Rookies make Bengals’ offense tough to stop
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton leaves the field after the Bengals defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 20-10 in an NFL football game, Monday, Sept. 16, 2013, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/David Kohl)
Cincinnati Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis (42) is tackled by Pittsburgh Steelers strong safety Troy Polamalu in the first half of an NFL football game, Monday, Sept. 16, 2013, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Tom Uhlman)
Cincinnati Bengals running back Giovani Bernard (25) scores a touchdown on a 27-yard pass reception against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first half of an NFL football game, Monday, Sept. 16, 2013, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Tom Uhlman)
CINCINNATI – Two rookies are making the Bengals’ offense tough to stop – so long as Andy Dalton keeps his cool
First-round pick Tyler Eifert and second-round choice Giovani Bernard made the biggest plays during a 20-10 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday night that gave Cincinnati (1-1) an early edge in the AFC North.
Eifert caught a 61-yard pass against one of the NFL’s stingiest defenses, setting up the first of Bernard’s two touchdowns. The running back got the second one by turning a short pass into a 27-yard score.
“A lot of weapons, man,” All-Pro receiver A.J. Green said. “That’s the biggest thing.”
Players had the day off yesterday before starting their short week of preparation to host Green Bay (1-1), which is coming off a 38-20 win over Washington. One focus will be to keep the momentum going on offense.
The Bengals’ only glaring problem on Monday night was Dalton’s inconsistency. He was coming off one of the best games of his three-year career, completing 78.7 percent of his throws during a 24-21 opening loss in Chicago.
Against the Steelers (0-2), he missed his first three throws, twice overshooting an open receiver. Dalton was so revved up for the game that his aim was way off.
“I had a lot of adrenalin going, and the balls were sailing a little high on me at the beginning of the game,” Dalton said. “I came back and played a lot better in the second half, and we did what it took to win the game.”
Dalton finished 25-of-45 for 280 yards with the one touchdown to Bernard and no interceptions. His passer rating of 81.7 was the best in his five career games against the Steelers, who usually get him out of sync with their blitzes.
And it wasn’t just the passing. The Bengals also ran for 127 yards and finished with 407 total yards.
They’re the first team to get 400 yards on the Steelers in a non-overtime game since New England had 453 yards during a 39-26 victory on Nov. 14, 2010, at Heinz Field, according to STATS LLC. Last year, Dallas had 415 yards in a 27-24 overtime victory at Cowboys Stadium.
What the Bengals did on Monday night was rare.
“If you can run the ball well against this team, you can run the ball well against a lot of people,” left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “So to be able to run the ball well, it says something about the team’s potential. Even in years when we’ve run the ball really well, we’ve had a tough time running it against them.
“It’s definitely exciting. We have a young nucleus that’s back and has a (promising) figure ahead of it.”
Whitworth returned after missing much of training camp and the season opener with knee problems. Although Dalton repeatedly got hit while throwing, he wasn’t sacked. And the line provided plenty of openings in the fourth quarter, when BenJarvus Green-Ellis carried 13 times and the Bengals drained the clock.
“We’ve got a good group,” Whitworth said. “And if we can continue to do things right, we can be really good.”
The Bengals lost in Chicago because of turnovers and penalties. They thought they should have gotten more than 20 points against the Steelers, a sign of how they’ve raised their expectations on offense.
“In the first half, I don’t know how many plays they made to stop us as much as we had incompletions and miscommunications,” Whitworth said. “The truth is, we consider it a bit of a sloppy effort.”
Sloppy, yet successful.