It has been a long break and a long time since I last posted after the Browns win and before the bye week. I have been traveling for assorted reasons. I caught the Baltimore loss in Houston, TX, the Browns win in Victoria, TX, the bye week games in San Angelo, TX, the Chargers game in the NYC area (more on that venue in a moment). Now I'll catch the Indy game back in Houston and the Pittsburgh game the next week in Austin, TX before getting back to Lakeland, FL for the final two games. It's difficult to find places to see Bengals games - I lucked out in Houston for the Ravens game because it was being carried locally there.
So I caught the Chargers game in the NYC area - namely at Sharky's in Boontown, NJ. Good crew of folks there rooting for almost everyone (except I was the only Bengals fan). They also had last week's winner of Cook Your Ass Off! in the lower area - they were watching that as we finished watching the Bengals game upstairs (and we couldn't figure out why everyone down there kept cheering so loudly with a cooking show on their screens).
Traveling gives you perspective on other fans' teams. In Houston the folks are pretty disappointed and disgusted with what they thought might be a championship run. The Cowboy fans are numb in the Jerry era where nothing makes sense. Jets fans still show up but don't have much hope. It seems Jets fans outnumber Giants fans in NJ (where I spent most of my time), but the G-Men's fans don't have much hope now either. In the Tampa area the fans are slowly regaining interest now that Josh Freeman has proven to be a waste of $2 million for the Vikings while the Bucs are doing well under and improving Mike Glennon.
The only feedback I got on the Bengals was the following: they are criminals (yes, that's still out there heavily); Andy Dalton needs work; their uniforms are atrocious; who is Vontaze Burfict? For the casual fans in these various cities, the Bengals are a filler team that you don't worry about but also don't take lightly. They might win one or two, but they'll lose the big one.
Back to the subject which is reality based (some of you may argue with that). The Bengals played one of their best games I can remember in the Marv era in SD as they really dominated the Chargers for most of the game. It was a dual effort even though the offense didn't put up a lot of points. I guess I should amend that to say it was a trio effort since Kevin Huber was great and Huber met expectations. I had a lot of beer, too, which is not good for analysis. However, the Bengal running game was very impressive as they simply dominated the second half in keeping the gall away from Philip Rivers down the stretch.
After the Dolphin loss I jumped to the Conclusion that this season was toast. I am happy to say that Zimmer, the D, and Brandon Thompson have proven that I was wrong. However, the fat lady has not sung quite yet. And we still have to wonder about P-word (Playoffs) and whether we can get past the regular season with momentum (which looks very hopeful now). And there still is the Andy Dalton conundrum.
1. STs Coming On: We talked after the Browns win about the two blocked punts and the general improvement of the STs. We saw more of that in SD with Kevin Huber averaging 55.5 per punt and dropping two inside the 20 (one that was nicely downed by Dre Kirkpatrick at the one). The coverage teams were good, and Nugent was steady. We'll see how we keep the momentum here against the Colts who PFF evidently ranks as the current #4 team on STs.
2. AJ Green Stuggling vs. Top End CBs: We have noticed that Green has stuggled vs. Joe Haden, Ike Taylor, Peanut Tillman, and Aqib Talib on particular routes. There seems to be a problem with Green running the correct routes all the time, and that has caused several INTs. But even when he struggles, Green can make big plays as he did in Chicago. And against lesser talent, Green almost always has at least one or two dominant, signature type plays.
3. TO Differential: We have seen the dividends of staying in the Plus column here, and the beat went on in SD with a +1 thanks to Dre Kirkpatrick's momentum altering takeaway.
4. Andy Dalton vs. Rest of O: The message here is that the run game needs to take some pressure off the passing game, and that was accomplished in SD. Dalton opened with a jittery high pass that got Green hurt, had a 41-yard first half, threw a really ugly looking INT in the direction of an AJ deep route (that Green later said was his error), but returned to post a very solid second half. So we are seeing that Dalton is a guy who tends to struggle early but who also has been pretty clutch in many key moments later in games. Not always - but enough for us to feel comfortable that he can make late plays. We'll talk later about the reshuffled Bengal OL that looked really dominant.
5. Chemistry: This is the principle that characterizes our current momentum. If we can maintain this run into the post-season, I'd give us a chance to surprise people in January. It seems that each weekend gets bigger from here on out. This week (vs. Colts) may be for the #3 seed, so it's another big challenge for our leadership and chemistry to see whether the ship can continue on a straight course.
1. Run Blocking: Wow! Can we expect dominance with Whit at LG and Collins at LT? Where does Pollack fit here as he has started twice in two consecutive strong running efforts. Alexander is hiding his cards, but I expect to see Whit again at LG this week. They might even play musical chairs with Collins on both OTs, Whit at LG and LT, & Pollak at RG and RT. If that proves to be successful, we may have found ourselves a nice competitive device where our OL formerly had been struggling.
2. Dre Kirkpatrick: Dre made two big plays last Sunday. The punt downing at the 1 was a high effort play while the INT over Gates was one of the key plays of the game.
3. Burfict: We're completely realizing now that we did get a top ten level pick from the 2012 draft for free in Vontaze. The Bengals D is poised with Atkins and Burfict to be dominant for several years.
4. Law Firm: For those who counted him out, he's still showing that he has a role in certain types of games where tough yards are needed.
5. Zimmer: How does he continue to keep doing it with back up level players in many positions?
Mostly positive things to say here after a hard fought, important win in SD against a better than average team and QB. A win this weekend vs. Indy might have people taking a second look at the Bengals post-season hopes with the thought that this team could then win out, finish 12-4, and perhaps slide into the #2 playoff slot. That would be nice as it would position us to most likely play someone at home who we've already beaten there this season and might start adding some doubt to the minds of those (including myself) who had written this team off. Andrew Luck, Ben Roethlisberger, Adrian Peterson, and Joe Flacco - those are the offensive stars who we face to end this last quarter of the season. If this team can get 3-4 more wins this regular season and avoid anymore key personnel losses, I'd have to say that I expect at least one post-season win in January. Whether we can beat a team like Denver or Seattle remains to be seen, but I'd like to find out.