Now that the Cincinnati Bengals have defeated their division rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers, the team can focus on what needs to be done in preparation for not only the Green Bay Packers, but the long run at the AFC North Championship (sorry Steelers fans, you can give up now.)
But first, there are a few keys points to Monday’s 20-10 win over the Pittsburgh Roethlessburgers. If some of you think this year’s Bengals’ team is going to win it all by this point, you’re probably not chemically balanced and need some help.
1. Andy Dalton
I so wished that this season would be the one where the Bengals’ third-year quarterback shows all the analysts and doubters that he is the big-game thrower this team needs. If you just crawled out from under the rock, or you’re a Cincinnati fan still stuck in baseball mode – and I don’t blame you one bit – after the playoff meltdown to Houston in January, the biggest critique for the Bengals was Dalton and the deep ball (actually the lack thereof).
I’ve said it, Cincinnati media said it, ESPN, even the clerk at Pottery Barn said it – Andy Dalton can’t throw the deep ball. In all fairness Dalton can launch a deep throw and often times A.J. “superman” Green will catch it, but how much of that is Dalton and how much of it is Green? Answer is, Green helps hide a lot of Dalton’s short comings
Monday night Dalton was 25 of 45 for 280 yards and one touchdown. Although he didn’t turn the ball over, Dalton was very inaccurate in the first half of the game, even on short-to-medium routes which are his bread and butter.
After Monday, Dalton’s average passes per game is 39. There is no reason, especially with the running game shaping up, that Dalton should average 39 passes a game, much less the 45 he threw against Pittsburgh.
The only catch is that when facing teams like the upcoming game against the Green Bay Packers, who rank almost last defensively in passing yards and total yards – 359 yards (31) and 458 yards (30) respectively – and are much better at run defense, Dalton might have to air it out more. It’s a scary proposition, given that the more Dalton passes, the more the Bengals offense is exploited. But if the Dalton keeps his passes at the short and intermediate levels, he might win this.
There is going to be a clinic put on Sunday, and it isn’t going to be the Bengals’ offense. Aaron Rodgers and his 819 passing yards, seven touchdowns, one interception and a boisterous 127 percent passer rating, might be having a field day with the Bengals’ secondary. Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t spectacular in Monday’s game, going 20 of 37 for 251 yards with a touchdown and an interception. A good reason for these un-Roethlisberger numbers are because of the inexperience of the receiving corps around him, the very porous offensive line for the Steelers, and the pressure the Bengals’ defensive line was able to put on him.
Other than that, the Bengals’ secondary, including linebackers, wasn’t very good against a very poor offense. If it wasn’t for Adam Jones’ forced fumble after a Roethlisberger 34-yard pass to Dennis Paulson in the first quarter, the game might have gone to the Steelers. After the turnover, Dalton and the Bengals’ offense was able to turn in a scoring drive thanks to an uncovered TE Tyler Eifert who got a 61-yard pass on a go route.
Other than Jones’ force fumble. The secondary was quiet besides a Reggie Nelson interception that was gift- wrapped on a tipped ball by Todd Haley that didn’t come until late in the game when the Steelers were pressing.
With Adam Jones being injured on Monday (he has had limited practice since) and second-year player Dre Kirkpatrick most likely out with a hamstring injury, the Bengals’ secondary resembles the sketchy group from 2012.
3. Go Gio Go
The biggest surprise (or maybe not) in Monday Night’s win was Giovani Bernard. Scouts, players, coaches, and everyone else raved about this nimble, quick, shifty running back that was going to be a difference maker for the Bengals. And he showed us all why on Monday.
Bernard may not be a power back that explodes between the tackles, but in all reality, that is a dying breed. Instead, Bernard is elusive and can avoid open field tackles the way he did Monday night, dissecting last season’s top-ranked defense in the Steelers. Although Bernard only gained 38 yards from scrimmage on Monday, that came on eight carries which gave him a 4.8 yard average per carry. Let’s not forget that he also caught an important check-down pass from Dalton at the Steelers’ 27-yard line in which Giovanni stretched the field and went to the end zone untouched.
It would be beneficial to the Bengals’ offense and the team’s playoff chances if they get the ball to Bernard more often. He is that much of a game changer, especially on passing downs. When opposing defenses have to account for A.J Green, Tyler Eifert, Jermaine Gresham, the second receiver (Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu), and Giovani Bernard – someone is going to be open.
Keep the ball from Aaron Rodgers.
The Bengals’ secondary is beat up; the Green Bay Packers’ just isn’t very good – it just isn’t.
This is why if the Bengals are going to win Sunday against the Packers, it will be the intermediate and short-field matchups that are going to keep the Bengals’ offense on the field. The Packer’s linebackers – actually, any NFL linebackers – are not going to be able to account for Cincinnati’s tight ends. Throw Giovani in there and this team can pass its way to victory and the playoffs.
Aaron Rodgers is going to have a field day with the Bengals’ secondary. With Geno Atkins getting his first sack in Pittsburgh and the rest of the Bengals’ defensive line shaping up, it will be interesting to see if they can get pressure on the quarterback and stop the Packers’ hot offense.
But no matter how good Cincinnati’s defense is, Rodgers will score. So the Cincinnati offense will have to win this game, and there is only one way – Bernard and the short game.
With Cincinnati’s defense still getting into a grove, the new defense might just be the offense. If Dalton throws 45 passes against Green Bay, game over. The Bengals have only won two of eight games in which Dalton has thrown 40 or more times in a game. If Dalton tries for the deep ball, which is not working for him this year, game over.
If Dalton targets Gresham, Eifert, and Bernard often, then the Bengals can control the clock while moving the ball. Going tit for tat against Rodgers would be football suicide, so the Bengals have to keep him on the sidelines.
This is a hard game to determine. Both teams are coming off convincing wins, and are starting to come together on both sides of the ball.
If the Bengals choose to air it out a la Packers, it will get ugly. Control the clock and the ball at home, and the Bengals pull through.
It’s a close call, but Rodgers just might be the answer to the Bengals defense.
Packers win 27-24