3 Things to Be Concerned About: Pre-Playoff Edition
The Cincinnati Bengals have a lot of things to be excited about. For the most part, this season we have seen a football team that has relied on good defense and special teams. The offense made some big investments prior to this season that gave us a lot to be excited about. Throughout the season we have seen flashes of brilliance from them--along with some inconsistent play. One thing is for certain, when this team is hitting on all cylinders they can compete with any team in the NFL. I would go as far as to say--when everyone is playing well--they can beat anyone in the NFL. With all that said, we are headed in to the playoffs with a lot of questions about this football team. We are left scratching our heads this morning, wondering if we really have a dominant team. As soon as we believe the defense and special teams are going to lead us to the promise land. They allow a bad Pittsburgh Steelers team a 21 point lead in a losing effort last night. This is a concern; however, defense and special teams have been the most consistent thing about this team throughout this season. They have been this teams identity, so I'm not concerned about that as much as I am 3 others things. The defense and special teams will bounce back.
The big questions for me: Are Marvin Jones and Mohammed Sanu really as good as we'd like to believe? Can Andy Dalton perform well when the lights are on and all eyes are looking at him? And the biggest concern I have is wondering if this team is going to lose its momentum when it counts the most, much like we have seen in the past.
First up, why does it look like Andy has nobody to throw the ball to?
Marvin Jones and Mohammed Sanu collectively have 974 yards receiving. Marvin Jones busted out of nowhere against the Jets to set a franchise record 4 touchdowns. Together, they have 82 receptions this year. If you combined these guys in to one player, you would have a real threat opposite of A.J. Green. I think this is a part of the problem. It seems to me, in the case of Jones, he has only really showed up in one game and you could say they would have won that game minus his 4 touchdowns. Sanu has often made his impact via gadget plays. Though it's no small feat, neither has posted a game with double digit receptions. We need someone that can pose that much of a threat, when they are given one man to beat the majority of the game. This makes Andy's job much easier and gets a lot of attention off of Adriel Jeremiah.
While it's good to spread the wealth around in a complex offense, doing it this much poses no REAL consistent threat to the defense outside of A.J Green. It does not work if guys aren't getting open. When you throw the tight ends in to the mix, the production is passed around so much, the defense is able to focus on A.J. Green, and isn't worried about the others at all. It's pretty simple, these guys just aren't taking advantage of single coverage and getting open consistently. Too many times you see Andy Dalton looking down field, and he either forces it, or takes a sack. One of two things is happening here, either Andy is not seeing who is open, or nobody is open. Either way you look at it, it's something to be concerned about. Somebody needs to emerge as a Houshmanzadeh type of player for this football team. I'm starting to wonder if we shouldn't be looking in the draft or in free agency next year for that somebody.
Can Andy Dalton perform well when the lights are on?
Andy Dalton is the biggest hot button topic among the fan base. It splits us like more than anything should split a fan base. Those whom support Dalton often cite statistics, point to the rest of the team's poor play or use comparisons to other QB's around the league to say, "See he's not so bad." Those whom are against him say he doesn't pass the eyeball test, he can't throw the ball deep, and he doesn't have the temperament to be a starting QB in the NFL. There is no doubt his performances have been inconsistent. When the guy is on, the team looks unstoppable. It is really hard as a fan to see these flashes of greatness; only to be mixed with mediocrity and sometimes awfulness, while everyone is watching. It leaves you wondering what will be of the future. It feels like a fight between two players. You wonder when one is going to stomp the other out and take a hold of this human being. Personally I believe the confusion has a pretty simple explanation. Dalton flops when all eyes are on the stripes.
As Bengals fans we have seen him rout teams when playing at 1:00 and 4:00 o'clock. In his rookie season we seen him beat the Seahawks 35-12, last year a three game stretch against the Giants, Chiefs, and Raiders resulted in a combined score of 93-29, along with a 34-13 stomping of the Eagles. This year the Bengals put up more than 40 points in three different games resulting in wins. However, when you include the two playoff games in Houston, he is now 2-6 when playing nationally broadcast games. To say it was a collective team effort would be hard for me to swallow. He averages 210 yards, a 62% rating and has thrown 7 interceptions in front of the entire country. In the often hyped games against the Ravens and Steelers he has failed miserably with a 3-8 record. In these contests he's posted a 74% rating and averaged 216 yards. If you take these games out of his numbers you would see an almost elite QB.
It seems when the sun falls, the lights come on, and the Bengals are in front of the nation or when the game is built up by the media and an emphasis is put on the result; Andy Dalton stinks over and over again. This is a big concern walking in to the playoffs, where every single game is a media frenzy and will take place in front of the entire nation. Andy has got to get over being camera shy.
Last and my biggest concern: Can the Bengals prevent history from repeating itself?
I know this probably sounds a little superstitious to most of you but my bunglized instincts are kicking in. The Patriots lost in an upset to a sneaky good Miami Dolphins team. If the Bengals had beat the Steelers yesterday it would have put them in the driver's seat for a bye in the first round of the playoffs. Followed by a home game in front of the Cincinnati faithful. They haven't seen that kind of game since the late 80's. The Bengals are undefeated in the Jungle right now. The good thing: they have the Vikings and the Ravens at home the last two games. The bad thing: the possibility of playing the Ravens for the division title and home field in the playoffs. They are 3-5 on the road. If we are all to be honest here, that isn't good for the Bengals. In the first match up against the Ravens, they lost the game entirely. The "Hell Mary" pass to A.J. Green gave the team an opportunity to win, they probably hadn't earned. The Ravens won that game convincingly and the final score was not an accurate reflection of the game itself. I'm hoping we aren't about to lose our momentum but unfortunately I have seen this story before.
Historically, it seems as soon as you have figured out the Bengals and you become confident they will dominant every facet of the football game. They fail miserably, falling from grace in some of the most dramatic ways you could imagine. Boomer Esiason was once standing on the side line, in front of a camera, going over his lines for a Super Bowl winning commercial. "I'm going to Disney World!" he was to say. He watched Joe Montana march down the field and steal the moment right out from underneath him. In 2005 they were staged to beat the Steelers at home when Carson Palmer was eliminated from the game in the first quarter. The Steelers went on to win the championship. It's is my fear and my concern, they may lose steam when they need it most. This season has been a wild ride. It has been nervously fun but the inner fan in me cannot help but wonder if last night wasn't a sign of what's to come. They haven't sealed a spot in the playoffs and certainly aren't division champions yet. They have beat playoff caliber teams and lost to not so great teams. As a fan of the Cincinnati Bengals I cannot help the concern I have, that history may repeat itself again.
I believe the proof is in the pudding. The defense and special teams will be okay. As I said, they are the bread and butter of this football team. When guys get open Andy plays great. When Andy is on, this team is unstoppable. I'm not an Andy hater; he has proven he can play good quality football. When he does, boy it is fun to watch with this defense. Here's to hoping he is about to get over being camera shy and the Bengals are about to change the course of their own history. Aside from my big concerns, I believe it's possible, worse teams have found a streak of something special this time of the year. Here's to hoping it's our turn to hit a stride of greatness that takes us to the football promise land. WHO DEY!