1. Huge win for Taylor
The Bengals (2-1) came into the matchup with a solid game plan, showing balance on offense and picking spots to be aggressive with deep shots – like Chase’s touchdown – and limiting the Steelers to 45 yards rushing. That’s a reflection of good preparation by coach Zac Taylor and his staff.
With the win, the Bengals remain in a tie for first in the AFC North but more importantly for Taylor it’s some validation the team is showing progress in his third year. Cincinnati came into the game with only one road win under Taylor, and to get his first divisional road win so early in 2021 is a big step and certainly something on which to build.
The Bengals should have some confidence not only going into Thursday’s game against Jacksonville, but also when they face the Steelers at home on Nov. 28 in a game that could have more meaning than last year’s Monday Night Football matchup. The win at Paul Brown Stadium in 2020 meant much to the team after losing 11 straight in the series, and with a third-string quarterback starting, but the season was already lost by then and the Steelers still won the division.
Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor works his team along the sidelines in an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
Credit: Don Wright
Credit: Don Wright
2. Offensive line comes through
The Steelers had at least one sack in 75 straight games up until Sunday when the Bengals prevented them from getting to Burrow for even a single sack. That’s no small task considering Pittsburgh led the league with 56 sacks last year. Even with T.J. Watt on the bench Sunday because of a groin injury, the Steelers still have pass rush threats, but an offense that had allowed nine sacks through two games took a significant step forward in protecting Burrow. There also were no quarterback hits.
Among those contributing to that effort was rookie second-round draft pick Jackson Carman, who made his offensive debut as the starting right guard after Xavier Su’a’-Filo was ruled out because of a knee injury. Carman, a Fairfield High School product, wasn’t perfect but he got the job done and had just one penalty on a false start.
Not only was pass protection better, but the run blocking was on point with Joe Mixon rushing for 90 yards on 18 carries. Burrow also looked more comfortable Sunday moving around the pocket, though he only threw for 172 yards (he completed 14 of 18 passes). Perhaps the offensive line wasn’t as much to blame for his struggles staying upright the first two weeks.
3. Logan Wilson shines
Linebacker Logan Wilson came up with two big interceptions for his second and third picks of the season, and he looked far from just a second-year player.
His first interception came on a one-handed grab after Sam Hubbard put pressure on Ben Roethlisberger in the first quarter at the Pittsburgh 42-yard line, and that set up the Bengals’ first scoring drive. The second pick was in the third quarter and he returned it 13 yards to put Cincinnati just inside the redzone. Burrow threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Chase three plays later for a 24-7 lead.
Even aside from the takeaways, Wilson is continuing to show why the Bengals put faith in him as their play caller on defense and starting middle linebacker. He finished the game with two pass deflections, a team-high 14 tackles and the two picks.
4. Defensive line gets it done
Roethlisberger is never an easy quarterback to take down, but the Bengals managed to sack him four times on Sunday. Hubbard, Trey Hendrickson, Cam Sample and B.J. Hill all had sacks, and the defensive line as a whole impacted his ability to get the offense going as Roethlisberger had just 92 yards passing in the first half. He finished with 318 yards passing but the Steelers were forced to throw more while trailing in the second half.
Cincinnati now has 10 sacks through three games. Roethlisberger was only sacked 13 times last year, though Pittsburgh returned just one starter on the offensive line this year.
The defensive line also continued to do well against the run for a third straight week, despite going against another capable running back. Rookie Najee Harris hasn’t had his breakout game yet but the Bengals were aware of his abilities and limited him to just 40 yards rushing on 14 carries. The bulk of his damage was done in the passing game with 102 yards receiving on 14 catches, and more than two-thirds of that production came in the second half.
5. Cornerback concerns
The Bengals already have been without cornerback Trae Waynes for the first three games, but Sunday, they also lost Chidobe Awuzie to a groin injury in the second half. Darius Phillips replaced Awuzie, and Eli Apple continued to start in Waynes’ place while he works back from a hamstring injury.
Roethlisberger connected with Chase Claypool on a couple of deep passes, but Apple has struggled and seems to be getting targeted at times. He had a better game Sunday, though he still had his shaky moments. Awuzie has been solid as a new addition in the Bengals secondary this season and Waynes just began practicing in limited capacity this week. Cincinnati will be hurting if both starters aren’t available Thursday.