The Bengals lost their seventh-straight game to the Steelers on Sunday afternoon. Here are five thoughts on their 28-21 loss:
This was Bill Lazor's worst game of 2018 – I've praised Lazor's playcalling for most of this season, but he struggled on Sunday. Joe Mixon had 40 yards on five carries with 12:30 left in the second quarter. He didn't get another carry until the second half. Mixon had two carries in the third quarter. The Bengals' offense produced four total yards and zero first downs in the quarter. Mixon finished with 11 carries for 64 yards (5.8 yards-per-carry).
It doesn't take an offensive genius to realize the Bengals should've given Mixon more carries. Their defense was on the field for 11 more minutes than the offense during the first three quarters. The Steelers won the time of possession battle by a significant margin. They had the ball for 34:56 and the Bengals had it for 25:04. If Lazor had fed Mixon, maybe the Bengals would be 5-1.
Tight ends are invisible – The Bengals' defense can't cover tight ends. They must be invisible on the field. The Steelers' trio of Vance McDonald, Jesse James and Xavier Grimble combined for 14 receptions and 129 yards receiving. Anytime Ben Roethlisberger needed to make a play, he looked to one of his tight ends and they delivered. It's hard to envision this defense fixing things in time for Travis Kelce next week, who has been the most explosive tight end in the NFL this season.
The Bengals' defensive line struggled – Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins and this Bengals' defensive line couldn't get any pressure on Roethlisberger. The Steelers have three pro bowlers on their offensive line and they played like it on Sunday. Roethlisberger wasn't sacked or hit and anytime the Bengals got close to him, he had room to slide, move up or escape the pocket. The Steelers ran the ball effectively and relied on James Conner in big moments. He finished with 111 yards and two touchdowns on 19 attempts. Conner averaged 5.8 yards-per-carry, which is what Mixon averaged. If this Bengals' defense is going to turn things around next week, it has to start with the defensive line.
Sunday was another costly loss to Pittsburgh – Every loss hurts, especially in the AFC North, but Sunday's loss could have an impact on the team moving forward. Linebacker Nick Vigil injured his left knee in the first half and did not return. He was on crutches and had a brace on his left knee in the locker room after the game. Safety Shawn Williams suffered a concussion. Darqueze Dennard walked out of the locker room with his right arm in a sling. He didn't return after leaving in the second quarter following JuJu Smith-Schuster's 29-yard reception. Vontaze Burfict, Jessie Bates and Dre Kirkpatrick were three of the many players that missed time during the game, but were able to return.
This offense needs another wide receiver they can count on – A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd did their part on Sunday. They combined for 14 receptions, 147 yards and two touchdowns. C.J. Uzomah had a nice day with six receptions for 54 yards. Outside of those three players, Andy Dalton didn't have anyone he could rely on. Alex Erickson is a fine backup to Boyd in the slot, but he isn't scaring defenses. Cody Core dropped a ball that hit him right in the hands – the catch would've kept the drive going. Tyler Eifert is out for the season. Tyler Kroft could be out for the season with a broken foot. John Ross missed today's game with a groin injury. They desperately need Ross back on the field. The injuries on offense are another reason why I expected Lazor to lean on Mixon. Ross was close to playing this week and should suit up in Week 7 against Kansas City.
Go here for a good breakdown of Antonio Brown's game-winning touchdown and the 'pick play' the Steelers ran.
I react to the #Bengals' 28-21 loss to the Steelers, including Joe Mixon's usage, injuries and more.
For more on the Bengals' loss, listen to the Locked on Bengals podcast below: