That breeze that blew through Bengaldom this week wasn’t a tornado, but a collective sigh of relief as the team managed to—just barely—beat an outmanned and outgunned Browns squad at PBS in the home opener. The Bengals were able to win the game while allowing rookie Brandon Weeden to put up 322 yards passing, and making rookie running back Trent Richardson look like Jim Brown. In short, it got the job done, but wasn’t nearly what we hoped.
Through two games, we see some trends emerging:
1. The offense is coming along.
2. The special teams are solid to say the least, and sometimes superlative.
3. The defense, thought to be the team’s strength, has been putrid.
Putrid might be too nice a word. Pathetic is more like it. Both Ray Rice and Trent Richardson have shredded the front seven, and the secondary has scorch marks on their backs.
As good as this offense can become, they can’t win shoot-outs every week. Mike Zimmer needs to pop the hood and get to work—and fast. RGIII is the next challenge du jour.
But winning still felt good, and with that, I’ll pass along this week’s hit list:
Since we got a “W” we’ll start with the heroes:
Heroes—These Bengals shined in Sunday’s win:
- Adam Jones: Jones got the Bengals on the board early after first Browns possession ended with a punt. He fielded the booming kick at the 19-yard line, juked the initial rush, then darted down the left side to pay dirt. The touchdown on special teams was ultimately the difference in the football game (as sad as that sounds). He had two other solid punt returns, as well as a 31-yard kick-off return. All that earned him AFC Special Teams player of the week honors. The former Pacman seems to have his head on straight and is staying healthy. If that trend continues, he’ll be extremely helpful for field position and continue to serve as a capable nickel back.
- Andy Dalton: Despite taking some sacks he shouldn’t have, the Rifle played a very solid overall game. He finished with 318 yards and 3 touchdown passes to three different receivers. He also showed poise in the pocket, and versatility outside of it. He got all of his receivers involved and displayed plenty of arm strength on the deep throws, including a 44-yard bomb to Brandon Tate. Dalton’s up for FedEx Air player of the week.
- Andrew Hawkins: Baby Hawk continues to impress. The guys is a gamer and came through in a big way again on Sunday. With Dalton flushed to his right, Hawkins shook free of his man, squatted in a passing lane, caught the short laser from Dalton, then used incredible short-area quickness and agility to maneuver around a half dozen would-be tacklers on his way to the end zone. Big ups to Brian Leonard for a heck of a block on the play as well. The touchdown early in the fourth quarter made it a two-score game and gave the Bengals some breathing room. Hawk only had one other catch on the day, so I think there’s still lots of juice yet to squeeze out of this playmaker.
- Armon Binns: Tate had the touchdown catch, but Binns was the starter and played a strong game as the second receiver with 5 catches for 66 yards. He did a great job beating the press on one play for a first down, and showed some good athleticism out there. He also earned some tough guy points after taking a hellacious shot to the head on a crossing route over the middle that should result in a fine. Of course there was no penalty called, even though it was more egregious than even a Taylor Mays shot.
- Michael Johnson: The undersized end from Georgia Tech was a warrior Sunday and the only defensive player worthy of recognition. With Carlos Dunlap deactivated and Jamaal Anderson hurt, Johnson played an incredible 90% of the snaps on defense, and recorded a sack and a big fumble recovery when the Browns were driving into Bengal territory.
Goats—These Bengals need to play better
- Rey Maualuga: This dude is just not getting it done. I don’t know if he’s overthinking, or not getting the right coaching, or if he’s just overrated and not ready to be the leader of the defense. The bottom line is he needs to get better fast, or its time for the Burfit Regime to take over.
- Jeff Faine: Our new center had problems all day with the Cleveland DT’s, resulting in at least 2 sacks/pressures on Dalton. As Center, he’s responsible for calling the blocking, and when your QB takes six sacks, it’s safe to say it wasn’t tight enough (though Dalton shares some blame).
- Jermaine Gresham: 4 catches for 37 yards. Not good enough for a first round pick and the first TE picked in a draft with Gronkowski, Hernandez and Graham. He did make a big third down conversion at the end of the game, but juggled it and could have very nearly been incomplete. While the young receivers are stepping up, Gresham isn’t doing enough out there.
- The Secondary: It’s hard to single out any individual player. No one looked particularly good. I saw wide open Browns receivers, blown coverages, and poor tackling all day from this group.
Game MVP: Andy Dalton
Over 300 yards and 3 touchdowns, a 77.4% completion percentage, 10.3 yards per attempt and a whopping 128.2 passer rating. Good stuff. His one interception was on a tipped ball. A great bounce-back game after the Monday Night debacle.
Random Observations: No haikus
- As nice as Brandon Tate’s 44-yard catch was, he continues to frustrate me as a kick returner. He seems oblivious to the odds of returning a kick from 8 or 9 yards deep, and just isn’t very fast or quick. The way he carries the ball makes me cringe too.
- With Jamaal Anderson now down for the year, the injuries keep piling up. We’ve lost his contribution on the defensive line, along with two expected starters on the offensive line in Travelle Wharton and Kyle Cook, plus our best linebacker in Thomas Howard. It’s tough to replace all of those key contributors so early in the season.
- Meanwhile, defensive stalwarts Carlos Dunlap, Pat Sims, and Jason Allen have yet to play a down, and our top draft choice, Dre Kirkpatrick is still sidelined. It looks like all but Kirkpatrick and Sims (who’s on PUP) will be ready for Washington, which is huge.
- Lastly, the replacement referees continue to struggle. They did a terrible job again on Sunday throughout the league. They should get better over time, but they look completely in over their heads.