It wasn't the prettiest of wins, but the Cincinnati Bengals won on the road again Sunday to get to a 5-2 record. The term "Cardiac Cats," as used during Cincinnati's 2009 season, seems to be back in full force in the Queen City these days.
For the most part, it was a rather complete performance by the Bengals squad. This was encouraging to see—for much of the season, it has seemed like there was always a gaping hole in the team, and that hole changed based on which game you were focused on.
On Sunday, the Bengals took care of business in Detroit, but will that mean high grades for everyone?
Let's not forget about the guys that generally do realistically decide how games turn out, and those are the guys kicking the ball.
For the second consecutive week, Mike Nugent had to boot a lengthy kick through the uprights to earn Cincinnati the victory. It's true that Nugent missed a field goal early in the game, but in the end, you can't discount what he has done over the last couple of weeks.
Given that Matthew Stafford threw for well over 300 yards in the game, you'd think that the cornerbacks would get a pretty low grade. To quote Lee Corso, "Not so fast."
Yes, Stafford and Calvin Johnson had pretty good games. What is telling about the corners in the game is that Stafford completed just under 55 percent of his passes. He completed 28 out of 51 throws.
It's true, he overthrew some of his targets, but all in all, Terence Newman and Adam Jones did a good job of holding the fort down, especially following the injury to Leon Hall. The unfortunate takeaway, however, and I don't think it's news to anyone, is that Jones, Newman or Dre Kirkpatrick are all incapable of covering the league's more talented receivers.
For games to come, that won't fly, but for the game against Detroit, they kept everyone except for Megatron in check.
The safeties for the Bengals look to be greatly improved in 2013, which is ironic considering the lack of new faces. Reggie Nelson and George Iloka aren't good enough in coverage to make Ed Reed-type impacts, but they are great tacklers that can stop a play in its tracks.
Iloka finished the day with six solo tackles, finishing just behind Vontaze Burfict for the game high, and Nelson finished with four of his own, though he missed parts of the game due to injury.
Additionally, Chris Crocker and even Taylor Mays looked good in this game. They combined for only three solo tackles, but both men made their presence felt on blitzes and in coverage across the middle.
It's not often the safeties get much attention, but they appeared a lot on my TV screen.
This season, Vontaze Burfict has been a one-man highlight reel, having already recorded 74 total tackles, an interception and a sack. The beat rolled on on Sunday, as Burfict recorded 13 total tackles.
Past Burfict, the middle of the Bengals defense continues to have question marks. Rey Maualuga, who looks better than he did last year, will always be suspect in coverage and did allow a touchdown to Brandon Pettigrew. To his credit, he racked up four tackles of his own.
And then there's James Harrison, who for the seventh consecutive game was a non-factor, recording only one tackle.
A lot of big plays were allowed across the middle. All three of these guys are capable of tackling, but they will eventually have to be effective covering the middle of the field. That means guys like Reggie Bush should be contained.
Domata Peko, Brandon Thompson and especially Carlos Dunlap made differences in the game. Dunlap was the guy who got into the backfield and blocked a David Akers field-goal attempt, which had he not done, this game would have been way different.
The line really didn't get much pressure on Stafford for much of the game. No sacks were recorded and he rarely was even pressured. The good thing for them is that Reggie Bush, as a whole, was contained. He's never been considered much of a runner anyway, but he's having a career year and this line held him to only 50 yards on the ground.
Geno Atkins and Michael Johnson, often considered the two studs of the Bengals' incredible front four, were noticeably absent in terms of effectiveness. There were no tackles between the two of them. I'll chalk that up to a bad game, and Johnson has been struggling with injuries—it will get better.
The offensive line, by my measure, has been a pleasant surprise in 2013. I wasn't a huge fan of Clint Boling coming in and I've always been critical of Andre Smith. Both have been very good so far.
As far as the game in Detroit went, the line protected Andy Dalton wonderfully, especially considering the line they were facing. The only blemish of consequence was a late-game sack that forced the Bengals to punt the ball away.
In the end, Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley were largely kept at bay, and that's a feat worth respecting.
It's been a long time coming, but Tyler Eifert finally caught his first career touchdown in Detroit, capping off what would've been an otherwise pedestrian day.
Eifert only caught three passes for 45 yards and Jermaine Gresham had four catches for 64 yards, making him the second-leading receiver on the day. In the passing game, the two tight ends combined to make a big impact in the end.
Unfortunately, two big penalties on Gresham almost cost his team. As a veteran, he should know that an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in a big situation can be extremely detrimental to his team.
Luckily for him, his and Eifert's stats were big in the game today, so their grade won't be diminished too seriously by Gresham's transgressions.
A.J. Green was once again the standout wide receiver for the Bengals in Week 7, reeling in six catches for 155 yards and a touchdown. For much of the game, Green had good separation from the Lions defense and didn't seemingly have trouble escaping them.
Marvin Jones (four catches, 57 yards) also made an impact with a touchdown of his own, but besides Jones and Green, the receivers were mostly quiet—Dane Sanzenbacher and Mohamed Sanu caught a pass each.
There are no issues whatsoever in giving Andy Dalton several targets to throw to, but it's becoming clear that Jones may be the only other receiver that can get good separation from the secondary. Sanu has had an issue with that thus far. In short, with Dalton being a questionable passer at times, the receivers not named A.J. Green have to be able to step up effectively.
In Detroit, the performance was admirable and certainly helped the Bengals towards a W.
If any part of this roster proved to be almost completely ineffective against the Lions, it would be the backs. Giovani Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis combined to carry the ball 17 times for a measly 51 yards.
Luckily for them, Andy Dalton picked up the slack, and you can't fully blame them for having to face one of the best front fours in the NFL. However, the Bengals of the last couple seasons are not strangers to being without a running game, and the lesson they learned is that you don't win championships without them.
A game like this was bound to happen for the Cincinnati backfield, but it would be deadly if it becomes a habit. I expect Bernard to find his holes and Green-Ellis to bowl through more defenders next week against the Jets.
Amidst continuing criticism and speculation about his effectiveness as a quarterback, Andy Dalton delivered yet another solid performance in an effort to silence his critics. As he did last week against Buffalo, Dalton threw for over 300 yards and tossed three touchdowns.
Sure, he still had his overthrows that made you wonder what in the world he was doing, but he managed to hit a couple deep balls in this game. Any sign of upward movement for Dalton is good right now.
As I predicted he would, Dalton shredded through the Lions defense and moved the ball downfield very well. All signs from the last couple of weeks point to good things going forward for the Red Rifle.