As we have been for several years now, we’ll break down the Pittsburgh Steelers’ opponent each week, telling you what to expect from a scheme and individual standpoint. Like last year, Josh Carney and I will cover the opposing team’s offense. I will focus on scheme, Josh on the players.
For the final time this regular season, let’s revisit the Cincinnati Bengals.
Alex’s Scheme Report
Bengals Run Game
Their rushing attack is arguably the best part of the entire team right now. Still led by Joe Mixon, who saw success in the first matchup (11 carries, 64 yards, 1 TD) and is still running well. He’s averaging 4.7 yards per carry. The Bengals’ 4.6 per carry ranks in the top ten league wide and their backs haven’t fumbled once this season. Gio Bernard is the backup but Mixon is the bellcow. He played 81% of the snaps in last week’s loss to Cleveland.
For the year, they are 14th in runs of 10+ yards and tied for 7th with 14 that have netted at least 20. If they’re getting big plays, it’s most often from the run game. Putting the game into Jeff Driskel’s hands is an obvious point but a crucial one nonetheless.
The run scheme has a mix of zone and power. No fullback used in this offense; instead, they’ll get a tight end like the hulking Matt Lengel (6’7, 265). Watch out for the receivers getting involved too. Seven carries on the season. Like this jet sweep to John Ross.
The projected offensive line
LT – Cordy Glenn
LG – Clint Boling
C – Billy Price
RG – Alex Redmond
RT – Bobby Hart
I do disagree with Josh below. Price may have a high enough ceiling but he’s struggled as a rookie. He’s the guy I’m going after and expect Javon Hargrave to have a strong game.
With injuries at tight end and receiver, there are moments where both Bernard and Mixon are on the field. Both guys threats out of the backfield, Bernard moreso than Mixon, but be aware for both.
Some other stats for you. Offense is middle of the league at 23.7 points per game. But with a new QB, they’ve been held to no more than 21 in three of the last four. The only exception was a 30 burger recently against the Oakland Raiders.
Their red zone offense is strangely impressive and like Pittsburgh, been in the top five all year. Right now, they’re second behind the Steelers at 72%. Even weirder, by far the best road red zone attack at 83.3%. No one else is above 75%. Cincinnati do have a below average 3rd down offense at 37.7%, 20th in the NFL.
Bengals Pass Game
Obviously, no more Andy Dalton. Driskel is the man. A lesser quarterback but as the coaching staff has pointed out all week, Driskel’s mobility may be his biggest threat. Ran a 4.56 coming out. I didn’t include this in the run game but watch out for them running some actual QB power on 3rd and short, something you’d see on Friday nights. They’ll get his legs involved.
As a passer, he’s completing 61% of his throws with six touchdowns and just two picks. But he’s been much more of a checkdown than Dalton (not having A.J. Green doesn’t help, to be fair). His YPA is a full yard lower.
At receiver, Tyler Boyd is having the same resurgent season we talked about last time. The clear #1 weapon for this offense. He’s up to 76 receptions, 1028 yards, and seven touchdowns this year. 21 of his receptions have gone for 20+. Been on a hot streak recently and definitely a target Driskel is leaning one. Gone over 90 yards in three of his last four.
John Ross is having just the weirdest season. Came out as the fastest player in Combine history but averaging just 10.4 yards per catch this season. James Conner, by comparison, is at nine yards. But seven of his 20 receptions this year have found the end zone, the first receiver to do that in a season since Marc Boerigter in 2002. Alex Erickson, mostly a return man, has functioned as the #3 and has set a career high in receptions.
The stats get even weirder. They’re generating some chunk plays between 20-39 yards, top ten in the league, but are dead last in the NFL in 40+ yard receptions. Just ONE the entire year, even when they had Green, a talented Boyd, and speedster in Ross. That lone reception goes to Boyd, a 49 yard grab in September. If the Steelers allow a 40+ yard catch this weekend, shame on them.
Conceptually, watch out for their sail concept. Three level route with a vertical/corner/flat. Easier triangle read for a young quarterback. Can read it all to one side of the field, doesn’t need to move his eyes.
Josh’s Individual Report
It’s Bengals week, Steelers fans!
While the mood in and around the fan base is very low due to the real chance the Pittsburgh Steelers miss the playoffs, we still get one more game from the black and gold, and it’s a chance to beat up on the lowly Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field on Sunday afternoon at 4:25 p.m.
Heading into the Week 17 showdown between the two bitter AFC North rivals, the Steelers have a lot to play for, while the Bengals – missing a large number of key pieces – are just trying to get through the final game of the season unscathed. That doesn’t mean they wouldn’t enjoy playing spoiler though.
The last time these two teams met, the Bengals were relatively healthy with Andy Dalton, AJ Green, and Tyler Boyd all in the lineup. Now, Jeff Driskel is the starting quarterback, while Alex Erickson, Cody Core, and John Ross try and hold down the receiving core with the two standouts in Green and Boyd out with injuries.
Entering Week 17, the Bengals are 25th in total offense (318.4 yards per game), 15th in points per game (23.7), 20th in third down percentage (38 percent), 20th in turnover percentage (even), 24th in passing offense (214.6 yards per game), and 22nd in rushing (103.8 yards per game).
Despite sitting 22nd in the league in rushing coming into the Week 17 matchup, the Bengals have been pretty darn good on the ground since Dalton landed on injured reserve with a thumb injury. That’s forced the Bengals to lean heavily on Joe Mixon, who has gone over 100 yards in two of the last three weeks, and has averaged at least 4 yards per carry each game dating back to Week 12 against the Cleveland Browns.
Mixon looks a lot like Le’Veon Bell with the ball in his hands. He has great feet, terrific vision, is patient when he needs to be, and has great balance as a runner.
Here against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 14, Mixon opened the game up with an 18-yard run, using a quick jump cut in the backfield to avoid contact before then picking through the Chargers’ defense for additional yardage.
Now that the Bengals have leaned on Mixon, the offensive line has found its groove up front, helping the Bengals move the football consistently, even though it’s a handcuffed offense.
This is the classic student-body right play by Cincinnati, which helped the Bengals clinch the win against the Oakland Raiders at home in Week 15. I like the way the Bengals try and get Mixon into space like this, and get some linemen on the move against defensive backs on the boundary. Oakland didn’t even touch Mixon here.
With Driskel calling the signals at quarterback, the Bengals are severely hindered in the passing game compared to how they played with Dalton at the helm. Too often, Cincinnati is forced to throw bubble or tunnel screens to guys like Core and Erickson, or crossing routes to Ross. Heck, the Bengals even use a ton of screens out of the backfield to Gio Bernard and Mixon since Driskel can’t really push the ball down the field with accuracy or touch.
Too often, Driskel throws the ball high down the field, rarely giving his receivers a chance to make a play on the ball. Pittsburgh’s defensive backs should have a number of chances at interceptions on Sunday should the Bengals let it all hang out and push the ball down the field through the air with Driskel to really see what they have with the third-year quarterback.
However, he’ll come through with a couple of excellent throws at times that leave you scratching your head wondering where the accuracy and touch came from.
In the red zone, Driskel puts this ball in the only spot that veteran tight end CJ Uzomah can make a play on it in the back right corner of the end zone.
Uzomah is a guy that I really like. The veteran has really stepped up in place of Tyler Eifert the last few years when the former first-round pick missed time with injuries. Uzomah isn’t the most athletic tight end, but he’s a solid two-way guy that is physical as a blocker, but athletic enough to be a matchup problem for linebackers and safeties.
Erickson has really emerged as Driskel’s preferred No. 1 target. That’s showing just how much the Bengals are banged up on offense. A guy who is nothing more than a No. 4/5 guy is one of the top options at wide receiver in Week 17 for Cincinnati.
Working out of the slot here, this is a slot fade by Erickson, who has the long speed to create enough separation. He’s not the best route runner and isn’t the best catcher of the football, but this is one heck of a throw by Driskel into double coverage and one heck of a play on the football by Erickson for 28 yards.
When the Bengals open things up a bit for Driskel that means it opens things up for Erickson, getting him out of the standard screen game, allowing him to work down the field with his speed.
Along with Erickson, Core and Ross are mostly disappointments at this point. Ross is a touchdown machine, but aside from that he rarely gets open, struggles to catch the football consistently, and needs touches manufactured for him.
Up front, it’s not a great offensive line on paper, but the Bengals are moving the ball well on the ground, meaning this group is gelling well in the run game. However, this group is very poor when it comes to pass protection. It’s a good thing Driskel has some mobility to his game or he’d be getting killed in the pocket every game.
Here’s how I expect them to line up left to right on Sunday:
LT – Cordy Glenn
LG – Clint Boling
C — Billy Price
RG — Alex Redmond
RT — Bobby Hart
Hart is an absolute turnstile at right tackle and is one of the worst right tackles in football. He consistently racks up penalties each week, and really struggles in pass protection due to a lack of hand strength and heavy feet.
Glenn is a mauler in the ground game and has been pretty solid as a pass protector this season, but he’s clearly not at the level he once was in Buffalo. I’m a big believer in Price at center. He’s athletic, strong as an ox, and has a mean streak to his game that has him throwing guys out of the club each week. The Bengals hit a home run there in the draft.
Boling and Redmond are fine at guard. Neither stands out in any particular area, and neither has glaring weaknesses in certain areas. It’s a fine group together on the ground, but they don’t work well together in pass protection. If the Steelers can dial up blitzes and confuse the Bengals up front, Driskel will be running for his life on Sunday.
Special Teams is very special for the Bengals this season. It’s a strong unit overall, and really seems to come through time and time again in big situations.
The Bengals pulled off a fake punt against the Browns and blocked a punt, both executed flawlessly by Clayton Fejedelum. He’s their special teams ace. Watch out for him on Sunday.
Kicker Randy Bullock has missed four field goal attempts this season, but he’s been strong down the stretch, as he hasn’t missed a kick since Week 12. Punter Kevin Huber has been called on quite a bit this season, punting the ball 65 times this season. He’s averaging nearly 44 yards per punt, and has dropped 28 of his 65 punts inside the 20-yard line, lending a helping hand to a porous Bengals defense throughout the season with field position.
Erickson is a huge threat as a kick returner. He returned a kick 77 yards two weeks ago against the Raiders in which he hit a seam and nearly ran away from the coverage unit.
He’s not a game breaker by any means, but he’s so consistent as a kick returner, averaging nearly 27 yards per return. There’s a good chance he eclipses 1,000 kick return yards on Sunday.
Now that you’ve read the individual portion of the Bengals’ offensive report, I just want to take the time to personally thank all you readers so much for taking the time each week to read the reports. It means a great deal to me to have such a following here at Steelers Depot. You all make it fun to do this job throughout the year. Hopefully this isn’t the last offensive scouting report of the Steelers’ opponent you’ll read this season.