Bengals Report Card: Grading Sunday’s 28-21 loss to the Steelers

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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2018 Cincinnati Bengals: Five things to know

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Even in a game where the Cincinnati Bengals didn’t play well in two phases of the game, they still were in position to win at the end.

But unlike other times this season, they weren't able to finish it off, and the Pittsburgh Steelers handed them a 28-21 loss Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.

»PHOTOS: View 66 images from Sunday’s game

»RELATED: 5 takeaways from Bengals’ 7th straight loss to Steelers

Cincinnati looked flat on offense in the second half until putting together its final scoring drive for a lead with 1:18 left, but the defense gave up almost 500 yards for the day and surrendered the game-winning touchdown with 10 seconds remaining.

»ARCHDEACON: Big Ben, Steelers ‘take care of business’ in Cincinnati

Here is a look at the Week 6 report card:

RUN OFFENSE

The Good: Joe Mixon rushed for 64 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries, and he had 40 yards by halftime on just eight rushes.

The Bad: Through the third quarter, the Bengals rushed the ball just twice on 15 first-down plays. Mark Walton had minus-2 yards on two carries, though both were in second-and-short situations where Pittsburgh stacked the box.

Key Play: Mixon’s 4-yard touchdown run on second-and-3 with 1:18 left gave the Bengals a 21-20 lead.

Grade: C

PASS OFFENSE

The Good: Boyd’s two touchdown catches allowed Cincinnati to go into halftime tied 14-14. The offense fizzled after that but with the game on the line and time running down, Andy Dalton powered back up the passing game and moved the ball 75 yards for the go-ahead score. All nine plays before Mixon’s touchdown run were passes.

The Bad: Dalton was sacked three times, including for a 7-yard loss on second-and-8 from the Pittsburgh 38-yard line early in the fourth quarter, which ultimately led to a punt, and there were four drops in the first half.

Key Play: A.J. Green caught a 23-yard pass on second down just after the two-minute warning to move the offense into the red zone and set up Mixon’s go-ahead touchdown. It was a big first down but at the same time, perhaps the Bengals should have been running the ball a little more at that point to run more time off the clock.

Grade: C+

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green makes a diving catch for the football during their game against the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF
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Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green makes a diving catch for the football during their game against the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

RUN DEFENSE

The Good: Pittsburgh’s first four carries went for just 1 or 2 yards, as the Steelers had to punt on the first two drives, and Cincinnati ended up getting on the board first.

The Bad: James Conner quickly heated up and had both of Pittsburgh’s touchdown runs in the first half. He finished with 111 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries (5.8 yards per carry) in the last game before Le’Veon Bell’s expected return from a contract holdout. Nick Vigil injured his leg on Conner’s longest run play of 26 yards in the first quarter.

Key Play: The defense stuffed Conner for a 1-yard loss on third-and-1 at the Cincinnati 1 to hold the Steelers to a field goal to make it 17-14 with 6:53 left in the third quarter.

Grade: D

PASS DEFENSE

The Good: Ben Roethlisberger’s game-winning touchdown to Antonio Brown came on a 31-yard pass, the only one the Steelers scored through the air. Darius Phillips, getting rare playing time on defense because of injuries in the secondary, forced a fumble on a tackle of Vance McDonald for a 1-yard loss on third down at the Cincinnati 6, and although the Steelers recovered, they settled for a field goal to make it 20-14 with 3:32 left.

The Bad: The pass rush was non-existent as Roethlisberger wasn’t sacked or even pressured much, and he was able to torch Cincinnati’s defense for 369 yards and one touchdown. The Bengals secondary suffered several injuries, as Shawn Williams left with a concussion in the third quarter, Darqueze Dennard injured his right shoulder at the end of the second quarter and cornerbacks Dre Kirkpatrick and William Jackson both went off the field at the same time in the fourth quarter.

Key Play: Kirkpatrick was called for an untimely defensive holding penalty on a third-down pass that fell incomplete, and two plays later Pittsburgh scored the winning touchdown. Smith-Schuster had a 23-yard catch before Brown’s 31-yard game-winning score.

Grade: D

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Good: The Bengals’ two touchdowns in the first half came with good field position gained by a long punt by Kevin Huber and a long kick return by Alex Erickson. Huber had two punts over 60 yards and four inside the 20-yard line, and Erickson averaged 40.7 yards per kick return with a long of 51.

The Bad: Tony McRae had an illegal block that shortened an Erickson return and caused the Bengals to set up at their own 9-yard line instead of the 22.

Key Play: Huber’s 61-yard punt helped the Bengals flip field position. The defense forced a three-and-out, and Cincinnati took advantage of a short field to take a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. Erickson’s 47-yard kick return set up the game-tying drive going into halftime.

Grade: A

COACHING

The Good: Cincinnati put together a quick scoring drive to tie the game at 14-14 with 23 seconds left before halftime after Pittsburgh had just taken the lead the previous possession. The Bengals also managed to come back in the fourth quarter despite the offense stalling out the rest of the second half.

The Bad: Cincinnati didn’t run the ball enough to help keep the defense off the field.

Key Play: The defense was lining up in a “Cover 0” to stop the run when Brown took advantage of an empty middle of the field for the game-winning touchdown on a screen play.

Grade: D+