I can't remember a time when the Bengals won games and a majority of the people said, "yea, but" in response. Hey man, the Bengals beat the Lions. "Yea, but, our offense sucked." Hey man, the Bengals beat the Browns. "Yea, but the Browns suck." Hey man, the Bengals swept the Ravens, Steelers and beat a possible Wild Card team in Green Bay. "Yea, but a bounce in any of those games could have gone either way and we could have lost it."
Paul Daugherty wrote, "If the goal is to make the playoffs, no problem with 2-1 in the last 3 weeks. If it's something more, something needs to change." Chick Ludwig wrote "But let's face it... The Bengals won two of three from the league’s dregs — a loss at Oakland followed by triumphs over Cleveland and Detroit."
In all honesty, I can see the point. Most of us think that the Bengals should have averaged a margin of victory well into the 30s against the Browns, Lions and, yes, the Oakland Raiders. But if you take an honest look at the Bengals offense, they're not exactly designed to win by 30 points, much less score 30 points. Only twice have they reached 30 points or more. Before Sunday's 23-13 win over the Lions, the Bengals scored less than 20 in four straight and six of the past seven games. Including the Lions, the Bengals have scored more than 20 points five times this season -- all of which are wins.
Note: In three losses this year, the Bengals have turned the ball over nine times. In their nine wins, they've turned the ball over 10 times.
But how important is it to blow away lesser opposition? In terms of the standings, it doesn't mean a thing, provided you win those games.
The 9-3 San Diego Chargers beat the Oakland Raiders twice this year; neither win by more than one possession. In week one, the Chargers needed to march 89 yards with 2:30 left in the game on Oakland's defense, down by a field goal. In week eight, the undefeated Indianapolis Colts had just taken an 18-14 lead over the San Francisco 49ers entering the fourth quarter, hanging on with a good defense in the end (sound familiar?). Indianapolis beat the Jaguars, Dolphins, Texans (twice) and Ravens by less than a touchdown. The prolific New Orleans Saints needed overtime -- and a fumble -- against the Washington Redskins to keep an unblemished record while barely beating the 1-11 St. Louis Rams 28-23 in week ten.
The Bengals are not unlike other successful teams this year. Granted, the Colts and Saints are undefeated and the 10-2 Minnesota Vikings finally played their worst game against a good and aggressive Arizona Cardinals team who wanted to remind people that they were the defending NFC Champions. But only the Colts, Saints and Vikings sport a better record than the Bengals in the NFL.
|Defense in last six games|
However, what the Vikings, Saints or the Colts don't have is Cincinnati's defense. As of Monday morning, the Bengals sport the league's fourth overall defense, the best scoring defense and Cincinnati's offense is one second away from having the best average time of possession in the NFL -- Bengals average 33:58 of offense; the Patriots average 33:59. Furthermore, Cincinnati allows the least amount of third down conversions in the NFL and only 16.4 first downs allowed per game (second in the NFL).
So the question isn't so much how this offense gets better -- or how obsessed we are that it should be picture perfect. The question is how great is this defense playing and will it have enough steam in the post season?
Furthermore, games against the Lions, Browns and Raiders did not come with time warp technology showing exactly how the Bengals would play against the Vikings, Chargers, Jets, Chiefs, Colts, Patriots, Broncos (again) or Jacksonville. Cincinnati's game plans, against the past three games, were geared towards running the football against rush deficient defenses. And for the most part, it worked.
Brian Billick was definitely right about one thing during Sunday's broadcast. This Bengals team isn't just about being a potent offense anymore. It's about a powerful rushing attack and one of the league's best defenses. No this style of play doesn't help with all of our weakened heart conditions, but it does win football games. And that's what you want, right?