How did Gomer Pyle used to go? Surprise, surprise, surprise. Or was it completely a surprise today? Since the home team has won every game in the Bengals-Giants series, I guess it wasn't a complete surprise. It was a good week to get untracked against a team that is in a worse slump than us right now. They're missing on all cylinders and are recovering from being hit by a hurricane. Doesn't get much worse than that. A couple of recent Lombardi trophies do help to soothe the pain, however.
What we realized today is that the Bengals could and did snap out of it -- like a guy coming out of a hypnosis session completely cured of his ills. And now we're about to find out whether there remains any hope for 2012. I had already tossed in the towel but was mildly convinced by the FOX crew today that there is a sliver of a hope if the Bengals, now 4-5, can somehow get to 10-6. That probably means running the table vs. KC, Oak, SD, Dallas & Philly followed by a split against the finales in Pittsburgh and at home against Baltimore. And then it may also take some help given our current 2-5 AFC record that leaves us pretty vulnerable in tiebreakers. The above scenario would leave us 6-6 in the tiebreaker scenarios. But which teams are going to do better than that? As I noted prior, the key to the playoffs really is being 2nd in our own division. So we must watch Pittsburgh closely and hope that we can jump back in front of them. We're two losses behind them, while they play Baltimore twice in the next four games. To get in front, we'd have to beat them at Heinz in December and then get the requisite help from other teams against them. No need to try to figure it all out ... the point really is that any hope comes from winning a lot of games in a row.
But was the game today a new, real trend or a one-week mirage? We're gonna talk about that below.
PRIOR 5 OVERRIDING THEMES
1. Personnel Issues @ RB, #2 WR, LB & S: Today we saw some glimpses that RB-by-Committee with Green-Ellis & Peerman (and a dash of Leonard) could work. However the necessary starting point for this is to have an established, effective passing threat. Once the D has to move a guy out of the box, we can run. With a guy in the box, we are limited. It's that simple; we are not a power running team...yet. While none of us are going to swear on Binns or Tate (and I think Binns is toast when Kyle Cook returns), it's clear that Sanu is emerging. His TD catch in the 2nd half was something we haven't seen here in quite a while with respect to body control and a go-and-get-it attitude. Sanu displayed excellent body position and strength on several of his catches to the point that he was looking like a potential second coming of Housh the Douche (san-u the douche.... if you got that pun, good for you). Now if we can work Whalen & Marvin Jones in there, we will really elevate our receiving threats. At LB we continue to like what we're seeing from Lamur, while Maualuga continues to elevate his game. Rey will never be consistently dominant and will always be a liability in pass coverage.... we'll see on this one. But we didn't see Lawson much (at all?) today and didn't miss him either. Finally, I have a theory on this Safety deal that goes like this: Crocker and Mays make a nice match because Mays needs a Big Brother that Crocker can be (but that Nelson cannot be). Crocker accentuates Mays' athleticism by helping keep him lined up and mentally prepared. We still have a problem, however, in that Crocker is limited physically. For right now he's our new version of Dhani Jones.
2. Leadership ... Is It Emerging?: Not sure. One game does not a trend make. The coaching staff did a much better job of pushing the game into a series of high probability successes, so their end is improving. I don't have a lot of faith in Maualuga. I'm okay with his penalties. The pass interference was a bogus call as was the unnecessary roughness, but both showed him getting closer to opponents and exerting his will, both great signs. I'm just not sure that this is a sustainable deal for him. On O I think Dalton continues to make good decisions and really saw the field quite well today. Dalton struggles in the relative quickness of his decisions, but that continues to improve. I think he has to work on his body language just a tiny bit... he tends to wear his negative emotions on his sleeve when coming off the field after a missed opportunity and doesn't realize that teammates see this and are transmitted a bad message.
3. Offensive Performance: Already noted that it was done better today. We had a good game plan that accentuated stringing together high probability outcomes. Now that has to happen every week. We probably have one more game to lose (max). BTW, would be best to lose one of the remaining games to an NFC team if we have to lose one.
4. Key Players Who Will Determine Our Fate: This assumes that guys like Green, the OTs, Dalton, Hall, Burfict and the DL will continue to keep pace. Gonna have to get more from the combo of Sanu/Jones at WR #2 along with continued improvement from Gresham. Looks like Trevor Robinson is our Home Boy at OC... did a really nice job today from what I could see. And to round out the O, I think we're gonna have to get 5-8 good carries a game from Peerman to keep the running game where it needs to be. Pat Sims did show that he is a valuable contributor, but we'll need to figure out how Still, Thompson & Gilberry fit into the DL rotation as they all are good players. I think we will have to get continued steady play from Mays in rotation with Nelson (at this point I think Crocker brings us the best defensive package even though he isn't the best physical specimen at Safety). Finally, I think we'll need to ease Kirkpatrick into the games thereby lowering Newman's snaps and moving some of Clements' snaps to Safety (maybe in a veteran rotation with Crocker). I have given up on Allen as a total loss, but it's possible that he could also emerge as a DB contributor.
5. Is It Over Already?: Last week it was from an apparent mental standpoint. This week it isn't even though the physical window is very small. But the only sure way we go to the playoffs is to win the rest of the games to finish 11-5. A 75-80% probability comes with finishing 10-6. We have maybe a 15-25% chance of making it at 9-7. We're 4-5 but might have have just gotten a tune up. Would take a monumental effort and a complete change of weather. But the Fat Lady has not sung yet.
NEW THEMES TO CONSIDER
* Mohammed Sanu: I'll just say again that he looked awesome today. Great field sense, body position, strength.
* Gresham: Now I'm seeing that our success with him revolves us putting him in situations in which he excels. It was the first time we saw Dalton go Tony Gonzalez with him on that TD pass which is essentially indefensible. That ought to be used 10 times a year here. I don't think Gresham will ever run like a FB with the ball, but we need to go with what he can do (because it looks to be pretty special). Also, Orson Charles is also contributing which opens up a lot of possibilities down the road.
* Trevor Robinson and young Interior OL: Put Cook back in with these three and, I think, you have something really exciting for a while to come. Pre-season some were ranking our OL as top 3-5, and I think that was too high (due to problems with run blocking). By the end of the season we could get there with continued improvement and Cook back.
* Geathers: really surprised me today with his QB pressure. I'm not sure if the Giant's RT is struggling physically because Geathers showed some speed rush that he hasn't shown much prior to today.
* Defensive Strategy: here is hope that Zimmer is finding a good mix to the batter. It has been a tough season for him to figure out how things mix-and-match with a lot of unexpected changes. We are getting some unexpected addition from Lamur and are finding that Clements & Newman do better when we add a pinch of pass rush pressure. As negative as I have been about Pat Sims, he showed that his presence does make a significant difference in run D.
* Just this last philosophical question: Why do the Bengals always have to hit bottom before they'll put out max effort? I was reading Paul Daugherty's column today where he talks about the organization's tacit acceptance of sub-optimal results, how Marv Lewis turned that around in his first 3 years here and how that symptom seems to have returned. Anyway, this is the thought that limits my ability to get too excited about today. We have seen this before. But we have also seen recent teams like the Steelers, Giants and Packers limp through the early season and then win the Super Bowl. Those aren't my expectations for the 2012 Bengals in any respect. I'm just saying that teams can suddenly find themselves and turn things around unexpectedly. We know that we have a good mix of talent and potential, but the latter ingredient has to continue to rise dramatically now. Otherwise, we will soon be talking about next year without any reversal in the very near future.