The Bengals’ offensive performance against the Steelers started off strong and ended with a whimper. Many factors could be attributed to the sluggish performance, but, as Jay Gruden told Joe Reedy, “OK will get you beat by the Steelers every time. Nobody was outstanding. I got to do a better job of calling plays to give people an opportunity to be outstanding.”
During the first Bengals drive, they found great success running the ball. This was in large part due to the Steelers’ defense. They started off with two-high safeties and a straightforward defense. Without blitzes and safety support in the box, the Bengals were able to run all over an overmatched Steelers defensive front.
In fact, on the 4th down conversion deep in Steelers territory, two of the Bengals’ recent first round picks cemented their status. Andre Smith and Kevin Zeitler have been the two most impressive Bengals linemen this season, and they manhandled the Steelers’ linemen on this play.
Zeitler often found zip-code sized nose tackle Casey Hampton aligned in the A gap, or even over him. On the 4th down conversion, he stepped down, took on Hampton by himself without help from Jeff Faine, gained leverage with hand placement and outstanding hip and foot technique, and drove him out of the hole. To his right, Smith upended Steelers’ defensive end and former first round draft pick Ziggy Hood.
The blocks made for an easy conversion on the short yardage situation.
Steelers’ defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau made a smart move in the Green matchup. Knowing Green’s physicality off the line, LeBeau made no effort to put Taylor in a position to bump him off the line. Instead, he played Taylor off for the entire game, giving him an opportunity to stay on top of Green.
In the above play from the first quarter, the top-and-bottom bracket that the Steelers run on Green is accentuated by Taylor’s careful coverage. In this mills concept, the tight end, Jermaine Gresham, runs at the defender to suck him in, then runs a comeback. Gresham, despite his problems catching the ball, always runs an incredibly physical route, and pancakes his defender upon meeting.
The other middle linebacker is forced to cover Gresham, and that should open up Green for the post that he is running behind Gresham against an open middle of the field. But the coverage underneath Gresham kills that option, despite the play design. Safety Ryan Clark, circled, played the underneath coverage and left Taylor over the top to play the deep ball.
With the defense’s sagging coverage, slot receiver Brandon Tate is the best option running an underneath crossing route. Clark, however, reads the play, turns his attention back to the middle of the field and shuts down Tate for a minimal gain.