In the next few days there will be plenty of Bengals fans jumping ship. A post on this site even professed to having given up hope for the season after one bad half of one game. Don't get me wrong, I saw the same pitiful performance as everyone else, but here are some good omens for the near future...
- They kept fighting. Despite being out-manned and out-schemed the entire first half, Marvin managed to keep the team's collective head in the game; everyone played better in the second half, with the exception of the kick coverage.
- Only 5 penalty yards. Aside from Michael Johnson's illegal touch on the onside kick, the only flag the Bengals drew was a false start from Dennis Roland. Considering the environment at Gillette stadium on opening day and our recent history, I am pleasantly surprised.
- Production from the newcomers. Gresham officially arrived as advertised in his first real game and scored the first TD of the year. It's nice to see an immediate statistical return from the teams top draft selection for a change. The first round gem as well as T.O. and Shipley were all heavily involved throughout the game. Geno Atkins even got some snaps in and registered a QB hurry.
- 22 and 85 are in top form. Johnathan Joseph gave Randy Moss hell today, keeping one of the league's most prolific TD machines for the last three seasons (47) from getting deep. Moss did catch a few short routes and ended the day with 5 catches for 59 yards, but his rant after the game left me with the impression that Joseph seriously frustrated him. Ochocinco shined with T.O and the rest of the Superfriends as his supporting cast. Chad caught 12 of the 13 throws he was targeted on and put Chris O'Donnell to shame as Robin. As the team's top playmakers on either side of the ball, having these two start out hot is a definite plus.
- Alfred will have some monster games. After the abomination in the first half, Palmer adjusted well to the Pats defensive shifts and engineered three touchdown drives. Great quarterbacks do occasionally make bad throws, ask Tracy Porter and Peyton Manning. I saw two from Carson today: the low interception meant for a tightly covered Gresham and a ball way ahead of Dan Coats the sloth. During the second half Palmer spread the ball all over the field. Anyone who says Carson isn't a great QB is drinking too much while they watch. Playing against Belichick, possibly the trickiest defensive mind in the game, at New England on opening day is a tall order. To focus this perspective with yet another Peyton Manning comparison, the Colts also scored 24 points and lost on the road today (to Houston). Are Indy fans shouting for a mutiny?
- The offensive play-calling was diverse. If not for a lack of execution the first few drives could have been much more productive. Owens dropped the first pass, a long sideline attempt, but I liked the call. I'm also pretty sure that Dan Coats would have actually caught and converted the 3rd-and-2 lob that Palmer badly missed. A fumble by Benson and the Palmer pick shut down other drives as well. With all the new weapons it'll be tough for Bratkowski to be predictable.
- Nugent earned a stripe. The Nooj went 1-for-1 on a 54-yarder and hit all three of his PATs.
Of course I also have some major concerns. The first two quarters of today's game can't be forgotten.
- Dhani is sloppy. The traveling man spent the game chasing after receivers he had failed to cover. He also badly whiffed on a tackle at the line early on. The team fields him for his heads-up playing and intelligence, so where is it? If we can somehow replace Dhani's pre-snap alignment savvy they should move Maualuga inside now.
- Underneath pass-coverage was atrocious. An extension of Dhani's failure was letting Brady complete so many passes underneath and across the middle of the defense in general. I don't doubt any of the secondary covering on the deep ball, but are they doing so at the cost of adequate short coverage? Tackling errors also contributed to too many yards after the catch for these inside receivers, but Welker, Kevin Faulk, and the two rookie tight ends Hernandez and Gronkowski had a relatively easy time finding soft spots against the safeties and linebackers.
- The D-line was blanked. The best thing that any starting D-lineman did today was sub in at fullback (Peko for Gresham and Benson's TDs). Odom was getting some push but because no one else was getting even a whiff of the line of scrimmage they simply double-teamed him all day. The Carlos Dunlap era may soon begin at left defensive end if Geathers continues to disappoint, the youngblood is a second round pick after all.
- The O-line looked weak. The struggles had in protection didn't surprise me nearly as much as the absence of the power run-game. Just like Peko and Tank on defense, Cook and Livings were struggling to move the interior. Bernard Scott's elusiveness helped him escape a couple of backfield tackles and Cedric had mostly quality runs, but the holes were collapsing along the line.
- T.O. had a case of the drops. The reception and yardage totals say that the Ocho was the number one receiver but both he and Owens were each targeted 13 times. Owens, with several drops, caught only seven of his share.
We all knew the opener at New England... against Cheatin' Bill... against Tom Brady... against Kevin Faulk and Vince Wilfork... would be a test, and that it was. Keep your chins up Bengal fans because they fought back. The Bengals ended the game a better team than when it started, and they'll begin the Ravens game progressing in the right direction.
And by the way a Cincinnati Bengals tight end was targeted 10 times in one game... whoa