The Cincinnati Bengals defeated the Buffalo Bills in overtime by a score of 27-24 on Sunday. The hobbled Bills threw everything they had at Cincinnati and played a hard-fought game throughout. The Bengals prevailed—albeit, by the skin of their teeth.
Over the duration of the contest, the Bengals had some severe ups and downs on both sides of the ball. Certain areas showed positive signs of improvement; however, other units remain questionable.
Cincinnati now holds a 4-2 record and sits atop the AFC North in sole possession of the division lead for the first time this season. Let's take a look at how the team performed on Sunday to get to that milestone.
When speaking of up and down games, look no further than quarterback Andy Dalton. The third-year quarterback showed glimpses of stellar play, but also continued to make several rookie mistakes.
Dalton continues to hold on to the ball for a little too long in the pocket and was sacked three times for a loss of 19 total yards. However, the offensive line held up nicely for the quarterback and he was able to take advantage with some quick passes to his weapons.
The Bengals utilized Dalton perfectly on Sunday. Again, they limited his deep attempts and relied heavily on short-to-intermediate routes. Bubble screens to wide receivers and running backs were used early and often, which caters well to Dalton's skill set.
For the second straight week, Dalton made a very poor decision that resulted in an interception when he was picked by Jim Leonhard late in the second quarter. These mistakes will continue to limit Dalton as a passer at the NFL level.
Overall, Dalton finished with solid numbers. He completed 26 of 40 attempts for 337 yards, three touchdowns and one interception for a passer rating of 105.9.
Quarterback Game Grade: A-
The Bengals continued to run the ball effectively against the Bills, as establishing the run was a priority for the second-straight week. Of the 41 rushing attempts by the Bengals, BenJarvus Green-Ellis saw the most work, carrying 18 times for 86 yards for a 4.8-yard-per-carry average.
Green-Ellis showed some fantastic vision on Sunday and was able to find openings along the offensive line to allow him to reach the second level on numerous occasions. His long run on the afternoon was of 25 yards, as he showed an explosiveness we had not seen from the veteran ball-carrier yet this season.
It was a different story for rookie Giovani Bernard. He carried a total of 15 times, but only managed 28 yards on the ground—good enough for just 1.9 yards per carry.
Where Bernard lacked on the ground, he made up for it through the air. He was second on the team in receiving yards, catching six passes for 72 yards and adding a score. This is the versatility that makes Bernard such a dangerous weapon for the Bengals.
After all is said and done, the Bengals managed to total 165 yards on the ground as a team. Quite an impressive feat for a team that was only averaging 99.4 yards per game entering the contest.
Running Backs Game Grade: A
A.J. Green finally had the type of game that is expected of him each and every week. The All-Pro wide receiver put up 103 yards on six receptions and added a fantastic touchdown grab on Sunday. Green did suffer from a couple dropped passes, but had an overall stellar performance.
Second-year receiver Marvin Jones stepped up in a big way against the Bills and showed that he can be a viable target for Dalton going forward. Jones caught three passes for 71 yards and a score, and added one carry for 34 yards. He showed off his big-play ability and made a case for more playing time going forward.
Mohamed Sanu flashed his reliability as a possession receiver on Sunday. He caught five passes on six targets for 44 yards, recording some tough receptions.
Overall, the wide receivers were involved early and often. They were asked to do a lot of work, as a good chunk of their yardage came after the catch. This group is extremely talented, and it showed on Sunday.
Wide Receivers Game Grade: A
The tight ends were not featured in the passing game against the Bills. The Bengals preferred the matchups they had on the outside rather than inside against Buffalo's talented linebackers. Because of this, Cincinnati's tight ends were used as decoys or blockers for the most part on Sunday.
Rookie Tyler Eifert recorded two receptions for 13 yards, and Jermaine Gresham caught two passes for five yards. These are not the big numbers that the tight ends have been recording to this point in 2013; however, these down games will happen from time to time depending on the game plan.
Neither tight end made a crucial mistake over the course of the game, and they held up nicely when used as in-line blockers. Despite only showing up in a limited fashion on the stat sheet, neither player was a disappointment on Sunday.
Tight Ends Game Grade: B
The offensive line had their work cut out for them on Sunday, as the Bengals came in with a run-heavy and screen-heavy game plan. These big men were forced to cover a lot of ground against the Bills and they were up to the challenge.
Constantly being able to get down the field in a hurry, Andrew Whitworth and Co. provided great blocking in the screen game and sprung the Bengals offensive weapons frequently.
Against the run, the right side of the line was absolutely stellar, and opened up gaping holes for Green-Ellis to exploit on the ground.
Despite concentrating on these aspects of the game, the line still held up nicely in pass protection. Dalton was sacked three times, however, part of the problem there was the fact that the quarterback continues to remain hesitant in the pocket.
This offensive line is starting to jell as a unit, and will provide a great amount of stability for the Bengals offense for the remainder of the season.
Offensive Line Game Grade: A
Facing a mobile quarterback is tough for any defensive line. However, if one line is going to get the job done, it's the Bengals. Defensive end Carlos Dunlap was everywhere on Sunday. He continues his stellar pace after signing a new contract over the offseason. Dunlap recorded five tackles, one sack and two tackles for losses over the course of the game.
Of course the dominance of defensive tackle Geno Atkins was on display yet again. Regardless of being constantly double teamed, Atkins was able to be a huge disruption. He recorded six tackles and a half sack on Sunday. His presence was frequently felt by Thad Lewis, as he hit the quarterback three times.
Wallace Gilberry continues to impress, as he recorded another sack on Sunday. He now has three sacks on the season.
The Bengals defensive line sacked Lewis a total of four times on Sunday—the fifth sack went to linebacker James Harrison—and recorded a total of 10 hits on the quarterback. That kind of dominance in the trenches would rattle any quarterback, let alone a backup making his first start for a new team.
Defensive Line Game Grade: A
As per usual, linebacker Vontaze Burfict led the team with 11 total tackles—including one tackle for a loss—against the Bills. He continues to show up everywhere on the field and is turning out to be one of the NFL's elite at the position.
Middle linebacker Rey Maualuga was relatively quiet on the stat sheet, recording four total tackles. However, what does not show up is his vast improvement in coverage. Maualuga had a key play early in the game when he stayed on his assignment on a Bills' fourth-and-goal which led to a sack of Lewis and a turnover on downs.
James Harrison does not see much time on the field these days, as he is only used in certain packages. However, his presence was felt on Sunday. Harrison recorded three tackles, one sack and two tackles for losses in limited reps. That is exactly the kind of production the Bengals were hoping to get out of the veteran when they signed him over the offseason.
The one hiccup for the linebackers came on a Bills touchdown, when tight end Scott Chandler was allowed to run free up the seam. That resulted in a very easy six points for Buffalo. There were multiple players at fault, but it all started with the linebackers failing to drop into coverage.
Linebackers Game Grade: B-
This was the unit that really could not seem to put it all together on Sunday. The secondary seemed to be caught off guard by the solid play of Lewis at the quarterback position. Adam Jones and Terence Newman were beaten on a constant basis by Buffalo's talented wide receivers. Leon Hall played a solid game, but is still recovering from a hamstring injury.
Jones was absolutely the worst of the bunch. He was getting beaten so badly that he had to revert to intentional pass interference just to stop a potential big play over the top of the secondary.
Newman played slightly better, but had his hands full with Marquise Goodwin, who got the best of the veteran corner on more than one occasion.
Hall contained Robert Woods nicely on Sunday, but T.J. Graham and Goodwin each recorded big receptions of 47 and 40 yards, respectively.
Lewis threw 32 passes, completing 19 for 216 yards and two touchdowns for a passer rating of 100.5. The Bengals secondary is good enough to completely take advantage of a young, inexperienced passer like Lewis. They just could not put it all together on Sunday and it almost cost them the game.
Secondary Game Grade: D+
The special teams unit had a solid outing against the Bills. Punter Kevin Huber continued his stellar play, recording a 41.2 average on a total of five punts. Even more impressive is that the end result of three of those punts were downed inside the Bills' 20-yard line.
Brandon Tate had a solid game returning kicks. He averaged 25.8 yards on four kickoff returns—a solid performance—and returned one punt for 29 yards, putting the Bengals in great field position.
Kicker Mike Nugent was the wild card on Sunday. He missed an early field goal attempt that almost came back to haunt the team. However, he was able to atone for his miscue and ended up kicking a 43-yard game-winning field goal in overtime.
Special Teams Game Grade: B+
The usual errors by head coach Marvin Lewis and the Bengals coaching staff were prevalent on Sunday. The team fumbled with personnel changes and burned timeouts because of it. Also, penalties haunted the team once again. The Bengals totaled eight flags for a loss of 78 total yards. The team keeps beating itself in this regard.
Aside from the mental errors, the game plan is what saved the game for the Bengals.
On the offensive side of the ball, coordinator Jay Gruden came in with a solid plan. He established the run very early, and used running back screens and bubble screens to wide receivers as an extension of the running game. This made Dalton more effective as a passer and resulted in 27 points on the board.
Defensively, coordinator Mike Zimmer had a noticeably sound game plan; however, the execution just was not there. The defensive line did its job and applied constant pressure on Lewis. However, the man coverage did not hold up in the secondary and the team gave up some big plays to an inexperienced Bills offense.
Overall, the coaches' strategy paid off with a victory, and that is the most important end result.
Coaching Game Grade: A-