Nowhere to Run

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In the Bengals season-opening win over the Jets, A.J. Green, C.J. Uzomah, and Brandon LeFell each had a catch of at least 49 yards. The Pittsburgh Steelers were determined not to let Cincinnati go deep in week two.

"They made sure there were safeties over the top," said my broadcast partner Dave Lapham. "They were not going to get 'chunked' like the New York Jets did."

"They were going to make us throw it underneath a lot and just keep marching down the field," said left tackle Andrew Whitworth. "On a rainy day that was muddy and nasty that was probably a good idea."

Additionally, after Green turned "Revis Island" into "Fantasy Island" last week with 12 catches for 180 yards while frequently being single-covered by Darrelle Revis, the Steelers made sure there were two defenders near the Bengals' Pro Bowl receiver all afternoon. Green was targeted eight times and finished with two catches for 38 yards.

"He's a one-of-a-kind talent in the NFL," said Steelers cornerback Ross Cockrell. "That's what we saw from him last week. This week we made an effort and made a game plan structured to not let him beat us." 

Playing two deep safeties while keying on the other team's best receiver is not exactly reinventing the wheel. It's a common strategy with an obvious way to attack it.

"To get them out of it, you have to run the football," said Lapham. "If they are going to play a soft shell coverage you have to be able to run the ball and force them to put more people in the box."

But in the first two weeks of the season, the Bengals have not consistently been able to run it. After rushing for 57 yards on 19 carries against the Jets, the Bengals' rushing attack was even less effective against the Steelers finishing with 46 yards on 18 attempts.

"They have a great defense and they played well up front," said left guard Clint Boling. "Obviously we would like to get the running game going more than we did."

With an ineffective running game and a two score deficit for much of the second half, the Bengals were forced to throw the ball on nearly every play.

"When you're averaging 2.6 yards per rush and your longest carry is 10 yards, I can see why (offensive coordinator) Ken Zampese was apprehensive to run," said Lapham. 

The running attack was especially anemic on first down as the Bengals attempted eight running plays and gained 11 yards. That included first-and-goal at the one yard line when Jeremy Hill was tackled for a two yard loss.

"You've got to be able to punch the ball in there," said Boling. "We didn't do a good job in that situation and it probably ended up costing us the game."

"The Bengals were 0-for-3 on scoring touchdowns in the red zone and the Steelers were 2-for-2," said Lapham. "You're leaving points on the field and they're not."

The offensive line does deserve kudos for protecting the quarterback. After surrendering seven sacks against the Jets, the Steelers only sacked Andy Dalton once even though he attempted a career-high 54 passes.

"You obviously want to keep your quarterback as clean as you can," said Boling. "We would rather win the game, but considering the situation we were in, I think we did that as well as we could."

"He didn't get sacked, but he still took too many hits because they have not been able to run the football yet," said Lapham.

Last year the Bengals finished 13th in the NFL in rushing. The year before they came in 6th. After shoring up their pass protection after week one, the challenge for the offensive line now is to open up holes for Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard.

"If not, you're going to have an imbalance in play selection," said Lapham. "Against Pittsburgh it was 54 passes and 18 rushing attempts. You can't do that on the road against a Super Bowl contender. The Bengals are going to have to continue to sharpen things up front and make sure they're a dual threat."

"We have to watch the film, figure out the mistakes we made, and clean it up," said Boling.

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Cincinnati Bengals take on the Pittsburgh Steelers in week 2 of the regular season 9/18/2016

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