What an uncharacteristically gritty win for a Cincinnati Bengals franchise that isn't quite akin to them. If you've been around this city long enough, you know for a fact that yesterday's game was just waiting to deliver that swift quick to the groin.
Maybe you thought it was coming following the Gresham penalty that resulted in a missed field goal. Maybe it was the catch straight out of Madden 25, where Calvin Johnson jumped over three professional NFL defenders to haul it in, because his "spectacular catch" rating is the best in the video game. Or maybe it was the six-minute drill offense that stalled and handed Matthew Stafford, aka the World's Largest Manufacturer of Third Downs, the ball, essentially inviting him to lead one more drive that would end the game.
But it didn't happen. Despite numerous chances awarded to the Lions, the Bengals did what needed to be done and ensured the team's second consecutive victory on the road while gaining another game on the Browns and Ravens. Below are some areas the Bengals excelled in, as well as some areas the team would like to improve:
1) Vontaze Burfict may be the greatest thing to happen to this Cincinnati defense since Mike Zimmer accepted the job. Once again, the freakish middle linebacker leads the Bengals in tackling this game, as well as the Detroit Lions for that matter. In fact, if we're discussing Vontaze Burfict, we're officially discussing the NFL's leading tackler. Think Marvin Lewis and Mike Brown are feeling extra vindicated this morning?
2) Andy Dalton is serving up targets like a soup kitchen. In Buffalo, nine different targets. In Detroit, seven - and all seven had a reception. The third-year quarterback averaged about 10.9 yards a pass, threw for 372 yards, three touchdowns and finished the game with a QBR of 92.8.
3) Did we witness Marvin Jones' coming out party? The Bengals have been waiting for a capable second option that can be relied on when AJ Green is buried with extra attention. The receiver reeled in four of his six targets, including an 12-yard impressive touchdown grab. Dalton must have felt comfortable with Jones because he only saw two fewer targets than Green. If Marvin Jones can offer this kind of production on a weekly basis, the points per game should increase significantly.
4) The Bengals dominated the trenches, on both sides. While the Bengals failed to record a sack, it's worth noting that Stafford was hit seven times compared to Dalton, who was only hit thrice, just once for a sack.
5) Mike Nugent has the memory of a Chromebook. Literally, kid misses a 47-yard field goal that would have tied the game on the road in a hostile territory before banging two more, one that tied franchise's longest field goal in history for the win.
Areas Still Needing Improvement:
1) Third down conversion was still relatively poor (4-10, 40 percent); however, on a grand scale, this number is improving. The Bengals are currently No. 9 in the NFL for third down conversion rate. It has't been this high since 2009, Carson Palmer's last year in the playoffs.
2) We keep hearing that the running game is a focal point of this team. According to Geoff Hobson, the Bengals are 16-1 under Dalton when they have thirty carries or more. But despite playing a defense that was No. 24 in rushing yards allowed, the Bengals only amassed 18 rushing attempts. Furthermore, Bernard once again turned in more yards than BenJarvus Green-Ellis despite getting fewer carries. In a game where the Lions dominated clock control, it would have been useful to kill some clock by letting the offense stay on the field and build long, orchestrated drives. But the Bengals do not seem to have that kind of confidence in the running game yet.
3) Andy Dalton under threw several promising opportunities for deep touchdowns. While the ability to throw the deep ball isn't the determining factor of a quarterback, it's a very tangible criticism that isn't leaving Dalton any time soon. He needs to be able to make the defense pay for crowding the box or pressing receivers at the line. He needs to be able to hit guys in stride.
4) Jermaine Gresham needs a reality check. In my opinion, this goes back to Marvin's control of the team. There is no question that guys are buying into the grind, the need to keep shoveling, the need to do one's job. But it's the character some guys illustrate when things aren't going well that make Marvin susceptible to criticism. The offense now has 46 penalties, which accounts for 423 penalty yards (No. 12 in NFL). Gresham is too good of a player to cost his team with such elementary mistakes.
5) For the second consecutive week, and third time this season, the Bengals have surrendered 4th quarter leads. Matthew Stafford and Thad Lewis were easily able to navigate their offenses down the field in a short amount of time. The Bengals secondary is hanging together by stitches right now, but you'd like to finally see this Bengals team decide a game before the last drive of one.