Does anyone have any good recipes for crow? I was way off the mark. Not in the sense that I thought the Cincinnati Bengals would lose to the Jacksonville Jaguars on the road–no, I knew they were the better team and should win these types of games. I was dead wrong about how the Bengals would do it.
The entire squad seemed to show this Andy Dalton-like composure as they proceeded to methodically mow down the Jaguars’ ground game and filet their secondary. It was a statement game for Cincinnati in the sense that there was no fuss and no muss. It was a very yeoman, take-your-lunch-pail sort of victory that solidified the Bengals as a perennial upper-tier team that is sturdy enough to not get toppled by the rebuilding squads.
We have to go to the defensive line first. Where have these guys been? (Oh, injured?) Right, well, it’s nice to see everyone back, in one piece and blind with the need to tear opposing QBs in two. The D-line sacked Blaine Gabbert six times on Sunday, matching their sack total last week against Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins. Headlined by DT Geno Atkins and his 2 sacks, the Bengals defense made it clear that they have awoken and are here to stay. It’s absolutely crucial that the Bengals save this for the hard-to-bring-down, play-extending Ben Roethlisberger as well as Joe Flacco and his no-huddle offense.
The added benefit of the Bengals’ penetrating defensive line is that it masked a sub-par performance from the battered secondary. Jaguars WR Justin Blackmon did heat up a smidge in the 3rd, but quickly receded into a mediocre 48-yard day and Gabbert did look sharp in the early going connecting with TE Marcedes Lewis on a play-action rollout near the goal line. In short, the Jaguars did not have a problem moving the ball on the Bengals secondary when Gabbert had time to throw. After a while, though, the Bengals defensive front seven stopped giving them that luxury.
On the opposite side of the ball, it was business as usual. This season, the Bengals are averaging 28 points a game and they scored 27. Dalton went into Sunday having thrown three TD passes in each of the last two games–he threw two today. RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis went on to have 20-something carries for 70 to 80-some yards. There were two fumbles today after last week’s fumble that snapped a streak of 590 carries without one. Of course, there’s the elevated play of star receiver, A.J. Green.
This Cincinnati squad really does go how Green goes. Green went scoreless in the Bengals’ 44-13 loss in Week 1, but during this three-game winning streak, Green has scored a touchdown in each game and eclipsed the century mark in the last two. Several plays prior to a Dalton 1-yard TD run that would put the Bengals up 17-7, Green kickstarted the initially tepid offense with a 42-yard reception.
The Cincinnati Bengals offense is a Lamborghini right now, and the Dalton-Green connection is the key. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden is often an impatient play caller, so Cincinnati’s capability to dig themselves in a hole early in games is bigger than most teams. They like the luxury of having a relatively reliable tailback, but they will only use him to a point. Also, the Bengals receivers are not short-yardage types. They are race-you-down-the-field types, so the long ball is inevitable.
Going forward, if the Bengals are going to continue this offensive ideology, they will have to prioritize hitting Green and their other wideouts on big plays as a way to settle the offense and keep a comfortably quick pace.
Finally, the glorious elephant in the room: Jags RB Maurice Jones-Drew and his tough day on the ground. Thankfully, the Bengals’ rush defense–which had given up at least 120 yards rushing in their first 3 games –decided to show up against the league’s No. 2 rusher entering Sunday. I can’t truthfully explain how Cincinnati held Jones-Drew to only 38 yards on 13 carries, but I can tell you that, if the Bengals keep up this defensive attack and pass rush, they will be topping league headlines when the first playoff seed projections roll out.
Sure, the Baltimore Ravens still hold the tiebreaker over the Bengals despite being “tied” at 3-1, but the team I saw in Jacksonville today is more than ready for the rematch at Paul Brown Stadium.With a relatively light schedule over the next two weeks, the Bengals could enter Sunday night’s Week 7 match-up against the Pittsburgh Steelers 5-1 and in the AFC North driver seat. If Andy Dalton brings the aerial attack while Geno Atkins leads the pass rush, this is a team that could seriously contend not just for a division, but for a conference.