Anatomy of a Play: Bengals defense improving

The Steelers beat the Bengals 38-10 in Cincinnati a month ago. So how ugly will the score get on Thursday night (on NFL Network) when the game is played in Pittsburgh?

Any Philadelphia fan out there who used that kind of logic against Cincinnati last weekend (we beat Pittsburgh and they crushed Cincinnati, so we've got this locked up) must have been shocked when their Eagles tied the Bengals in a must-win game.

Anatomy of a Play

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The reality is that Cincinnati is still an NFL team and they're playing hard. They are 1-0-1 in their last two games and earlier this season they took the 9-1 Giants to overtime.

After watching the Week 7 Steelers-Bengals game on coaching tape, it's clear that Thursday night's score won't be as gruesome as you might think.

Heading into the fourth quarter, it was still a one-score game. The Steelers led 17-10. But two critical plays turned what might have been a good finish, into a rout.

The first was a sack by Lawrence Timmons when the Bengals had the ball on Pittsburgh's 37-yard line. That forced Cincinnati to punt.

On the ensuing Steelers' possession, Ben Roethlisberger went deep to Nate Washington for a 50-yard touchdown that broke the game open.

There were several points of note on Washington's touchdown:

  1. Nickel cornerback Geoffrey Pope, the rookie that Washington ran by, is no longer on Cincinnati's active roster.
    1. The Bengals did not blitz on the play and Roethlisberger had a clean pocket.
    2. With plenty of time to throw, the Steelers were able to get multiple receivers deep, putting free safety Chinedum Ndukwe in a conflict.

The first half of the Anatomy breaks down Washington's touchdown and illustrates those key points.

The second half of the Anatomy gives props to the Bengals improvement on defense. We show a successful blitz from last weekend's game against the Eagles where safety Chris Crocker came through Philadelphia's line untouched and dropped McNabb for a 7-yard loss. There are two key notes from Crocker's sack:

  1. The Bengals are blitzing more and blitzing better.
    1. Their nickel corner is no longer rookie Geoffrey Pope but rather veteran Jamar Fletcher.

It's no secret that Pittsburgh's defense is one of the best in the NFL and it's unlikely that Cincinnati will score more than 20 points. So in order to win Thursday's game, the Bengals defense probably needs to hold the Steelers below 20 points. The best way to accomplish that is to pressure Ben Roethlisberger.

The Steelers have allowed two or more sacks in every game this season except one -- their 38-10 win over the Bengals who did not record a sack.

Pittsburgh's pass protection can be beaten and the Bengals have the scheme and personnel to beat it -- the question is, will they?

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