Although the Bengals put together a solid team effort this past week, there are still plenty of improvements necessary to beat a vastly underrated Steelers team in prime time.
So, what does Cincinnati need to incorporate into its game plan to effectively defeat their division rival this week?
Pressure Ben Roethlisberger
The lack of pressure on Bears quarterback Jay Cutler last week was laughable by the standards of the same Bengals front four who were responsible for 42 of the team's 51 sacks last season.
Granted, the Bears had a very solid game plan in place this past week—Cutler got rid of the football quickly, leaving a marginal allotted time for pressure. Still, blanking the entire Bengals defensive line is a daunting task—one that should have not been so easily accomplished by a shaky Bears offensive line.
The Steelers may find themselves in a rather precarious situation this week after the season-ending injury to their best offensive lineman Maurkice Pouncey in the opener. Once Pouncey left the game, the holes in the Pittsbugh offensive line became very apparent.
Upon watching the Steelers in action last week against the Tennessee Titans, a viable game plan to effectively rush Roethlisberger was revealed.
This play focuses on Titans defensive tackle Jurrell Casey. The Titans attacked the inexperienced left side of the Steelers line consisting of Ramon Foster and Mike Adams. Casey runs a stunt around defensive end Karl Klug which could create some confusion among inexperienced linemen:
The stunt is effective. Foster picks up Klug coming to the inside; however, Adams gets spun around and loses Casey as he slices between the confused linemen:
This allows Casey a free shot at Roethlisberger. The quickness of this strike makes the quarterback an easy target to bring down:
Casey—a very good young defensive tackle—recorded two sacks on the day; however, the Bengals will be able to run this same type of look with All-Pro Geno Atkins.
Take Advantage of Injuries and Win on the Ground
The previous idea of pressuring Roethlisberger due to the absence of Pouncey is only the tip of the iceberg as far as the Steelers' injury woes go.
Also lost in their opener was running back LaRod Stephens-Howling and inside linebacker Larry Foote.
Steelers have placed LB Larry Foote, C Maurkice Pouncey and RB LaRod Stephens-Howling on the team’s Reserve/Injured List.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) September 9, 2013
The Bengals' struggles to effectively run against the Steelers in recent contests have been atrocious. In the two meetings in 2012, the Bengals averaged 3.8 and 0.9 yards per rush, respectively. Meanwhile, the Steelers averaged 5.8 and 3.1 yards per rush against the Bengals.
The possibility to buck that trend is very real this week due to some crucial missing components on the Steelers' roster.
Foote recorded eight total tackles in the opener, and although he has never been one to excel against the run, his replacement could be a target for the Bengals' offense on Monday.
According to Steelers Depot, there is a strong possibility that Foote's replacement could be rookie sixth-round draft pick Vince Williams. The inexperience at inside linebacker could allow the Bengals to exploit a generally sound linebacker corps that may be prone to being caught off guard and out of position.
Conversely, the loss of Stephens-Howling does not bode well for Pittsburgh's rushing offense, either. The shifty back was the only glimmer of a sound ground game that the Steelers had to offer against the Titans.
Report: Steelers RB LaRod Stephens-Howling has torn ACL: http://t.co/zt8bfEGRBN— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) September 9, 2013
Isaac Redman checked into the game for a lousy eight carries for nine yards this past Sunday. Also, rookie Le'Veon Bell is still suffering with a Lisfranc injury and will likely continue to miss time.
With the ineptitude of Redman and the now shaky and inexperienced offensive line in front of him, the Bengals have a great chance to make this team one dimensional in Week 2.
Exploit the Secondary with Two-Tight End Set
All-Pro wide receiver A.J. Green (nine receptions for 162 yards and two touchdowns) had a field day against Chicago. This was partly due to the stellar play of Green and quarterback Andy Dalton; however, it was also partly due to the distraction of Cincinnati's tight ends.
The Steelers have a solid secondary, albeit not quite as solid as the one in Chicago. If the Bengals were able to exploit the Bears' starters with their athletic tight ends, they could certainly do the same against Pittsburgh.
Generally, big plays against the Steelers are tough to come by. Last week, however, the Bengals concocted a recipe to beat the better defensive secondaries of the NFL. It all starts with their new use of the two-tight end set.
During this play in the first half last Sunday, tight end Jermaine Gresham breaks Green wide open for a long touchdown. Green is covered by Tim Jennings with help from safety Major Wright over the top. Green runs a go route up the sideline, while Gresham streaks up the seam and breaks into the center of the field:
Gresham quickly gets behind the linebacker up in zone coverage. Wright sees this and starts to run inside to cover the tight end. Meanwhile, Jennings allows Green to slide past him on the outside and expects safety help over the top. With Wright already out of place, Dalton recognizes this and fires down the field to Green:
It is an easy completion and Green has enough steps in front of both the corner and safety to win a footrace to the end zone:
Wright—highlighted here—was taken so far out of position, he never had a chance to make a play on the ball or Green:
The sheer athleticism and versatility of both Gresham and rookie Tyler Eifert at the tight end position allows the Bengals to create optimal matchups such as the one shown above. With a slightly less talented, yet aggressive Steelers secondary up next, this is a rather exploitable matchup.
Keep the Attitudes in Check and the Ball Secure
One thing that was almost assuredly a focal point for the coaching staff over this past week is the Bengals' lack of discipline on the field. Costly mistakes did the team in against the Bears.
Racking up eight unnecessary penalties for 84 yards is a rather quick way to lose a football game, and that is just what the Bengals did.
At the end of the first half, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick retaliated to a late hit out of bounds by Eric Weems. He drew a penalty and allowed the Bears to kick a field goal before halftime. Those three points turned out to be the difference in the final score.
After the Bengals held the Bears' offense to a punt toward the end of the game and looked to take one last shot at a tying field goal, Rey Maualuga let his emotions get the best of him. He took right tackle Jordan Mills by the jersey and threw him to the ground after the play was over. This personal foul allowed the Bears to run out the clock and finish off the game.
Michael Bush fails to pick up the 1st down, but Bengals LB Rey Maualuga is called for an unsportsmanlike penalty. That's 15 yards & the game— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) September 8, 2013
Alongside of these boneheaded errors, Marvin Lewis and Co. struggled with game management, as they blew through two timeouts early in the second half due to substitution issues. These timeouts would have been precious in the waning minutes of the game.
Finally, ball security issues topped it all off for the Bengals last week.
Cincinnati turned the ball over three times against the Bears—a number that could have been much higher if it were not for some luck.
Despite converting seven-of-11 third down attempts and amassing almost 350 total yards of offense against a very good defense, these penalties and turnovers were the undoing of the Bengals.
Continuing to play well is one thing. However, if the Bengals cannot clean up this type of sloppiness—especially against a team like the Steelers—wins will continue to be very hard to come by.
All screen shots courtesy of NFL Game Rewind.