Is that V for Victory or W for Winner?!
Poise and control. That might be the new slogan for the young Bengals of the 2011 season. When they have it, they have no equal. When they lack it, they remind us of all the wrongs that were dealt upon Bengals nation over the past 20 years.
October 2, 2011 was one of those rare days where both sides of the coin were on display—seemingly Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde within the span of three hours and seven minutes.
The first half was bone-chilling cold, as the Bengals picked up where they had left off seven days prior against the San Francisco 49ers. Yet the second half brought a surge like that seen in Denver against the Broncos—except this time too little too late gave way to victory.
What was the difference 14 days later that allowed the Bengals to snatch victory from the clutches of defeat? What will the young Bengals need to improve upon in order to join the upper half of the NFL?
The following will shed light on what we learned in Week 4 of the 2011 season...
Bengals' MLB Maualuga Takes Bills' RB Jackson to the turf
Through Week 3 for the entire NFL, the Bengals were third in total defense (average yards per game) at 276.3, sixth in average points allowed per game at 18, second in average yards allowed per play at 4.3, fifth in average passing yards per game at 188.3 and seventh in average rushing yards per game at 88.
Though only a few games remain in Week 4, statistically the verdict is in—the Bengals will be the top ranked defense in the NFL on Tuesday morning thanks to total defense (average yards per game) through Week 4 at 275.5 (-.8) which ranks No. 1 in the NFL.
This No. 1 ranking is backed up by continuing at sixth in average points allowed per game at 18.5 (+.5), tied for first (with the Tennessee Titans) in average yards per play at 4.4 (+.1), third in average passing yards per game at 188.8 (+.5) and continuing at seventh for average rushing yards per game at 86.8 (-1.2).
What makes these statistics all the more loftier is that the Bengals are in the wrong half of the NFL in terms of the average amount of time the defensive unit spends on the field per game—at 30 minutes and 58 seconds (13th in the league). An ominous sign if the Bengals cannot get the offense to perform for the entire four quarters—especially starting Week 8, when the team returns to the bulk of their schedule following the bye week.
Dalton looked like he was going to pick right up where he left off in Week 3 against the San Francisco 49ers with a first half that was entirely forgettable. Passing was 7-for-20 with 116 yards to go with being sacked twice and intercepted twice—one of which was not Dalton's fault bouncing off of Andre Caldwell's ankle (after a bobble) and going to a Buffalo defender for a pick six. The lone highlight of the half—in terms of the passing game—was a 58-yard strike to A.J. Green with 2:56 to go in the half (but the next play was the second interception).
Dalton again showed the lack of experience he has shown in every game but Week 1 against Cleveland, in that it takes the first half for Andy to warm up.
The second half had a completely different Andy Dalton come out. For one, the Bengals converted on third down—38 percent in the first half and finishing 5-of-12 for 42 percent for the game.
Dalton led the charge, finishing with 18 completions on 36 attempts for 298 yards including a perfectly placed corner-end zone touchdown pass to the return of Jermaine Gresham for Week 4. Dalton included two key 3-yard dashes of his own, one on the second-to-last drive for the game-tying touchdown and another on the next (and final) drive for a pivotal first-down conversion on 3rd-and-3 to set up the final drive for the game-winning field goal.
Andy showed the necessary poise and control to lead Cincinnati to victory, but needs to come ready to play for the beginning—not the middle—of the game.
With Cedric Benson finally finding that missing step in the second half, and Brian Leonard steamrolling the competition on the final drive of the game, the Bengals found a two-dimensional game in what opponents expected was a one-dimensional Benson backfield.
Add in Bernard Scott and you have the makings of a three-dimensional rushing attack that is sure to confuse the opposition.
Benson compiled 104 yards over 19 attempts for a 5.5 yards per carry average with a long of 28 yards. Brian Leonard saw virtually all of his action on the final drive of the game with 36 yards over four attempts for an impressive nine yards per carry average—including a pivotal 14-yard dash which set up the game-winning field goal.
Yet there was another dimension to the Bengals' running game which the Cincinnati Enquirer's Joe Reedy alluded to...
Dalton can move out of the pocket..
With 52 seconds left, Andy Dalton showed what he can add on the ground as he dashed out of the pocket on 3rd-and-3 to-go to pick up the pivotal first down that allowed the Bengals to finish with relative comfort with little time to spare.
Add to the aforementioned mobility, the prior drive where Dalton pulled a quarterback sneak on the eventual tying score, scrambling three yards up the middle for a touchdown and suddenly the Bengals have shed their statuesque quarterbacking for a sufficiently mobile gunslinger.
A.J. Green added his second 100-yard-plus game of his young four-game career, catching 4-of-10 targets for 29.5 yards per catch average, including one catch over the back of a Bills defender, with a spin and step for 58 yards at the tail end of the first half.
With shoestring catches and acrobatic circus grabs, A.J. Green has brought a dimension back to the Bengals several years removed from a younger, flightier Chad Ochocinco.
Andre and Andy need to work on their short-to-medium game in the slot as their timing is not quite where Jordan Shipley and Andy Dalton seemed to be.
Caldwell continued to be under-thrown by Dalton, or not take in the tough (but position necessary) grabs (one converted for a pick-six interception after bouncing twice on Andre's body). Thrown to five times, translating into only two catches on high-percentage target areas, means there is much work to be done to succeed consistently and create a dynamic passing game.
After being relatively quiet over Week 2 and Week 3, Gresham came back with a vengeance, catching four passes for 70 yards and the lone passing touchdown for the Bengals on the afternoon.
It is clear that Gresham is a key component to the Bengals' short-to-medium range passing game and his performance will speak volumes about offensive coordinator Jay Gruden's West Coast offense's ability to succeed in Cincinnati.
While the cloud of a drug investigation looms over Jerome Simpson's head, aside from a pivotal 17-yard catch on the final, game-winning drive, Simpson was mostly quiet on the afternoon with only two more catches for a total of an additional nine yards.
When Green and Gresham are on, it is apparent that Simpson is the odd man out.
Remember those field-goal kicks which doomed the Bengals against the New York Jets in the playoffs in 2008? You do not have to anymore.
Mike Nugent kicked not one, but two field goals from 43 yards out (the first was called off as the Bills called a timeout in an attempt to "ice the kicker").
Suffice to say, the Bengals won thanks to the dependable leg of Mike Nugent (this coming after tearing his ACL and spraining his MCL in his kicking leg last November).
As long as Nugent stays healthy, the kicking game will only be assumed as successful—not a potentially negative factor.
Two years removed from the Cardiac Cats that could never hold a lead but seemingly came back week after week from disaster, and following a season where the Incompetent Cats could do nothing right as a team, the Comeback Cats are only a few steps from becoming the Consistent Cats of Cincinnati.
Though this season still seems like a rebuild (I dare not say that the playoffs are in reach this season), the Bengals are clearly on the board for 2012—with much more to come in 2011.
Nevertheless, one can dream, as the last time the Bengals beat the Bills was January 8, 1989 at the tail end of the 1988 season.
1988 season in 1989 you ask? That was the 1988 AFC Championship game victory which led the Bengals to the Super Bowl...
(P.S. Congratulations to Marvin Lewis who, with his 62nd victory today, became the coach with the most wins in Bengals history)