Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports
The Bengals forgot to apply the "stick 'em" this week, as players on offense and defense couldn't hang on to the football. It proved costly.
Earlier on Monday, our own Josh Kirkendall wrote an excellent piece encapsulating the Bengals' futility in the red zone on Sunday against the Cowboys. In that same spirit, I decided to reassess Cincinnati's situation with a multitude of dropped passes. Kirkendall noted some of those costly drops on offense in his piece, but those weren't the only instances that they took place.
On offense, I count six passes (at least) that should have been caught. Kirkendall talked about three of those six drops, with the most slack given to Jermaine Gresham and the hit he endured on his reception attempt. There were three others of note as well. The killer was that most of the sis drops were in critical third down situations.
A.J. Green, who likely endured his worst game to date, had two drops on the day and they were both on huge third down situations. The first was the big third and goal bobble that Kirkendall referenced and the other was on a pretty solid pass by Andy Dalton on a third and ten late in the game. Green sort of slid to his knees and the ball bounced right off of his chest for a mammoth incompletion. The Bengals were then forced to punt and their grip on the game loosened a little bit more.
Not only did Andrew Hawkins have a drop in the red zone on a third down late in the second quarter, but he had one across the middle on a third down as well. FOX's Brian Billick made the observation that Dalton and his receivers looked out of sync all afternoon, be it quarterback leading a receiver when they sat down in their route or vice-versa. This other Hawkins drop proved Billick's point, but the ball was still very catchable.
Another drop on offense was quite as costly. Marvin Jones had a pass bounce off of his shoulder for the second time in as many weeks, but because of a hit-to-the-helmet penalty, the play didn't hurt the Bengals. If you watched the replay where it showed the hit to Jones' head, you'll see a catchable ball go right through Jones' arms, hit him in the back shoulder and fly incomplete.
Now, we all know that defensive backs don't have the hands of wide receivers. That's why you hear the tongue-in-cheek phrase "that is why he doesn't play receiver" after a drop by a player in the secondary. The Bengals had at least two, if not three, Tony Romo passes that should have been intercepted. They weren't.
The elder statesmen of the secondary, Terence Newman and Nate Clements, both had their respective opportunities to help seal the game with interceptions. After not getting pressure on Romo early on, Cincinnati's impressive defensive front starting imposing their will. That's when opposing quarterbacks have been getting into trouble with the Bengals, as usually errant throws are made to avoid the pressure. Romo offered up two or three such throws on Sunday.
Newman made a great break on his play, one in the third quarter, and leaped up for the ball only to see it go right through his arms. Clements also made a nice diving attempt for a wobbler, but it too fell through Clements arms in the fourth quarter. At the very least, these interceptions would have allowed the Bengals to chew more clock and remain in control of the game. Then again, they weren't catching easy passes on offense either, so that not may be wholly true.
Blame could be placed on the poor weather, Green's illness during the week, or any other variables. The truth is that these drops signaled a lack of focus and/or preparation and that is a recipe for beating yourself in the NFL.