ATL: What We Learned  

 

Giovani Bernard, Tyler Eifert are X-factors for Bengals

Hue Jackson's folly is the gift that keeps on giving for the Cincinnati Bengals.

Then with the Oakland Raiders, Jackson crowed that his swap of two early-round draft picks for Carson Palmer was the "the greatest trade in football." Now with the Bengals as running backs coach, Jackson is benefiting from the second of those two draft picks, which turned out to be Giovani Bernard.

The difference in Monday night's 20-10 Bengals victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers was the playmaking ability of rookies Bernard and Tyler Eifert.

A dangerous multidimensional threat the likes of which Cincinnati hasn't seen in the backfield since James Brooks' halcyon days in the 1980s, Bernard was responsible for both of the Bengals' touchdowns. Eifert set the table for the first of those scores with a 61-yard catch-and-run, the game's longest play.

In the "Around The League Podcast" Week 2 Preview, we pointed out that the Bengals' offense was overly reliant on wide receiver A.J. Green in its season-opening loss to the same extent as last year's unit that regressed down the stretch. It's a promising sign that the cavalry has arrived in the form of Bernard and Eifert.

If the roles of those two rookies continue to increase, the Bengals could run away with the AFC North this season.

Here's what else we learned from Monday night's game:

1. The Steelers lack speed on both sides of the ball, which is what happens when a draft-and-develop franchise whiffs on young players over a five-year span.

2. Steelers receivers Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders struggled to get open for the second consecutive game while Brian Hartline and Charles Clay are piling up numbers in Miami. It's the Mike Wallace effect. The NFL is all about double teams, and Wallace draws them. It would behoove Pittsburgh to move Sanders to the slot, with rookie Markus Wheaton playing opposite Brown.

3. The returns of tight end Heath Miller and rookie running back Le'Veon Bell from injuries might help the Steelers match Bernard and Eifert the next time these teams meet in Week 15. Coach Mike Tomlin told ESPN's "Monday Night Football" crew that Miller has a "chance" to return from his knee injury in Week 3 against the Chicago Bears.

4. Jerricho Cotchery's 5-yard loss on an end-around perfectly encapsulated the Steelers' offensive woes, including major concerns about Todd Haley as a play-caller. Why is the team's oldest and slowest receiver tasked with carrying out a play that's so reliant on pure speed and agility?

5. The Steelers have lost seven of their last nine games, going back to last season. As Bill Parcells would say, "You are what your record says you are." Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith rushed for 57 yards Sunday -- a higher total than any Pittsburgh running back has posted in more than 10 calendar months.

6. The Bengals won in spite of quarterback Andy Dalton, who struggled with ball placement throughout the game. He continues to be one of the NFL's most inaccurate deep passers. It's a troubling sign that Dalton remains the same player he was as a rookie.

7. Green was limited to 41 yards on six receptions, as the Steelers continued their policy of using cornerback Ike Taylor with safety help over the top. Three of Green's seven lowest single-game yardage totals have come against Taylor & Co.

8. The Bengals boast what is arguably the game's best tight end duo. By the end of the season, Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis could be in the conversation for the NFL's most effective backfield tandem.

The "Around The League Podcast" recapped every Week 2 game. Click here to listen and subscribe.

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