The big dogs came to Paul Brown Stadium Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Bengals ran with them, for awhile. But after watching that game, it’s apparent the Bengals aren’t quite there yet. Not with the Steelers, and probably not with the Ravens.
Sure, the Bengals were short-handed, playing without starting defensive end, Carlos Dunlap and cornerback Adam Jones. But the Steelers didn’t have their all-world linebacker, Lamar Woodley. You play with who you have. And the best teams in the NFL have better depth. The Steelers were the deeper team Sunday. But….
How can you not be impressed with the way the Bengals played? They spotted the Steelers 14 points, then roared back to tie the game at 17. Offensive coordinator, Jay Gruden called another strong game, mixing run plays with pass play and watching his offense rush for an average of 4.2 yards per play.
Defensively, the Bengals allowed the Steelers to convert five of seven third down situations. But Pittsburgh finished 5-12 in third down coversion attempts, which means, the Steelers didn’t convert a third down in the second half. Something else that’s becoming a trend for the Bengals defense this season: strong second halves. After allowing the Steelers 222 yards of total offense in the first half Sunday, the Bengals defense held the Steelers to just 106 yards in the final 30 minutes.
But the game might have been costly for the Bengals, other than just falling out of the AFC North lead. Leon Hall injured his achilles. It would be a stretch to think he’ll be able to play at Baltimore next week. AJ Green hurt his knee, how badly we won’t know until an MRI is performed Monday. He did return after the injury, always a good sign.
And Steelers defensive coordinator, Dick Lebeau continued his staggeringly impressive trend of beating rookie quarterbacks. After Sunday’s 24-17 Steelers win, Lebeau is now 10-1 as Steelers defensive coordinator against rookie quarterbacks. Andy Dalton was induced into throwing two interceptions, the more costly of the two was William Gay’s pick with 2:27 to play at the Steelers 25. The Bengals never got the ball back.
Is the bubble bursting? Maybe short term. Road games at Baltimore and Pittsburgh are coming up in the next three weeks. Long term, I don’t see how any one who watched this game today can think that the future isn’t bright.