Bengals vs. Bills: Takeaways from Cincinnati's 27-24 Victory over Buffalo
It was a thrilling contest for Cincinnati, a team that had failed to win a road game entering the contest. While Cincinnati looked sloppy in the second half and surrendered a 14-point advantage, the Bengals pulled it out in overtime.
Interestingly enough, this major victory potentially reveals more about the team than Cincinnati's major win over New England a week ago.
Here are the biggest takeaways from the Bengals win at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday.
Discipline Remains an Issue
Entering the contest against Buffalo, the Cincinnati Bengals had experienced their fair share of minor issues such as alignment, penalty issues and poor game management from the coaching staff.
While these sound like things that can easily be cleaned up after a month of football, Cincinnati clearly still struggles in some areas.
One such area is penalties. Cincinnati was flagged eight times against Buffalo, and it cost the team 78 yards. The main culprit was linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who was flagged for three personal fouls of the 15-yard designation.
Regardless of whether the calls were right or wrong, it's still a black eye on a very positive performance. One penalty knocked the Bengals back and caused Mike Nugent to miss a field goal, which in turn caused the huge momentum swing that allowed Buffalo back in the game.
Penalties remain an issue in need of fixing.
Run Defense Cannot Afford to Start Sloppy
Simply put, the Cincinnati run defense was horrific in the first half as the duo of C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson had little issue finding room to operate.
As the Bengals official Twitter account points out, the team gave up over 60 yards in the first quarter alone:
All 3 Bills RBs churning out the yards on the ground. BUF with 60 rushing yards already. #CINvsBUF— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) October 13, 2013
With all due respect to Buffalo, that would be a major issue against a better team. Buffalo ended the day with 130 yards rushing after Cincinnati cleaned up the issues in the second half, but a better team will take advantage and not let up.
It's a strange issue to see from what is typically a dominant Cincinnati defensive front, so don't expect the issue to linger.
Pass Rush Is Dominant No Matter the Personnel
This one should come as no surprise, as Cincinnati faithful have seen names such as Frostee Rucker and Jonathan Fanene look great in the Bengals scheme before going on to fail elsewhere.
Still, it was alarming to see the Bengals lose defensive end Wallace Gilberry early as detailed by ESPN's Coley Harvey:
#Bengals DE Wallace Gilberry has a forearm injury. His return is Questionable.— Coley Harvey (@ColeyHarvey) October 13, 2013
Despite Gilberry's absence, Carlos Dunlap and Co. continued to have little issue rushing the passer.
Even better, Gilberry returned to record a sack of his own later in the game. Carlos Dunlap, James Harrison and Domata Peko also recorded sacks of their own on the day, while the combo of Geno Atkins and Brandon Thompson combined for another, giving the team five total.
Marvin Jones Is the Answer Across from A.J. Green
The quest for a No. 2 receiver opposite A.J. Green in Cincinnati may be officially over.
Cincinnati came out firing in the first half, and it was second-year wideout Marvin Jones who answered the call and had little issue exploiting a shaky Buffalo secondary.
By the end of the game, Jones had caught three receptions for 71 yards and a touchdown on five targets. Interestingly enough, Jones was only the fourth-most targeted player, but the designed plays to get him the ball in space speak to how much the coaching staff likes what Jones brings to the table.
There are plenty of weapons on the Bengals offense, but in a game that heavily favored wide receivers over the two dynamic tight ends, Jones shined the brightest behind Green.
Andy Dalton Is Very Much a Game Manager
Make no mistake—Andy Dalton had a great game and led the Cincinnati Bengals to a win over Buffalo on Sunday, but looking at the statistics alone does not do his performance justice.
Look beyond the stats, and one thing is very apparent—Dalton is the definition of a game-managing quarterback.
Yes, Dalton threw for 337 yards and three touchdowns with just one interception, giving him an outstanding 105.9 rating by day's end.
The problem is, much of Dalton's production came on passes behind the line of scrimmage or no farther than five yards down the field. Kudos to the coaching staff for realizing the Bills had a weakness to screens but also for recognizing that asking Dalton to throw the ball down the field consistently is just too much.
Dalton's touchdown pass to A.J. Green was a beautiful throw, but as good as that was, it's negated by yet another horrific interception where Dalton simply threw the ball into the gut of the defender after locking on to his first read.
Therein lays the crux of the problem—Dalton does not make many reads, if any on a given play. It's designed that way because of his limitations, which is fine because when it's going good, it's great.
There's nothing wrong with being labeled a game manager. But expecting Dalton to become anything more after four years as a starter in college and three years as a pro is beginning to look alarmingly unrealistic.
Coaching Decisions Improve, with One Glaring Exception
The past few weeks have not been kind to the Cincinnati Bengals coaching staff, especially on the offensive side of the football.
Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has been blasted, and rightfully so. This week Gruden managed to get things together and put together a brilliant game plan.
Andy Dalton was hardly asked to throw the ball down the field. Instead, Dalton was spoon-fed a large amount of screen passes and dumpoffs no more than five yards down the field, and it resulted in an outstanding outing that was detailed earlier.
Gruden also utilized every weapon in the book, which resulted in eight different players recording a reception and the backs rushing effectively for over 160 yards on the day.
The only mishap surprisingly came from the defensive side of things courtesy of coordinator Mike Zimmer, who thought it would be wise with a little over a minute to go to drop defensive end Carlos Dunlap into coverage against tight end Scott Chandler.
Chandler torched Dunlap for a 22-yard touchdown reception as a result.
Outside of that, it was a solid effort from the coaching staff all around.
Secondary Injuries Persist
The Cincinnati Bengals got No. 1 corner Leon Hall back this week but proceeded to lose two more in the contest against Buffalo.
Hall played a great game, but as Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer documents, the Bengals lost No. 2 corner Terence Newman to an injury during the contest:
Newman with a hip injury. Return is questionable— Joe Reedy (@joereedy) October 13, 2013
As if that weren't bad enough, the team also lost second-year corner Dre Kirkpatrick to an issue late in the game as illustrated by ESPN's Coley Harvey:
Now Dre Kirkpatrick goes down with an apparent injury. He's back on the sideline.— Coley Harvey (@ColeyHarvey) October 13, 2013
As it seems to always be the case in Cincinnati, secondary health is shaky at best, and the team is not exactly deep at the cornerback spot. It was enough to get by Thad Lewis and the Bills, but more depth may be needed in the coming weeks.
Bengals Are Still Young and Lack Consistency
The Cincinnati Bengals now sit atop the AFC North with a 4-2 record heading into a matchup with the Detroit Lions.
As great as the Bengals have looked at times this year, more consistency is needed if the team is serious about taking the next step.
Allowing 14 straight points in the second half to a Buffalo team led by an undrafted free agent who has one career NFL start under his belt is not a way to inspire confidence.
While Cincinnati came out firing in the first half offensively, the calls and performance seemed to suggest the team became a bit complacent after the half. Not to mention Cincinnati is just three weeks removed from dropping a game to Cleveland while not scoring a touchdown.
There is a lot to like about the Bengals this season and things are certainly looking up, but Cincinnati must find a way to keep the ball rolling consistently to make a big splash en route to the postseason.
Follow B/R's Chris Roling on Twitter for more news and analysis @Chris_Roling