Tomorrow, the Bengals play against a football team whose name I can hardly bring myself to type. They’re mostly psychopaths or crybabies, depending on how much credit you give them. This week, the Pittsburgh Steelers host our favorite team.
When Cincinnati has the ball, you’d assume offensive line will continue to struggle. Football Outsiders and Justis Mosqueda’s settingedge.com rank Pittsburgh’s pass rush second in the NFL. Both acknowledge some weakness in the Pittsburgh rush defense, but the Bengals haven’t put anything on film that makes me think they’ll be able to take advantage. Overall, Pittsburgh boasts a top pass defense (though this may be colored by games against 5 pitiful passing offenses) according to Football Outsiders. That means Bill Lazor will have to get even more creative this week, and Dalton will need to be sharp pre-snap against a defense that disguises zone coverage well. And it’s pretty much only zone coverage, as PFF reported that Pittsburgh plays the least man in the league at 10%.
When Pittsburgh has the ball, their rushing offense looks good, too. David DeCastro and Le’Veon Bell are playing very well together. I think the Chiefs matched up poorly with Steelers’ running attack and seem like a worse defense, but that will be a big test for the defense this week. The Pittsburgh QB, whose name I definitely won’t type because he’s evil, looks shaky. Despite incredibly games from the offensive line and Bell, the QB was just “a guy” last week. He hit some very open receivers, he threw some interception-worthy passes, and on sum looked average to me. Antonio Brown is obviously very good, but the Bengals could make life difficult enough for their QB.
On the injury front, Pittsburgh’s Stephon Tuitt is out and Marcus Gilbert is doubtful. They’re both significant absences, though I’d argue Tuitt is more significant. He’s been very good alongside Cameron Heyward in the nickel pass rush. Tyson Alualu is a big step down, and will join Bud Dupree on the right side. Since right guard has been shaky, Tuitt’s injury could make game planning to protect Dalton much easier. Marcus Gilbert missed last week and Chris Hubbard was OK. Pouncey and Foster missed early-week practices, but weren’t on the injury report Friday.
For the Bengals, the big news is that John Ross practiced in full Friday and is questionable. I think that would be particularly important this week. If the Steelers can focus on A.J. Green and running backs, it’ll be uphill sledding for the offense. If Ross plays, that adds a second vertical threat and big-play potential if Green and the running game can’t get going.
Now, a look at offensive film: PIT Rushing Offense
There are a few interesting plays from Pittsburgh’s game against Kansas City last week that I wanted to highlight. The Steelers pull a ton on running plays. They ran a sweep concept at least 3 times, pulling Maurkice Pouncey and DeCastro. They asked a tight end to start on the outside linebacker until Pouncey gets there to help, allowing DeCastro to block anyone else on that side of the field. The right tackle cuts off the defensive tackle, allowing the run to bounce outside. It’s blocked well, Bell follows the blocks well, and it worked a few times. It didn’t always involve reverse-like misdirection, nor was it always to the 2-receiver side. The consistent idea was pulling Pouncey and DeCastro, with the right tackle cut-off blocking the defensive tackle who thinks he has a free lane into the backfield.
They’re running out of spread formations quite frequently, too. It gives the QB an opportunity to take quick smoke routes when KC’s corners played way off and creates space for athletic pullers to work. If the Steelers use this sweep concept this week, I think the Bengals defensive ends and linebackers match up better than the Chiefs. Asking a tight end to block a 4-3 defensive end is asking a lot. Asking backup right tackle Chris Hubbard to be quicker than Geno Atkins is asking a lot. It could work if they catch the Bengals expecting pass and get Ryan Glasgow next to Carl Lawson, but that interrupts the same-side pull scheme for DeCastro, which seems important.
Another staple run game concept that worked well last week was the counter lead. The fullback starts left before cutting back while the right side of the offensive line moves left on the snap. This serves to create a little hesitation in the second level (Sorensen, 49, bites) and seals the first level inside while the run bounces outside. Backup left guard BJ Finney pulls and fullback Roosevelt Nix crushes the corner setting the edge. When Derrick Johnson whiffs on Bell’s ankles in the hole, he’s off to the races.
The Pittsburgh running game was at is most effective when using pullers. They had success with a lead blocker under center (4th quarter), and spread out (especially early). The Bengals will have to be ready to win individual match-ups and not tackle like Daniel Sorensen to contain Bell.
And I really need to take a moment to note Sorensen. He had the single worst game I’ve ever seen from a defender. Bad angles, bad tackling, bad coverage. He was even involved in the the interception-worthy Antonio Brown touchdown. They really miss Eric Berry.
And the PIT Passing Game
Speaking of the passing offense, Kansas City plays more man than anyone in the league. They play man about twice as much as the Bengals play man. I think that made the Pittsburgh QB’s job easier, at least when it comes to identifying where the free receivers will be. On this play, Martavis Bryant motions to the left to confirm man coverage. He has a free release with Derrick Johnson playing an underneath zone and a safety deep.
Terrence Mitchell, the corner, respects Bryant’s deep speed and as soon as he backpedals, there’s a wide open window for Bryant on the skinny post. Maybe Mitchell is expecting more help from Johnson, but it looks like it’s just a great playcall given the off corner and loose coverage. The ball is out quickly, off the back foot, to a very open receiver. It’s a first-down play, the Chiefs are on their heels and had no chance.
I think Todd Haley called an excellent game. At one point, the Steelers ran a play-action deep pass in 22 personnel, followed by a draw from 11 personnel in shotgun. He used misdirection well in the running game and kept the offense in position to find free yards with smoke routes or wide open passes. I expect a better fight from the Bengals defense. Paul Guenther and his men know the Steelers well, and have been on top of their game this year. It’ll be exciting to watch them against an offense that mostly clicked last week.
The Steelers are about as villainous as a team gets in the NFL. Joey Porter’s history of dropped charges is pretty insane, and he’s a coach. Mike Tomlin cheated in a playoff game. The QB is probably one of the worst kinds of criminals. Le’Veon Bell is so deluded he went on record saying the Bengals entire team was trying to hurt him last year. Mike Mitchell was Vontaze Burfict before Burfict, and continues to play dirty. Ryan Shazier doesn’t know how to tackle without the crown of his helmet. Yet, the national narrative is that Burfict is the only bad guy in the Cincinnati-Pittsburgh rivalry. That drives me absolutely insane.
Let’s acknowledge the list of injuries Bengals needed to endure to inspire rule changes. Carson Palmer’s knee, Keith Rivers’ jaw, Gio Bernard’s brain. Besides those rule-changing hits, Mitchell has concussed Eifert and Green. Steeler fans complain about Burfict injuring Bell and Brown. The claims that Burfict’s (high) tackle intentionally tore up Bell’s knee are laughable, and I think Brown’s concussion in 2015 was bad luck as Brown’s head snapped down just before impact. Burfict has a history of dirty hits. So do several Steelers.
The narrative of this game ought to be: “When the Bengals and Steelers play each other, both teams have a history of questionable hits that have led to injuries on both sides.” Instead, it seems to be “BURFICT BURFICT BURFICT BURFICT BURFICT.” I’m sick of it.
Since reporters and columnists won’t write it, I will. Both teams have been really bad to one another, and I hope they both play clean this week. Burfict is too good for his shenanigans, and the Bengals might actually be better than their 2-3 record if they can stay healthy.
An Open Letter to Marvin Lewis
Dear Mr. Lewis,
I have been contemplating sending you this letter for quite some time, and I hope it finds you well. You don’t know me, but I am a loyal fan of the Cincinnati Bengals. The second Super Bowl loss to the San Francisco 49ers remains as the first time I can remember experiencing heartbreak. I have, quite literally, hated Joe Montana for what he did to my then 12 year old self, for 30 years now. That said, my fandom has endured. Admittedly, as I was in college in the late 90’s, I was not as honed in on every move my Bengals made. So many losses, so little time. Sure, I loved Jeff Blake, Corey Dillon, and Takeo Spikes, but I had finals to take and parties from which to recover. But then something happened. Something unexpected. Mike Brown hired you as the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals in 2003. Marvin Lewis – the legendary architect of one of the greatest defenses in the history of the league – was coming to be our coach! The excitement was palpable, and you were brimming with confidence. It was a swagger not seen around here since the days of Sam Wyche.
As the years passed, you began to place your stamp on the team and the city. The Marvin Lewis community fund is an outstanding work of art, and a tribute to your dedication to the people of Cincinnati. Kudos. On the field, the likes of Carson Palmer, Chad Johnson, Rudi Johnson, Willie Anderson, and TJ Houshmandzadeh, made being a Bengals’ fan fun again. They became must see TV, if not in person appointment viewing. Cleveland was a guaranteed two wins. Baltimore was almost two. Pittsburgh was likely a couple of losses, but the wins were sweet, and the losses were respectable. I’d look forward to your post-game interviews, and your Monday press conferences. There was useful information to be gleaned from them. Things that the average fan would miss as they had long turned off the broadcast and moved on with their lives. Not me. I am a loyal fan, remember? I don’t break down tape or have some hot draft take, but I love my Bengals, and I follow them closely – you included.
I need to take a moment to give you some props on the transition from the Palmer-era to the Dalton-era. That entire thing was a mess, what with Carson forcing his way out, you hiring an unproven offensive coordinator in Jay Gruden, and then drafting/starting a rookie quarterback in Andy Dalton. And all during an NFL lockout. I still remember predictions of the team going 0-16 that year. Somehow, some way, you guided this team, not only to a winning record, but to the playoffs. I am not sure if I have ever been more impressed by an NFL coach. You completely rebooted the franchise, and had a whole new cast of characters for us to get to know. Dalton, AJ Green, Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, Clint Boling, and Andrew Whitworth. Young talent, ready to take on the AFC North. Two wins versus Cleveland – check. Almost two wins versus Baltimore – check. Still two losses to Pittsburgh – yeah, most of the time, but division titles weren’t out of reach. The playoffs became an annual event. This is where I need to touch on the obvious…
I do not understand your philosophy when it comes to playoff games, and for that matter, night games, games against Pittsburgh, Monday Night Football games, and any other game not at 1 pm eastern. You seem to have think and preach that these games are just the same as any other. No need for extra emphasis. No need for extra hype. No need to bring an extra chin strap because it’s just another game. After watching 16 years of this approach from you, I humbly disagree. Your teams are consistently outplayed, out-coached, and seemingly unprepared for the spotlight of these match-ups. At some point, would it not make sense to try a different approach? Maybe call it Pittsburgh week? Maybe say this Sunday night game is going to be huge for us? Maybe say that your team is chomping at the bit to play on Monday Night Football? It’s got to be better than just another game – just another loss.
I know you love this city and this franchise. I genuinely believe you want to win – for Mike Brown, and for the fans. That said, I think that it is time to move on with your life’s work. You gave it your all. You got more out of Mr. Brown than anyone ever thought possible. You raised this franchise to a level of respectability that no one could have predicted. You have done good work. It’s just not enough. There is no shame in that. And if I am being honest, you just do not seem to enjoy this anymore. Your press conferences, that I used to look forward to hearing, are all the same. Short, full of disdain for the people asking questions, and random giggles that make no sense. The fire and energy after 16 years of being an NFL head coach have faded. Why not let someone else give it a shot? We both know Mike Brown isn’t going to fire you, so why not walk away? Do what’s best for the franchise, and make them look for a coach. Last time, it brought us you!
Thank you for reading, and I wish you all the best in your next adventure.
P. S. Please take Hue Jackson with you. Thanks
Blog of Football Sorrows: Week 13
Today I officially changed the name of this game recap blog. It just fits. To be positive about this iteration of the Bengals is to be a master of the mind that I cannot comprehend (aka delusional).
They’re done. I didn’t think they had much hope for the playoffs before the game, and they certainly don’t now. The injuries are a problem, but they aren’t the problem. The offense has been stale for weeks thriving on an identity-less scheme filled with dink and dunk passes and zero creativity. They now have four games left. The Raiders seem winnable, but with the hope of starting over, do we fans want that? Do we want there to be a glimmer of hope in management’s eyes? I don’t. I want change, and that doesn’t happen by winning any remaining games, this year. Lose em all, blow it up, let’s start fixing the problems that have been ignored for too long.
Jeff Driskel, to no fault of his own, was meh. Which is much the story of 2018. The game plan, in the beginning, seemed to be for him to get momentum built through screens and flat routes…but then they kept the training wheels on. Second quarter, third quarter…it kept going. The Bengals fell behind on the scoreboard and their answer was to run more crossing routes and short outs? Cincinnati ran RPO plays…and only passed. They asked an athletic quarterback who can move to stand tall in the pocket and fend off pressure from a defense with its ears pinned back matching up with a bad and battered offensive line. Kind of like James mentioned on the post-game pod, how bad is Cedric Ogbuehi that the answer to filling in for Cordy Glenn is the starting left guard and not your former first round pick, who is actually supposed to be a left tackle? So the coaching game plan was to tell Driskel to grin and bear it behind an uninspired line with uninspired play calling? But, you know, Marvin Lewis says “We’ve got to do our jobs better. The players have to execute the game plan the way it is coached.” What? The game plan hasn’t changed in 10 years! Different personnel, different opponents, different circumstances, same stale, boring, dull, lifeless, clueless plan. I get sick to my stomach when I listen to Marvin do a press conference.
The only thing left is the future, whatever may come. I know that is bleak. Not one of you reading these words can say, with a straight face, that you can see a different coach roaming the sidelines in 2019 who isn’t Marvin or Hue Jackson. We know. We know there isn’t going to be any change, and that’s why the stadium is empty. That’s why the orange in the stands at Paul Brown Stadium was Bronco orange and not Bengal orange. The sound at the end of the game? Cheers and applause, because anyone still there was a fan of the visiting victors. There’s no one left to boo because they’ve been booing for so long they’ve lost interest. It is understood that the most likely outcome this season, if change comes at all, is that Hue takes the reigns. We’ll go from a boring, uninspired, regularly out-maneuvered coach to a joke of a coach. So how can anyone care? I looked at tickets before the game. You could have sit 12 rows back in the endzone for $35…and I said no. Why? Because the joke that is the visual of the stands at PBS is the last thing we fans have left to tell ownership to get their rear in gear and fix this. Will they? You tell me…
Follow @jefffcarr and @lockedonBengals on Twitter for more angst Bengals content.
A lot of Bengals fans (myself included) wondered before the year why a young team with so much talent was pegged with worse Super Bowl odds than our in-state neighbors.
In the eyes of Las Vegas, it didn’t matter that the Bengals rallied to end last season at 7-9 with a signature victory over the Baltimore Ravens. It didn’t matter that the Bengals made legitimate offseason moves to sure up the offensive line. It didn’t matter that Bill Lazor was given a whole offseason to install his system or that Teryl Austin was bringing a turnovers-or-bust mentality with him from Detroit.
It. Didn’t. Matter.
The only thing that mattered was the face of the franchise returning for his 16th year. Marvin Lewis is and always will be the reason people around the NFL don’t take the Bengals seriously and it’s become both a blessing and a curse.
When Lewis arrived in 2003, he inherited what many considered to be one of the worst franchises in pro sports at the time. The players were using old jock straps, it was a dark time in Bengals history. Though to Lewis’ credit, he rebuilt this franchise into something fans could actually be proud of.
They became competitive, they got to the base of Championship Mountain, but that’s not good enough. Of the six coaches in the NFL who’ve been at the helm for at least a decade, Marvin Lewis is the only one without a Super Bowl trophy.
As of Nov. 28, Cincinnati has lost five of their past six games, their defense is the worst in the league, the offense can’t operate without A.J. Green, and they’ve fired one coach in waiting while rehiring another. That go-ahead score against Pittsburgh in mid-October feels like it happened in 2015.
The Bengals might not have moved on from Marvin, but I have, there’s nothing else I need to see following that 35-20 beatdown this past Sunday. ESPN has pegged Lewis with a 60 percent chance to be fired and though this might be for nothing, here are two head coaching paths the Bengals could choose to down in January.
Anyone But Hue Jackson
That’s really all that needs to be said. Hue Jackson is a great POSITION coach, but he has proved over a large sample size that he is inept as a HEAD coach. Jason La Canfora reported before the Browns game that Jackson has a real shot to replace Lewis if he steps down or takes a front office role.
Fans would be less excited about this than retaining Lewis, especially if he’s in the building overseeing nine of the 10 or 11 losses this team is headed for. Who are we kidding here, this is Lewis’ best friend and if anyone has shown the ability to persuade Mike Brown over the last 16 years, it’s Marvin Lewis.
Jackson is the clear frontrunner if a coaching change ends up happening.
A former Bengals player from 1995-98, This is the home run hire for Cincinnati. Bieniemy is in his first season as offensive coordinator of the Kansas City Chiefs and I don’t have to throw stats in here to prove why that’s been a success.
As a former player for the franchise, Bieniemy has that familiarity that Brown always looks for in new hires. He could come in and immediately offer a fresh perspective on this roster, answer the Andy Dalton question, and start to move this organization into a new era.
Bieniemy has primarily coached running backs before taking over for Matt Nagy this season and some great ones at that: Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles, Kareem Hunt have all learned and thrived under Bieniemy. Imagine his expertise paired with the talent of Joe Mixon.
Oh and for those concerned with the “lack of coaching experience” after just one season as an OC, just look at the past two guys to hold Bieniemy’s current spot. Doug Pederson went from Chiefs OC to winning a Super Bowl, Nagy has turned the Bears from a laughing stock to a contender in his first season. Those expectations might not be fair for Bieniemy, but the blueprint is out there for Mike Brown to make a championship hire.