The Saturday evening game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers proved not the divisional battle we expected. From the opening kickoff until the end of the game, Cincinnati did not appear ready for the game. Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Steelers got off to an overwhelming start and never looked back.
Here is a look at three fatal statistics that show why the Bengals lost to their divisional rivals for the second time this season.
Jake Browning was the talk of the town for two weeks. He played great against the Colts and Vikings, leading the team to two consecutive victories versus teams ahead of the Bengals in the playoff hunt. His play and one viral explicative moment caught on camera garnered the backup QB some national attention. This was his chance to become a household name in NFL parlance. Unfortunately, that did not happen and backfired on Browning.
It was a rough late afternoon for Browning as he threw three interceptions. The Steelers capitalized on every opportunity those turnovers afforded them, scoring 17 points off those three picks.
Browning acknowledged that he did not give his team the best opportunity to win the game. “Anytime your quarterback throws three picks, you’re not going to win many games. That’s really kind of where it’s at.”
Now, where Browning is at trying to turn those three interceptions into incompletions. The QB noted, "I’ve got to find a way to make those three throws incompletions. Who knows how that affects the outcome of the game?"
After the game, Coach Taylor reminded us that playing against the Steelers in Pittsburgh is not easy for an opposing quarterback. In his post-game press conference, he stated, “It’s tough to play quarterback on the road in that environment.”
Taylor commented that he can do things to help put the offense in a better position. He also alluded to the Steelers’ pass rush pressuring Browning for most of the game. Pittsburgh had three sacks and was credited with eight QB hits.
Look for Coach Taylor to work to get the offense in better situations to succeed as Browning seeks to improve from his valuable playing time and newfound experience. With that, anticipate the Bengals signal caller to ameliorate his play and perform better in his next outing.
34 points allowed
After struggling mightily to score points all season, the Steelers looked like one of the best offenses in the league in the first half against the Bengals. Heading into the game, the Steelers ranked 28th with 15.9 points per game.
After the Steelers went up 21-0, the broadcast team noted that was their largest first-half lead in three years. They would enter halftime with a 24-0 lead after a 50-yard field goal at the gun. Their 24-point lead was their largest lead since 2016. It was also the most points of any half for the Steelers this year.
Pittsburgh would go on to hang 34 points on the Bengals. That equals the Ravens for the most points Cincinnati has given up this season.
Furthermore, 34 points are the most the Steelers have scored since November 2021. The last time they scored 30 points was against the Bengals in Week 11 of last season. However, Cincinnati won that game.
Moreover, unlike the Bengals this season, Pittsburgh had no problem scoring points off turnovers this game. Their first score came from another disappointing stat, an explosive play, which has been another common trend for the Bengals.
4 backbreaking explosive plays
The Pittsburgh Steelers destroyed the Bengals’ defense with explosive plays. Most of those came from wideout George Pickens. Pickens started Pittsburgh’s early scoring party with an 86-yard touchdown reception on their second offensive play.
Pickens bookended his two longest receptions of the day with a 66-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter. This was a backbreaker because Cincinnati had just come off a drive that ended in a touchdown and a successful two-point conversion. It felt like maybe things could turn around here but that was wiped away immediately with the 66-yard score.
Along with his two long touchdown receptions, Pickens offered up a 44-yard catch along the sideline, where he barely got his feet inbounds. That catch came on a 3rd-and-15 with just over one minute remaining in the first half. Pickens finished with four receptions for 195 yards and two touchdowns. He averaged 48.8 yards per reception and 32.5 yards per target.
Explosive plays have hurt the Bengals all season. Surrendering only four is somewhat of an accomplishment for a team that has led the NFL in giving up such plays for most of the season.
While the Bengals’ defense only gave up one explosive run, they surrendered five that went for more than five yards but less than 10. This includes a Mason Rudolph scramble of seven yards on a 3rd-and-6. Cincinnati had a chance to hold the Steelers to a field goal after a Browning interception. However, that drive ended in a touchdown for Pittsburgh.
The timing of those plays was crucial. Pickens’ first catch was a tone-setter that Cincinnati never recovered from. Pickens’ 44-yard reception came on a third and long on a drive at the end of the first half. His second long touchdown reception was also on a third down.
It is too late for the Bengals to fix the problem of being the worst defense regarding allowing explosive plays. The only question now is if they can do enough to prevent those explosive gains to help the team come away with upset victories over the next two weeks.
Hopefully, the turnovers are something that can be corrected next week. That would help significantly in not allowing a team to score 24 unanswered points in a half.
As for the explosive plays allowed, that is what this iteration of the Bengals’ defense is this season. They have overcome this to become a ‘bend but don’t break’ defense that appeared to have broken this game. Let’s hope the team can limit this stat enough to come away with a victory next week.