The Steelers' defense allowed an uncharacteristically high number of points, but much of it was set up by four turnovers, poor special teams play and another poor performance by the offensive line.
The defense was asked to compensate for a poor performance by the rest of the team, but this time it came up short.
The Bengals scored four touchdowns with the help of two long kickoff returns and two interceptions. Their longest drive was 79 yards, which ended with a 43-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Houshmandzadeh in the first quarter. The Bengals also drove 46 yards for a field goal to open the second half.
Those were the only drives that can be pinned solely on a Steelers defense that allowed the Bengals 324 yards of offense, 55 below their season average.
Yet, the defense took the blame.
"Very bad day for the defense," said safety Chris Hope. "We were inconsistent in our tackling; we gave up a big play in the passing game; third downs and a couple plays we were out of position, we weren't communicating well. We just didn't help the offense today."
Coach Bill Cowher lamented his team's poor play in the red zone. Only once did the Steelers hold the Bengals to a field goal. Twice, the Bengals scored touchdowns after converting third-down plays. Rudi Johnson ran four yards on third-and-2 from the five to set up one score. On another third-and-5, Carson Palmer passed for a 6-yard touchdown to T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
On the one field goal, Brett Keisel deflected a third-and-five pass intended for a wide-open Chris Perry. The Bengals settled for a 30-yard field goal, but it wasn't enough for a defense that finished last season as the top statistical unit in the league.
Does this defense, which ranked eighth coming into the game, still have that 2004 swagger?
"No," said linebacker James Farrior. "We're not playing good right now. I think we're just making too many mistakes. It's one guy here, one guy there; we can't get off the field on third down; missing tackles. It's rough right now."
Farrior might be symbolic of a defense that's fallen from great to good. Last year's runner-up to Ed Reed as NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Farrior has only one sack, one pass defensed and two forced fumbles for the season. Last year, he finished with three sacks, four interceptions, eight passes defensed, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.
The defense as a unit isn't matching its big-play output. The near miss by Polamalu on the Bengals' last series is just one example. Last year, he intercepted Palmer, his old friend, and ran him over at the goal line for a game-clinching touchdown. On Sunday, the Steelers didn't force a turnover and managed only one sack of Palmer for a five-yard loss.
The Steelers managed to turn Bengals deep threat Chad Johnson into a non-factor. He caught only five passes for 54 yards with a long gain of 19. However, for the second week in a row, the Steelers allowed a quarterback to compile a 100-plus passer rating. Palmer's rating of 101.5 follows Peyton Manning's 102.9. They are the only quarterbacks to cross the plateau against the Steelers this year, and it might be an alarming trend.
Of course, both quarterbacks are Pro Bowlers, but the other common ground is the abnormal cover-2 defense they dissected. The game plan allowed the Colts' Edgerrin James to rush for 124 yards and Rudi Johnson to rush for 98.
"I don't know how to explain it," said linebacker Larry Foote. "We've got to nip that in the butt."
On Sunday, the defense couldn't even get its clichés right.
Bengals shred Steelers
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