Cincinnati Bengals: Week 13 Grades and Analysis
Going to the West Coast is never easy, but the fact that they were facing a team with much more potential than their record suggests made the win much more impressive. The Bengals moved to 7-5 on the season and kept themselves in the wild-card picture in doing so.
They might control their own destiny if they can get to Heinz Field unscathed after playing the Dallas Cowboys this week and Philadelphia Eagles the week after. If that’s the case, the final AFC wild card could be in the balance of the two rivals. That could easily be a contest that comes down to the final possession, as both teams have gotten hot the last few weeks.
For now, Bengal fans should be content with a win to keep up with the division opponent. And all we can hope for is that the team can take care of things that are in their control over the next two weeks. If they don’t, it might not matter what the Bengals do against the Steelers.
One thing we can do is take a glimpse of what the Bengals can improve on. They won the away game against San Diego, which is exactly what they needed.
However, the win was not a dominant one, as the previous four games had been. The offense struggled at times, and there was more than one play that Cincinnati would like to have had back.
As always, the game usually depends on four categories of a team’s performance. Offense, defense, special teams and coaching.
Let’s take a look at the weekly grades for each.
The Bengals Offense
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We'll start with what the Bengals did when they had the ball Sunday.
After three straight games of being best friends with the scoreboard, Cincinnati seemed to be adding yet another as they scored on a 91-yard, sixteen-play, touchdown drive.
The drive featured a big play from BenJarvus Green-Ellis and several strong passes through the air. Of course, the drive was capped with a 19-yard strike to Jermaine Gresham, who sidestepped into the end zone for an early lead.
However, the passing game quickly deteriorated. An Andy Dalton interception was returned for a touchdown to tie the game. Dalton did manage to put decent numbers up in the first half, but punts became frequent, as there was no rhythm to the offense.
The second half was even worse—much worse. The offense struggled to move the football at all, except for late in the fourth quarter. In fact, the passing game struggled more than anything.
The running game continued to flourish as the Law Firm racked up another 100-yard game and was probably the only reason the Bengals pulled this one out.
The Bengals Defense
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The ever-stout defense continued to improve. In fact, over half of the Chargers points came off of a pick-six by Dalton. It was also San Diego's only touchdown, meaning that the Cincinnati defense has given up just two touchdowns in the last four games.
The first half had to have Bengal fans worried, though. Philip Rivers moved the Chargers down the field at times almost at will. Rivers passed for almost 200 yards in the first half alone.
However, half time brought new life to the Cincinnati secondary. Rivers struggled the entire second half with most of his passing numbers coming on a final drive when the Chargers were trying to drive for a game-tying touchdown.
The Bengals defense did force two crucial turnovers and limited Rivers' accuracy to just 54.2 percent, well below his 65 percent completion rate coming into the game.
The Bengals' Special Teams
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The special teams really didn't make any splashes.
In fact, the only play that really stood out was a negative: The Bengals Brandon Tate bobbled the ball on the opening kickoff, forcing Cincinnati to go 91 yards on its TD drive.
Cincinnati didn't break anything out when they received punts. Then again, neither did the Chargers. The kickoff and punt coverage continued to be solid, as it has for the last few weeks.
The main downside is the concussion injury to Dre Kirkpatrick, who has fit nicely in the gunner role on coverage and has had several downed punts inside the opposition's 20-yard line. The Bengals will miss him.
The Bengals Coaching
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Coaching is always a factor in close games.
First, Mike Zimmer made a brilliant adjustment to the Chargers offense in the second half, as he seemed to have an answer for every play San Diego ran. Philip Rivers was limited, and it gave the Bengals the opportunity to come from behind.
As for the play-calling by Jay Gruden? It was decent, although somewhat uncreative. I would have liked to see much more of the deep ball to A.J. Green against a weak Chargers secondary. It would have helped the flow of the offense and would have provided nice set-up plays, since Green-Ellis seemed to be running very well.
There wasn't really any reason to complain with the job Marvin Lewis did, as he was able to coach the Bengals to a win in a close game.
Hopefully, the Bengals can continue to win these close contests, as there look to be at least three of those tight matchups as the regular season wraps up. Whether they go Cincinnati's way will be the determining factor for who wins the wild card.