Bengals vs. Lions: Takeaways from Cincinnati's 27-24 Victory over Detroit
For the second consecutive week, the Cincinnati Bengals were able to win a game in dramatic fashion via a late field goal from Mike Nugent to finish a game 27-24.
This time the Bengals were on the road in Detroit and proved more than capable in the face of much adversity, including a swath of injuries that hobbled the roster.
While the Bengals allowed Matthew Stafford to go for over 300 yards passing, which is the first time the defense has allowed that to happen in 20 games, it was Andy Dalton and the offense that kept pace en route to a big win.
Cincinnati remains alone atop the AFC North at 5-2. Here's a look at the biggest takeaways from the impressive victory.
A.J. Green Is Unstoppable
A.J. Green went off for 135 yards and one touchdown against Detroit on Sunday.
In the first half.
As SportsCenter documents, Green was the main weapon Andy Dalton used to expose a weak Detroit secondary:
A.J. Green: 135 Yds Every other Bengal: 61 Yds A.J. Green: Beast— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 20, 2013
Green finished with 155 yards and one touchdown on six receptions, once again proving just how dangerous the Bengals offense can be.
We've seen offensive coordinator Jay Gruden stay away from Green in the past in favor of other receivers, a running back focus or even a tight-end heavy approach. It adds an unpredictable element for opposing defenses going into each week, but one thing's for sure—Green remains one of the deadliest weapons in the NFL when he is the focal point of the offense.
Bengals Offensive Line Is Elite...
The Cincinnati Bengals offensive line entered the contest against Detroit as one of the NFL's best all-around units.
Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), the Bengals ranked No. 7 overall in pass blocking efficiency and No. 6 overall in the run.
That said, Andrew Whitworth and Co. faced a tough task against Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and others. As ESPN's Coley Harvey points out, things went well:
Really gotta credit #Bengals offensive line. Unit has done a great job protecting Andy Dalton today. Suh, Fairley haven't really factored— Coley Harvey (@ColeyHarvey) October 20, 2013
Cincinnati was more than up to the task, as quarterback Andy Dalton was sacked just once in the contest (albeit at a costly time late in the game, but once nonetheless).
It's simply another impressive performance in a long line of similar outings this season now that Whitworth is back and fully healthy. As far as overall units go, it's far and away the most consistent on the Cincinnati roster.
But Helped by a Stellar Game Plan and Execution from Andy Dalton
When things are going good for the Cincinnati offense, they're great.
We've seen in the past (see Week 4 against Cleveland) when offensive coordinator Jay Gruden brings a questionable game plan that Andy Dalton suffers as a result.
Gruden was on his game Sunday against Detroit, repeatedly attacking the weak Detroit secondary, and especially corner Chris Houston, who ranks as the No. 88 corner in the NFL per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Most importantly, outside of putting points on the board, the quick-trigger offense where Dalton makes limited reads and gets rid of the ball quickly makes the lives of the offensive line much easier.
Together, Cincinnati was able to muster 421 yards of total offense without turning the ball over on the way to a major road victory. For the second time in as many weeks, the coaching staff put together a great plan strongly executed by Dalton.
Running Game Non-Existent by Design
At first glance the lack of a running game via the combo of Giovani Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a bit concerning, but the good news is that's the way the coaching staff wanted things to shake out.
Cincinnati only rushed the ball 18 times. Bernard saw seven carries for 27 yards, while Green-Ellis saw 10 24.
For one, if the Bengals had not horribly lost the time of possession battle, the numbers wouldn't be so slanted in favor of the passing game, which saw Andy Dalton throw it 34 times.
More importantly, coordinator Jay Gruden and Co. were right to go after a miserable secondary. Detroit had no answer for the talent Cincinnati brought to the field in the passing game, so there was no reason to switch it up after this realization struck the Bengals.
The running game in Cincinnati is just fine—but only when it's needed.
Injury Woes and Maturity Issues Persist
Cincinnati has consistently struggled with injuries and a bit of a maturity issue at times this year. Both reared their heads against Detroit.
The most notable injury was suffered when cornerback Leon Hall went down with an Achilles injury in the first quarter as illustrated by ESPN's John Clayton:
Bengals down now 4. Devon Still (elbow) and Leon Hall (Achilles) Reggie Nelson just got hurt trying to tackle RB. J. Gresham in lockerroom.— John Clayton (@ClaytonESPN) October 20, 2013
Fans will remember that Hall went down with a torn Achilles in 2011 on the same leg.
The other issues are also highlighted above by Clayton as Devon Still left the game, as did Reggie Nelson, albeit briefly.
Tight end Jermaine Gresham also displayed a lack of maturity when he slapped an official's arm away and drew a 15-yard penalty, which resulted in a missed field goal from Mike Nugent. Late in the game with two minutes left, Gresham jumped offsides on a 3rd-and-1 attempt with the game tied.
All in all, the Bengals were able to overcome injuries in Detroit, but that battle is just getting started if Hall and others must miss extensive time. As far as the maturity issues go, things were better outside of Gresham's antics.
We'll see how the team deals with that in the coming days.
Defense Struggles When Spread Out
Detroit had little issue spreading the Cincinnati defense out and taking advantage of a unit that struggled in coverage.
Cincinnati has no quality options when it comes to coverage linebackers, which is why safety Taylor Mays serves as the nickel linebacker in passing situations. The Bengals were also forced to throw veteran safety Chris Crocker in the slot after Leon Hall exited early with an injury.
As a result, Detroit was able to go 13-of-19 on third down (including three touchdowns) and hold onto the ball for over 34 minutes while moving up and down the field for 434 total yards of offense.
Simply put, the Bengals need to find help at cornerback, because plenty of teams will see how effective Detroit was in moving the football and adapt a similar strategy against the Bengals.
AFC North Football Is Still a Thing in Cincinnati
Any time a team loses the time of possession battle by a double-digit margin in the first half, that team is typically the loser.
Except Cincinnati. The Bengals wound up losing the time of possession battle 34:32-25:29 but were able to pull out the major win once again.
Cincinnati once again went away from running the football early and often, which resulted in the disparity. The Bengals only managed 21 plays in the first half.
Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden instead elected to exploit a questionable Detroit secondary, which worked wonders for the most part. That said, it won't work against better defenses in the future.
Despite the performance in Detroit, the Bengals are very much a classic power-running AFC North team when they want to be.
Cincinnati Can Win Without Relying on Defense
The most important takeaway is a simple one. For years the Cincinnati Bengals have relied on the defense to drag the offense along en route to a victory.
That was far from the case Sunday.
Without corner Leon Hall, the Bengals gave up 434 yards of total offense. While the unit won't always be tasked with stopping a Calvin Johnson, the offense more than proved it can win games in the face of adversity and a struggling defense.
As shown in consecutive weeks now, Andy Dalton and the offense can carry the team to a win if the game plan is right. The Bengals have grown as a team over the past few weeks, and much of what has improved the most in that time span is how the coaching staff uses its talent.
With things seemingly figured out, Cincinnati is a very difficult team to defeat.
Follow B/R's Chris Roling on Twitter for more news and analysis @Chris_Roling