The Pittsburgh Steelers suffered another disappointing loss in week three at home against the Cincinnati Bengals. In this article I would like to provide data from Pro Football Focus and takeaways from watching the film. Let’s start with the offense:
There was a lot of bad in this game to discuss, but PFF had Trai Turner as the highest graded Steeler and the only player with a 70+ grade. Just a poor outing overall especially in the second half, and the Steelers really missed wide receiver Diontae Johnson and his ability to create separation in the game.
The Steelers started the game out on offense, with running back Najee Harris on the ground with a four-yard successful run with good overall blocking but center Kendrick Green’s man able to get off the block and make the play. Unfortunately penalties started on the next play and were a big factor throughout the game, this one on an illegal formation. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger then found wide receiver Chase Claypool on a screen on second and eleven with tight end Pat Freiermuth creating some space on the kickout block, but the right side of the offensive line couldn’t get to the second level on the five-yard gain. On third and six, Roethlisberger went deep to wide receiver James Washington but the pass fell incomplete just out of his reach, and noted Green getting beat up the middle. Three and out for the Steelers.
Drive number two began with a holding penalty on Green, which is unfortunate because it negated what would have been a successful run for Harris that was blocked up well otherwise. This set up a first and twenty that the Steelers ran a short route to wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster with Claypool blocking well but Washington letting up on his effort early on the short gain of three yards. Then another penalty, this time on a pass interference call on Claypool on a pick route trying to free up Harris on the catch. The Steelers then faced second and 23 where Roethlisberger saw Claypool on the short slant, but the throw was a bit behind, but a catchable ball that fell incomplete. On third down and long Roethlisberger targeted Claypool again, running a screen that went nowhere, noting Harris a little slow trying to get out and block the outside corner. Another short drive and three penalties on the offense so far and short passes when chunk plays were needed.
The Steelers came out after the defense got the interception with a Najee Harris run, where I noted tackle Chukwuma Okorafor getting pushed back and allowing the tackle. On second and eight the Steelers ran play action and rolled Roethlisberger to the right and noticed awkward footing on the pass to tight end Eric Ebron falling incomplete. The offense then suffered another penalty, this time a false start on offensive lineman Trai Turner which set up third and 13. Roethlisberger pump faked on the pass attempt then got hit by Bengals defender Sam Hubbard from the off-ball linebacker position, which led to an errand throw and interception. First three offensive drives: Punt, punt, interception (after the defense just got an interception of their own) and four penalties on the offense, seeing Roethlisberger getting hit again a discouraging start to say the least.
The last drive of the first quarter Roethlisberger runs play action getting hit and sacked again but noted him needing to get the ball out with tackle Dan Moore allowing pressure and tight end Zach Gentry getting pushed back and allowing the sack. Then the Steelers brought on fullback Derek Watt, but not in a situation I anticipated (second and 15) running a toss to the right behind Watt who made good contact on the block but ending up on the ground on Harris’ gain of four. On third and eleven the Bengals gave the Steelers the first down in the form of defensive pass interference on Washington. Guard Kevin Dotson got beat bad on the next running play, resulting in Harris losing three yards. Claypool then had a nice catch with former Steelers cornerback Mike Hilton on his back and fighting for an extra yard or two. Hilton then tried to time the corner blitz that most Pittsburgh fans are familiar with, but fortunately for the Steelers he jumped the snap early resulting in a penalty.
The Steelers offense continued possession into the second quarter facing a third and two, with Ben rolling to the right and pump faking getting the defender in the air and enough room to scramble and slide for the first down. The Bengals defense then did a great job of clogging the following run to the right by Harris with Watt and Dotson pulling from the left side of the line to no avail. Roethlisberger then found Claypool on an in route against the zone but tackled for a short gain setting up third and six. Roethlisberger then threw to the right side of the formation, but no one was there to make the catch. Another miscommunication and the closest receivers were Smith-Schuster and Claypool and another third down fail.
With 9:36 left in the second quarter, the Steelers came out running with Harris, but the Bengals defense did a good job plugging up holes and not allowing the Steelers blockers to get a push on the one-yard gain. Pittsburgh continued to involve Harris heavily on a short pass to the left side where he made a nice move on the defender for yards after catch and seven yards total. Third and two, I enjoyed seeing tight ends Ebron, Gentry, and Freiermuth all on the right side of the formation with the latter trailing behind their routes for the space and catch for the first down. Then the Steelers ran play action and Ben held on to the ball too long trying to make something happen but needed to get rid of it or throw it away but instead takes the sack. Roethlisberger bounced back with a nice read find over the middle to a wide-open Smith-Schuster and he was able to provide just enough yards after catch for another first down on second and 15. Dotson was then penalized for holding on another would have been successful run by Harris, and the frequency of penalties were really frustrating up to this point in the game.
This set up first and 17, and the offensive line did well collectively here with Harris able to make one linebacker miss on the run and is able to fight for 20 yards and the first down! Claypool then ran a 5-yard out route on the left side and was able to drag the defender for a gain of 12 and the first down. The offense is finally moving the ball well with three plays of ten plus yards despite the penalty and the sack earlier in the drive. The Steelers then went hurry up and went to Harris but Green was beat on his block allowing the tackle for no gain. Then Roethlisberger found Smith-Schuster late in his progressions over the middle to set up a third and four. The Steelers went empty formation and despite Moore getting beat and allowing pressure off the edge, Roethlisberger was able to get the pass to Harris at the sticks and falls forward for the third down conversion. The next formation featured Watt as the lone back next to Roethlisberger in the shotgun with Harris in the slot, and they ran a screen to Watt for three yards but oddly Roethlisberger lost his footing fell to the ground with no defender around him.
The offense has put together a nice long drive, and at the two-minute warning they get the ball to Harris on back-to-back plays. The first a short run of two yards setting up his third and five wide-open short catch and run for 18 yards! This set the offense up in the red zone and enjoyed the shift from a tight formation to an empty set with Freiermuth as the left tight end. He then runs across the right side of the line for the flip/shovel pass behind Dotson’s pulling block and able to dive in for his first regular season NFL touchdown! Fifteen play drive, nine were successful, and four above ten yards! Tie game.
With 37 second left in the half, the Steelers went three and out with two incompletions to Claypool on a high throw and hard hit to jar it loose and Harris after the offensive line gave Roethlisberger time but seemingly good overall coverage by the Bengals. Then the Steelers ran on third and ten, only getting two yards after the Hilton blitz and tackle forcing the punt.
The Steelers first offensive possession of the third quarter began with an empty look with Roethlisberger hitting Harris on the screen where he had a nice spin to elude a tackle for six yards. Unfortunately, he followed that up with a drop where he had running room forcing third and four where Roethlisberger stepped up due to pressure allowed by Moore and threw right to the defender for his second interception which put the Bengals in scoring position.
With 6:12 left in the third quarter the offense came out with a nice pass to Freiermuth who ran a good route for 15 yards. Freiermuth then lost his block on the next running play with Harris’ short run. Moore then got beat bad by the pass rusher leading to a roughing the passer and hit on Roethlisberger. The Steelers offense sputtered here with three straight incompletions, starting with another drop from Harris on a wide receiver screen followed by a try to Freiermuth in the end zone but good coverage on the play. The third play was off target to Claypool with pressure from a twisting Bengals defender that got past Dotson and allowing another hit on Roethlisberger. Kicker Chris Boswell then went out for the field goal attempt but missed leaving the deficit at seventeen!
The last drive of the third quarter began with a Harris run where initial blocking was good but Okorafor’s man slipped off the block for the tackle for two yards. Roethlisberger then targeted wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud in the slot, but the pass was a bit behind and almost intercepted off the tip setting up third and eight. Okorafor had a false start penalty and had to come out of the game for what was reportedly a concussion, after Smith-Schuster also had to leave the game as well with a rib injury and the injuries keep piling up unfortunately. Claypool then provided a nice catch against tight coverage gaining 16 yards on third and eleven! Wide receiver James Washington then had a good adjustment catch off play action for a successful play. To close out the third quarter, Harris ran for a one-yard gain on second down where tackle Joe Haeg (who came in for Okorafor) fell off his block allowing the tackle.
To begin the fourth quarter the Steelers offense faced a third and five still down by 17 points. McCloud showed good speed of the line of scrimmage with a good route and catch on Hilton for a healthy gain of 24 yards. Roethlisberger then got Harris the ball on a dump off and even though he made Hilton miss in the backfield, was stopped for no gain. Wide receiver Cody White then provided a six-yard gain on a short crossing route to set up third and four. Roethlisberger gets the ball to Claypool on the screen to the left and makes a good move to the inside to get the first down against the Bengals off coverage.
McCloud then received two catches in a row, the second he fumbled but was able to recover himself. The Bengals then had a defensive pass interference on Claypool where he was slow to get up. The first down gift started with a drop by Freiermuth off his hands. Washington was able to secure the second down catch though, but short of the sticks setting up third and two. Roethlisberger then found Harris on a short slant from a wide receiver alignment and got the first down and the offense inside the five-yard line. The offense then suffered more miscues, Claypool with an offensive pass interference followed by a sack on Roethlisberger, and a false start on Moore. The drive fizzled out with two passes to Harris that could not get into the end zone, although Harris made the first guy miss on both, the Bengals defense did a good job making sure there were multiple defenders to bring him down. With 8:11 left in the game the Steelers decided to go for the field goal leaving the deficit at two possessions.
With 6:25 left in the game, things started rocky with a drop by Ebron followed by a Roethlisberger overthrow to Washington who had a step on the defender but fell incomplete to set up third down and ten where Moore allowed another hit on Roethlisberger. White then ran a good route just past the sticks where Roethlisberger found him for the first down. This was the first of a string of six successful plays but against off coverage from the Bengals all by Harris and Claypool, who took advantage first with his defender playing off with a good out cut for 17 yards. Harris secured the next pass and fought for five yards. Roethlisberger pump faked and then found Claypool on the deep target down the left sideline for a big 29-yard gain on second and five. Harris then caught a dump off pass but took it for nine yards, and Green was injured on the play which brought in center J.C. Hassenauer.
On second and one Harris motioned to the slot and ran a quick out and went low to make the catch that converted despite the quick tackle on the play. Haeg then got beat around the edge allowing the sack on Roethlisberger. Washington was able to gain eight yards on second down with the Bengals playing off, but that still left the Steelers at third and ten. Roethlisberger went off the hands of Ebron at the end zone, but the defender appeared to tip the ball. This set up fourth down for the Steelers with 3:09 left in the game and Roethlisberger threw a frustrating short pass to Harris when they needed ten yards, and I noted McCloud looking open over the middle in the end zone. Confusing choice and failed conversion here when you absolutely needed points late in the game.
The Steelers offense got their last offensive opportunity after the two-minute warning with a good pass to Harris but ended the game incredibly disappointing with three drops in a row. Harris had the first and last while Claypool had the second, and just a disappointing way to go out still down 14 points from the middle of the third quarter on.
The Steelers really missed the players that were out due to injury, mainly pass rushers T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith and the defense lacked pressure throughout the game.
Defensive lineman Cameron Heyward started things off with a nice run stop for the Steelers on their first defensive play and was one of the few bright spots in the game, able to get his blocker off balance and make the tackle on Bengals running back Joe Mixon. Quarterback Joe Burrow dropped back for the first time on second down, with wide receiver Tyler Boyd wide open against Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick but the pass was overthrown. The Steelers defense then caught another break with a holding penalty on the Bengals left tackle, but especially enjoyed seeing linebackers Melvin Ingram and Jamir Jones both rushing against the right tackle and pressuring the pocket. But if the play stood, Burrow spun away from an Ingram sack opportunity. The penalty set up third and eighteen, where the Bengals chose to run a short dump off pass and cornerback Tre Norwood was able to get off the block from the slot corner position for the Steelers defense and make the tackle short of the sticks. Good job by the Steelers defense holding the Bengals to a short first drive.
The Bengals came out running and on their second drive noted defensive lineman Isaiahh Loudermilk pushed back initially but got off his block late to make the tackle. On second and five, Burrow dropped back and got pressured by Steelers defensive lineman Cameron Heyward. The pass was overthrown to Boyd again, and Fitzpatrick was able to tip the pass in the air and safety Terrell Edmunds was able to capitalize with the Steelers first interception of the season to get the ball back to the Steelers offense who needed a spark!
The Steelers defense had to come back to the field quickly after the Roethlisberger interception gave the ball right back to the Bengals offense. Heyward tackled the first running play with good push of his blocker toward Mixon but allowing a gain of four on the play. Steelers cornerback Arthur Maulet then made a good run stop in the backfield on a toss play, impressively getting off the block of the Bengals right tackle. This set up third and eight, but Joe Haden got beat off the line by wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase and the Bengals were able to pick up the first down, which was the first of the game for either team. Mixon then got a successful run where I noted Loudermilk getting pushed out of the play and Ingram with good pursuit on the tackle. After Cincinnati suffered a false start penalty, they completed a pass to Boyd with cornerback Cameron Sutton tackling him aggressively out of bounds setting up a third and short in the red zone. Boyd then ran a nice route, faking linebacker Devin Bush inside then cutting outside for the catch, but neither Bush or Ingram could make the tackle and allows him to dive in for the score. Bengals up 7-0.
On the Steelers first defensive possession of the second quarter, the Bengals offensive line did a great job clearing out Steelers defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs, Chris Wormley, and Henry Mondeaux dove to try to stop the run by Mixon but couldn’t make the play and it goes for a huge gain of 27 yards. The next run was a similar one, but Bush set the edge well and Cameron Heyward worked through traffic well in pursuit and the tackle for a short gain. The Bengals ran again for the third time in a row, pulling the right guard and Ingram did a good job avoiding the block and forcing the run back inside for a loss of one. On third down and ten Wormley got a good push provoking Burrow to scramble, and linebacker Joe Schobert did a good job getting off his twist rush to bring him down for the third down stop.
After the Steelers offense put together the long scoring drive, the defense came back to the field with 1:04 left in the half. The Bengals were able to get a successful play, accept a roughing the passer penalty on Ingram that was debatable, running a slant that beat the Steelers off coverage with Fitzpatrick on the tackle, and the fourth play Chase beat cornerback James Pierre on the go route up the sideline for the touchdown. This was very deflating after the offense was able to tie it up and letting the Bengals score just before halftime so quickly. Steelers down by seven.
The Bengals ran a pass play with 15 seconds left in the half, but the play was called back on holding. Burrow then kneeled and Pittsburgh went into halftime down by seven.
The Steelers defense came back to the field to begin the second half and allowed big plays right out of the gate. The first was a Mixon run that Loudermilk was sealed off and noted Bush over running to the sideline on the play, and linebacker Joe Schobert unable to get off his blocker along with linebacker Jamir Jones missing a diving tackling attempt and finally Fitzpatrick hitting him just enough to prevent more yardage on the twelve-yard gain. The next play went for another first down with Haden playing off and outside coverage allowing a 14-yard gain. Then Mixon had a hard run breaking tackle attempts from Buggs and Haden getting the third first down in a row.
After the Bengals had an illegal formation penalty, they got a nice play in the pass game with Edmunds running him out of bounds after an eight-yard gain. On second and seven I noted Schobert getting blocked to the ground along with Wormley pushed out of the play, but linebacker Derrek Tuszka was able to purse the play from the right edge forcing a third and three on the tackle. The Bengals went empty and ran a short drag route that Fitzpatrick reacted on but was a bit hesitant and missed the angle allowing the first down where Schobert pushed him out. Mixon then had a nice cut back where Edmunds missed a tackle, but Bush had good reaction to the cut to minimize the gain to three yards. Cincinnati then set themselves back with a holding penalty to set up second and long, where Fitzpatrick had a great read and react to the short pass from his safety spot setting up third and twelve. Burrow threw a short pass that was off target and fell incomplete to limit the Bengals to a field goal, Steelers down by ten.
The Steelers defense had to return to the field quickly with the Bengals offense in the red zone off of Roethlisberger’s second interception. Burrow had a nice scramble to for nine yards and able to get the first and goal. This set up the quick scoring drive that was the dagger of the Steelers loss, where Burrow had plenty of time to throw due to a lack of pass rush and found Chase for the score. Down by 17.
With 4:22 left in the third quarter the Bengals went through Mixon, who had two short running plays with good run stops by Buggs and Tuszka. The Steelers defense then provided a nice third down stop on the pass to Mixon but stopped by Schobert on a good three and out for the defense on the final drive of the third quarter.
Down 14 points with 8:03 left in the game, Pierre tips the pass on first down that was almost intercepted by Fitzpatrick but forced the incompletion. Cincinnati then had a false start penalty that set up second and fifteen, where Mixon faked and got around Tuszka with cornerback Arthur Maulet on the tackle after a gain of five. Third and ten, and Burrow throws to Chase, but Norwood makes a great third down stop to force the punt.
The Steelers defense came back to the field with 3:02 left in the game still down by 14 and had Wormley noted with a good run stop. On the next play I noted Wormley for getting pushed back aggressively but making the tackle just short of the first down. On third and one Mixon got the run, but Buggs was there to stop the play for a loss of one forcing the punt. The game was over at this point though with the offense unable to put points on the board after the stops the defense was able to provide later in the game.
The Bengals offense got the ball back with 1:23 left in the game and kneeled to end the game with the 14-point win on the road. The Pittsburgh defense gave up two touchdowns on short drive late in the second and early third quarter that the Steelers could not respond to and was disappointing that the offense could only provide three points in the second half.
Jamir Jones and Kalen Balage were the strongest graded special teams players according to PFF with Justin Layne having the lowest grade of the bunch.
Pressley Harvin’s first punt was a 45-yarder and the coverage unit missing angles, but cornerback Justin Layne was able to get just enough of the returner to make the tackle after a good return by the Bengals. Harvin’s second punt from the end zone bounced for 50 yards, and the returner did a little too much dancing around and lost his footing with linebacker Jamir Jones getting credit with the tackle. The third punt was inside the twenty but would like to see this inside the ten at least to pin the Bengals offense down further to the goal line. Ray-Ray McCloud fielded his first punt return at the six-yard line and despite having to reach forward he did secure it for a good return along the sideline. The Steelers kicked off to open the second half and on the return noted safety Miles Killebrew missing a tackle opportunity but Watt making the tackle.
Kicker Chris Boswell missed a big field goal attempt in the third quarter from 42 yards out, and the following punt noted McCloud slipping, which allowed the punt rolled down inside the five and Pierre was penalized for holding as well. Pierre did have a good tackle on kickoff coverage in the fourth quarter preventing a likely big run.
Very disappointing game, but now we move on to our focus to week four against the Packers. Hopefully the Steelers can make some adjustments and trend upward moving forward, cause this game was hard to watch, especially the second half.
Thanks for reading and let me know your thoughts in the comments!