Bengals trying to end multiple losing streaks

Cincinnati has lost 5 in a row, as well as 11 straight vs. Steelers.

The Cincinnati Bengals face a Pittsburgh Steelers team coming off two straight losses this week, but the Bengals have a much longer pair of losing streaks they are trying to end.

Cincinnati (2-10-1) has lost five games in a row since a surprising win over Tennessee in Week 8, and the Bengals have lost 11 straight in the series against Pittsburgh, a streak dating back to 2015. The team’s current five-game skid began with a 36-10 defeat at Pittsburgh coming out of a bye week Nov. 15.

The Steelers (11-2) won’t make it easy for the Bengals to get back on track, and the Monday Night Football matchup doesn’t help. Cincinnati hasn’t won on MNF since beating Denver at home on Dec. 28, 2014. There have been five losses since then, including two games against Pittsburgh.

“Just focusing on each individual game on its own, the critical elements of that matchup, the players available to both teams, etc.,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said Wednesday in a conference call with local media when asked to what he attributes his success against the Bengals. “I don’t look at it cumulatively. I’m just trying to get ready to prepare for this group with the group that I have available to me.”

Pittsburgh is trying to bounce back from disappointing losses to Washington and Buffalo, the Bills’ loss coming Sunday when Ben Roethlisberger posted a season-low quarterback rating of 65.9 while throwing for 187 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions.

When these teams last met, the Steelers were still unbeaten and the Bengals were 2-5-1 but showing progress. They looked much different then, mostly because Joe Burrow was still their quarterback, and in almost every other game he played, they were at least competitive. Pittsburgh was his worst outing in 10 starts before tearing his ACL in the third quarter of a Week 11 loss at Washington.

Now, Brandon Allen has started to find more of a rhythm after three starts in Burrow’s place but the offense has still struggled, turning the ball over the first three drives Sunday in a loss to Dallas. Allen was considered “day-to-day” with a bone bruise in his knee, as of Monday’s news conference with coach Zac Taylor, but Taylor still expected him to be available to play this week.

“He (Burrow) is a special player in talent,” Tomlin said. “You know, he needs no endorsement from me. And so, there’s an adjustment that you go through when you don’t have that type of talent available to you. We’re familiar with that. We played without Ben (Roethlisberger) last year, and that requires a certain adjustment in terms of maintaining possession of the ball and making sure that you’re being fair in terms of the distributing, the responsibilities of movement of the offense around.”

Cincinnati’s defense has improved since the last meeting at Pittsburgh, going from allowing 400.9 yards per game to surrendering 382.3 yards per game, including 131.7 yards rushing – progress from that being 144.3 yards rushing per game through the first half of the season.

The play of free safety Jessie Bates has been a big part of that, as Tomlin noted. Bates leads the team with three interceptions and has been close on a few more. He also has 92 tackles, including two for losses.

“I just can’t say enough about the play of their safety tandem, specifically Bates,” Tomlin said. “He’s making plays in the passing game and in the post, but he’s also making the plays in the run game and along the line of scrimmage. He seems to be doing more for them than he used to. He’s blitzing some, and so that makes it more difficult to deal with. He’s a good player, and they’re asking him to do more and he’s delivering more.”

The Bengals will be without defensive tackle Geno Atkins on Monday after announcing Wednesday that he will finish the season on injured reserve. He’s been nursing a shoulder injury all season but hasn’t contributed much and this could be his last with Cincinnati, despite having two years left on his contract.

On the other side, T.J. Watt has been arguably the most impressive player on the Steelers’ defense, recording 12 sacks, 19 tackles for loss and 39 quarterback hits. Pittsburgh’s blitz will be a problem for Allen with pressure coming from all directions and an offensive line that has struggled to protect whoever is behind center.

Defensive end Stephon Tuitt and outside linebacker Bud Dupree each have eight sacks.

“He’s been everything we needed him to be,” Tomlin said of Watt. “He gets a lot of attention because of the sack total but he plays a complete football game versus the run, versus the pass, in coverage. His coverage doesn’t get enough recognition. He is just a complete football player.”


Steelers at Bengals, 8:15 p.m., ESPN, NFL, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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