.
- 6:39, 4Q: Mike Mitchell intercepts ball at PIT 27, returns it to PIT 44. Robert Golden is penalized and the ball moves back to the PIT 24. On the second play Ben throws a pick which gives the Bengals the ball at the PIT 45.
- 5:24, 4Q: The Bengals manage to matriculate down the field, with a little help from offsetting penalties that repeated first down. Touchdown.
- 2:57, 4Q: Ben’s first pass of the “drive”, from the PIT 20, was intercepted. Cincinnati got the ball on the PIT 26, and managed to gain 0 yards on three tries. (Well, it was 1, 2, -3.) Field Goal.
A big factor in this game, aside from Le’Veon Bell getting injured and Ben getting knocked around and looking gimpier all the time and so on was special teams. The average starting position for Bengals’ drives was at the 34 yard line, and the worst one they had was at their own 5 in the waning seconds of the second quarter, which almost doesn’t matter.
The Steelers, conversely, averaged right around their own 20. So that means the Bengals had 168 extra yards, even counting the start on the 5 at the end of the half. That’s a lot of yards the Steelers spotted them. It was naturally mostly because of the three interceptions. As noted they began all three drives on the Steelers’ side of the field. But even omitting those, they only had three possessions deeper than their own 20—one at the 15, one at the 17, and the aforementioned end of the second quarter.
The Steelers only had three possessions at better position than their own 20, and they had six sub-20 possessions: 15, 16, 5, 17, 8, and 12.
To return to one of the main “narrative” points, is Andy Dalton different? He sure seemed rattled to me at times. Quite honestly, if Ben hadn’t made a couple of stupid decisions with the ball I don’t see the Bengals winning this game. Nonetheless you have to give the young man props. He was shaken but not stirred, I suppose you could say. When he had to, he came back and took the Bengals down the field. He didn’t allow the pressure to faze him in the end. Sad for us, but good for him.
Momma’s Report Card:
I let the guys give letter grades. These are mine…
Pretty much the whole defense. Especially after Le’Veon Bell went down, they were playing mad. It sometimes looked like a swarm around Andy Dalton, and although they only got home three times, they harassed and rattled him for most of the game. Holding the Bengals’ offense to 16 points is absolutely amazing, and they deserved better than what the Steelers’ offense was able to grind out.
I like to accentuate the positive, or else the Citizenship Dunce Cap would go jointly to Mike Mitchell and James Harrison, who took Taunting and Unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. Mitchell’s penalty kept a Cincinnati drive going that would otherwise have been a 3-and-out. Harrison’s penalty moved the ball back to the PIT 12 after the blocked field goal.
I’m not entirely sure I can give anybody the Citizenship Award this game. It was pretty ugly. But just on the principle of the thing it goes to Heath, who took a huge shot after a contested catch and didn’t even complain.
The offensive line gets a star for participating, but the award obviously also goes to the defense. Not only did they do their job but they tried to do the offense’s job as well. Unfortunately Blake didn’t manage to take it to the house this time.
I also wish to mention that all the goofy alternative formations the Bengals have successfully been using didn’t seem to faze the Steelers D at all. Kudos for a hard-fought fight! Keith Butler for Assistant Coach of the Year? I would think he’s a pretty strong contender…