Cincinnati Bengals Observations From a Feeble Offensive Performance Against the Pittsburgh Steelers

Jake Browning's starting NFL debut flopped Sunday against a good Pittsburgh Steelers defense as the Cincinnati Bengals' slim playoff hopes died.

CINCINNATI — Sunday marked the beginning of Jake Browning’s career as a starting NFL quarterback and the end of the playoff hopes for the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Pittsburgh Steelers came into Paycor Stadium and beat Cincinnati 16-10, dropping the Bengals to 5-6 overall, 0-4 in the AFC North, and 1-6 in conference games.

Browning finished 19-of-26 for 227 yards with one touchdown and one interception and zero support from a run game that saw Joe Mixon gain just 16 yards on eight carries. Thirty-nine of Browning’s passing yards came on a short pass to Mixon after Pittsburgh had taken the nine-point lead with less than three minutes to go.

Observations From the Bengals-Steelers Game

Key Mistake

Browning was far from explosive in his NFL starting debut, but he was efficient, going 9-of-12 for 101 yards and a touchdown in the first half.

The Bengals didn’t have a single third-down conversion during the first 30 minutes, going 0-for-5. But Browning had back-to-back third-down completions to move the chains on the opening drive of the second half, moving Cincinnati into the red zone.

Browning connected with rookie Andrei Iosivas to convert 3rd-and-9, and he hit tight end Tanner Hudson for a first down on 3rd-and-5.

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But on 3rd-and-7 at the Pittsburgh 18, the Steelers confused Browning on a defensive switch as he locked in on Ja’Marr Chase. Trenton Thompson came off his man and stepped in front of Browning’s pass for an interception, costing the Bengals at least three points.

Making the mistake more costly was Pittsburgh converted it into its first touchdown drive of the game, going 79 yards on 14 plays to take a 10-7 lead on Najee Harris’ 5-yard run.

First-Half Futility

The lack of third-down conversions in the first half resulted in the Bengals accumulating just 98 yards of offense, marking the third time this year they failed to hit 100. The other two also came against AFC North opponents in the 24-3 season-opening loss to the Cleveland Browns and 27-24 defeat against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 2.

The Bengals had scored points in the first quarter in seven consecutive games before being shut out Sunday.

Continuing Explosives

The Cincinnati defense’s issue with allowing explosive plays showed itself on the first play of the game when Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett hit tight end Pat Freiermuth for a 24-yard gain. Pickett had three passes of at least 24 yards in the first quarter and then hit Diontae Johnson for 39 on his first attempt of the second quarter to set up the first points of the game, a 41-yard field goal by Chris Boswell.

But the Steelers still were able to move the ball without chunk plays, converting the Thompson interception into a go-ahead touchdown.

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Then on their next drive, the explosive play returned with a blitz-beating 43-yard pass from Pickett to George Pickens on 3rd-and-8, taking Pittsburgh to the Cincinnati 20 and leading to a Boswell field goal.

It was the second touchdown Turner saved on the day, otherwise the final score could have looked a lot worse.

Return of the Red-Zone Takeaway

The Steelers appeared to have an early 7-0 lead when Pickett hit Diontae Johnson in the end zone on their second drive of the game, but rookie cornerback Turner ripped the ball out as Johnson was going to the ground. The officials called it incomplete, and Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin surprisingly didn’t challenge.

On the next play, Zach Carter punched the ball out of the arms of Jaylen Warren with few people noticing. Turner scooped up the ball as everyone stood around and returned it to the 39-yard line for yet another huge stop for the Bengals’ defense. The ability to come up with red-zone stops — and especially turnovers — has helped offset all of the explosive plays the group has allowed this season.

Turner also had a big pass breakup at the goal line against Johnson on a third down in the fourth quarter, forcing the Steelers to settle for a Boswell field goal that put Pittsburgh up 13-7 with 8:03 to go.

Battle’s First Start

Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo pulled Nick Scott for Jordan Battle last week at Baltimore, and the benching continued Sunday with Battle, the rookie third-round pick out of Alabama, getting his first career start.

Anarumo has been fed up with the lack of tackling, especially in the last two losses, and Battle was coming off an 11-tackle effort against the Ravens to earn the start.

Battle was active again on the defensive stat sheet, recording eight tackles, two shy of Logan Wilson’s team lead.

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