Even though he was only a second round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, Giovani Bernard might be the best running back coming out of his class, looking efficient and capable both in the running game and with his touchdown catch that won the game for the Cincinnati Bengals, getting their first win of the season a week too late.
Despite the problems the Pittsburgh Steelers have on offense, they’re still a tough team to beat, holding on despite the Bengals putting up 407 yards of offense in their 20-10 win. They couldn’t sack Andy Dalton or really halt the running game (127 yards), but they did a great job in getting stops when they needed them, delaying the inevitable end.
Bernard was the star of the win thanks to his two touchdowns: The first came at the end of the first quarter, as his 7-yard run capped off an 87-yard drive for the Bengals. The second was as a receiver, making his only catch of the day also the most meaningful, putting the Bengals back on top with a 27-yard touchdown reception, giving them the 17-10 lead midway through the third quarter.
Finishing with 38 yards on the ground and 27 in the air don’t show excellence, but what his yards meant in the end, more than anyone else put in, meant he deserved to be recognized as the hero for the Bengals’ debut win of the season. In Bernard’s nine touches during the game, the Bengals averaged 7.2 yards per play. On the other 70 plays they ran, they averaged only 4.9, showing just how much of a pace-changer Bernard can be when compared with BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
Bennie’s kind of the tone-setter and the guy that runs really physical, but then Gio, man, he gets in there and they can’t find him. Bernard did the things that we expect him to continue to do. He had the great catch-and-run. He had a big run earlier, and then Bennie comes back and finishes it off. It was a good job by the two of them.
Andy Dalton was extremely effective in the short passing game, completing 17-of-20 passes for 5 yards or fewer downfield, gaining 134 yards on those plays. He simply didn’t try to do anything complicated, relying on the ability of Bernard and his receivers to make things happen on their own, which included the touchdown by Bernard in the third quarter. He did have one big throw to Tyler Eifert for 61 yards, which is also the second longest completion of his career.
The rest was the defense. They sacked Roethilsberger a couple of times and shook him up a few more as well, with Michael Johnson being extremely difficult to stop for the Steelers. They forced a fumble out of David Paulson, but the key was making Roethlisberger look bad.
He was sacked or put under heavy pressure in 11 of his 40 dropbacks, resulting in 1-of-9 for 1 yard and the interception by Reggie Nelson on those plays. With the Steelers unable to protect their quarterback from an aggressive pass rush, it was only a matter of time before one of the little plays the Bengals insisted on sticking to became something a lot bigger.