Bengals Report Card: Grading the loss to the Steelers

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Bengals Report Card: Grading the loss to the Steelers

Here is a list of what was good, what was bad and what the key plays were from the 23-20 lossthe Cinicinnati Bengals suffered against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday:

RUSH OFFENSE

The Good: Despite losing starting running back Joe Mixon to a concussion in the second quarter, the Bengals averaged a season-high 5.9 yards per carry despite the longest run of the night being only 13 yards, and they finished with their second highest yardage total of the season (130) despite facing the No. 6 rush defense in the league.

The Bad: Center Russell Bodine’s holding call early in the second quarter negated a 19-yard run by Mixon that would have given the Bengals a first down at the Pittsburgh 42 with a chance to build on a 10-0 lead. Instead it created second and 16 at their own 29 and they punted two plays later.

Key Play: Andy Dalton’s 11-yard run with an escort from wide receiver Alex Erickson, who lined up in the backfield, was a great play call that gave the Bengals first and goal at the 9 to set up their first touchdown.

Grade: A-

Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green (18) catches a touchdown pass during the first quarter of their game against the Steelers, at Paul Brown Stadium, Monday, Dec. 4, 2017. GREG LYNCH / STAFF

PASS OFFENSE

The Good: A.J. Green recorded his sixth career multi-touchdown game – and nearly had his first three-score performance – while Dalton had his second-highest passer rating (96.3) in 14 career games against the Steelers and extended his streak of consecutive games without an interception to six, one shy of the franchise record. He was especially strong on third down, completing 8 of 12 for 105 yards and two touchdowns for a 133.7 rating as the Bengals converted 7 of 14 tries.

The Bad: Green and Brandon LaFell had crucial drops in the fourth quarter. And when the Bengals needed to answer a Pittsburgh field goal that got the Steelers within seven with 10 minutes to go, the offensive line gave up a sack on a free runner on first down, leading to a three and out.

Key Play: While Bernard has excelled in blitz pickup his entire career and had another good night against the heavy pressure applied by the Steelers, his hold – albeit ever so slight – on T.J. Watt negated a 61-yard touchdown pass from Dalton to Green that would have put the Bengals up 24-10 midway through the third quarter.

Grade: B

RUSH DEFENSE

The Good: The Bengals held Le’Veon Bell, the NFL’s leading rusher, to a respectable 76 yards with an average of 4.2 while holding the Steelers as a team to 2 or fewer yards on seven of their 22 attempts.

The Bad: After holding Bell to 25 yards in the first half, the Bengals let him get loose for 16 on the first snap of the third quarter to spark a touchdown drive that got the Steelers back into the game by cutting the deficit to 20-10.

Key play: On fourth and 1 from his own 34 with 12 minutes to go and the Steelers down 10, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger looked as though he was simply trying to draw the Bengals offsides before taking the snap with one second on the play clock and handing to Bell for a 9-yard gain. The conversion led to a field goal that got Pittsburgh back within one score.

Grade: B-

Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown (84) catches a pass during the second half of their 23-20 win over the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium, Monday, Dec. 4, 2017. GREG LYNCH / STAFF

PASS DEFENSE

The Good: Adam Jones snared his first interception of the season to stop Pittsburgh’s opening drive, Carlos Dunlap added a sack and Chris Smith had a pass breakup, all of which came on third downs as the Bengals held the Steelers to 4 of 12. They also prevented Roethlisberger from connecting with Antonio Brown, the NFL’s leading receiver, on seven targets.

The Bad: Roethlisberger’s other eight targets to Brown netted 101 yards, including an easy game-tying touchdown with 3:51 remaining. The drive got a kickstart when defensive tackle Geno Atkins drew a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty following an incompletion on second and 5 from Pittsburgh’s 25. And Dre Kirkpatrick had two pass interference penalties for 68 yards that led to 10 points for the Steelers.

Key play: Bell’s 35-yard touchdown reception is a play that never should happen anywhere at any level as cornerback William Jackson elected to stop, watch and hope that linebacker Jordan Evans unsuccessfully tried to shove Bell out of bounds. Instead of the Steelers having first and goal at the 20 against the NFL’s No. 1 red zone defense, Bell jogged untouched into the end zone to get Pittsburgh within 20-10 on its first drive of the second half.

Grade: C

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Good: Randy Bullock was perfect for the second week in a row, connecting on two field goals and two extra points, and Kevin Huber averaged 49.2 yards per punt while the coverage unit down three of his five boots inside the 20.

The Bad: Alex Erickson caught a punt at the 4-yard line and averaged just 4.5 yards on two returns and 14.5 yards on two kickoff returns. Two of the team’s 13 penalties came on special teams, one when Jackson forced a Pittsburgh player of bounds on a return, and one when gunner Cody Core ran out of bounds on his own in coverage.

Key Play: Chris Boswell’s game-winning 38-yard field goal. It would have been a 43-yard attempt, but Josh Shaw put an exclamation on the record night for penalties by jumping offsides.

Grade: D+

COACHING

The Good: Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor drew up a great gameplan that helped send the Bengals to a season-high 10 points in the first quarter and eventually a 17-0 lead. And Paul Guenther navigated the “will he or won’t he play” question surrounding Brown and threw more blitzes as Roethlisberger than usual through the first two quarters.

The Bad: In addition to setting a franchise record for penalty yards in a game (173) and continuing the undisciplined and unhinged narrative that has plagued Marvin Lewis through his career, the Bengals failed to score a touchdown in the second half for the sixth time in seven games this year and blew a 14-point halftime lead for the eighth time in franchise history, two of which have been in 2017. They also failed to come up with a way to defend the two-minute offense at the first of the first half, allowing the Steelers to go 71 yards in 31 seconds for a field goal at the gun, marking the sixth time in the last seven games they have surrendered points in the final 23 seconds of the first half.

Key Play: JuJu Smith-Schuster’s illegal hit on linebacker Vontaze Burfict completely handcuffed Guenther over the final 7 minutes. With linebackers Nick Vigil and Vinny Rey inactive due to injuries, Guenther’s defense was helpless to defend the middle of the field with middle linebacker Kevin Minter, who isn’t part of the nickel package, and rookie sixth-round pick Jordan Evans.

Grade: C-

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