It’s not customary for a Pittsburgh Steelers defense at full strength to put forth the kind of effort that we saw tonight against the Cincinnati Bengals. Surrendering 37 points at home when you have a full complement of your starters and really no unusually short fields, you just don’t expect to see that when T.J. Watt and their other stars are on the field.
But what’s what they got. And they’re struggling to put a finger on why. At least when they’re asked about it. For T.J. Watt, right now, it doesn’t particularly matter at the moment whether the chicken or the egg came first when discussing if the gameplan or the execution was the culprit.
“I always feel comfortable with the gameplan that we have”, he told reporters after the game via the team’s website. “I don’t even know if it was gameplan things or not or if it was strictly execution, but it doesn’t matter what the plan is, we just need to roll with it and perform it to the best of our abilities. Clearly there was a disconnect tonight”.
To say there was a disconnect is putting it mildly. Sure, there were moments, whole drives even, where the defense looked like it was supposed to, but the Bengals put up over 400 yards of offense and scored seven times. They got into the end zone four times. And that was without even being particularly good on third down.
Quarterback Joe Burrow threw for 346 net passing yards in a game in which he didn’t have Ja’Marr Chase, his number one wide receiver. Granted, Tee Higgins is no slouch, and he went off for 148 yards on nine catches.
Even with two interceptions, however, this defense still felt…disconnected. Disconnected how, though? From the gameplan? In their execution?
For what it’s worth, I didn’t really see anything that stood out watching the broadcast that would make me say the gameplan was poor. The Bengals do have a lot of talent, and Burrow did make some great throws. There’s a reason he’s one of the fastest quarterbacks in NFL history to reach 10,000 passing yards.
So I think if anything, the disconnect lay between the players and their ability to execute the gameplan tonight. The pass rush, particularly in the first half, wasn’t getting home. At times they did lose their battles outside the numbers, with Higgins, for example, beating Levi Wallace against press for a big play. They kept losing Perine for touchdowns, and that certainly didn’t help.
So what’s next? After holding the New Orleans Saints to 10 points last week, they give up 37 this week. Up next is the Indianapolis Colts. How connected will they be out in the Midwest?