We don't want to spoil a positive win by being too negative now, do we?
The biggest thing we can probably say about the real talent of this team is that we played a really good team, had a lot of mistakes, and were still able to make the plays in crunch time to pull out the win. That's what championship teams do, and that's what we ought to be excited about heading into Week 4.
After the Pittsburgh game my 5 over riding Conclusions were:
1. Dalton / Gruden: Lots of disagreement here from the faithful, but I am concerned about the inconsistency of both of these guys. It's both of their 3rd year's in the league and here, and I just don't think they're where they should be with continuity.
2. Special Teams: Still not special
3. Pass Rush / Defensive Playmaking: Waiting for these to emerge.
4. Coaching Gaffes: We still were waiting for decisions that were unique and added value to our game plan in real time.
5. Overall Quality of Team Statement: I called it "Middle Muck." I'm not sure what that is, but it sounded right.
So we played GB and I thought our area breakdown went like this:
* QB: Dalton had good overall stats and had a 2nd half run that was impressive. However, there is still that lull somewhere in the game where the play is so dull and ineffective that it brings risk to the rest of the game. I'll call these the Horse Latitudes for lack of a better name. The Horse Latitudes were known in the middle ages as areas in the oceans where winds would disappear and force captains to throw livestock (e.g., horses) overboard to avoid having the crew starve. We know that Dalton can run this O, but he suffers from an interval toxic mix of slow decision making, poor play selection, and lack of athleticism. We simply have to control the things we can in this mix, and I think it will be all right. However, time does run out on people in the NFL, and we can't expect the D to save us every time we can't score and/or are giving points away.
* RB: Gio looks awesome; the Law Firm not so much. I get the feeling that BenJarvus just has a lot of mileage on the odometer. He's slow to hit the holes even though he's a money guy in short yardage. His fumble came from a great play by Clay Matthews and the fact that he is hitting the holes a bit slowly. I think we'll have to accept this as his limit, hope that Gio stays healthy, and transition over the season to a higher play count for Bernard.
* FB/TE: Charles continues to be inactive, and you have to wonder whether they stick with him if everyone is healthy if/when Pressley comes off PUP. Other than that, our three TEs are really looking good. Yes, Gresham has problems with ball security, but it was clear that the Packers did a really awesome job of stripping the ball from us. Our D probably needs to work on that more.
* WR: We got a really nice mix of production against GB from Sanu and Marvin Jones. AJ Green was contained by Sam Shields, who is an above average cover corner. The thing I didn't like about this was that Green was too demonstrative on the field about not getting the ball when he wanted it. Now I feel that if we're going to stick with Dalton (which we clearly are) that we can't be sending negative vibes on the field that bring down morale. So Marv and Gruden need to talk with Green about this.
* OL: Great play again for the most part from these guys. The QB sacks are coming, I think, from a failure of Dalton to make decisions and throw the ball away when the coverage is tight. Run blocking is decent; pass blocking is excellent. Whit actually looks good, and I was fearful that he wouldn't be able to approximate his prior play given his injuries.
* DL: Atkins is being stymied from a plethora of doubles and triples. Now we have to see Peko and the DEs make the plays. And that's what we're getting from MJ who had a dominant day against GB as well as Dunlap who was a difference maker too. It will be interesting to see whether Margus Hunt plays any now given that Geathers is out for the season.
* LB: Number 55, the Minotaur, remains an animal out of the cage on the field. He probably won't get kudos for grabbing guys in the crotch even if it drew a 15-yarder on GB. But he's the real deal. Maualuga is playing as well as he can, and we have to be happy with that. His struggles come when he over runs cutback running plays and when he gets into space with opponents in his peripheral vision or behind him. He's not a 3-down LB doing his best to play in that role. We need to find more value from Harrison, but our SAM scheme is just a limited deal here that doesn't allow for the free lancing that made James great as a Steeler. I just hope that he doesn't get to frustrated, and I expect that we'll play him more at DE on 3rd downs now with Geathers out. Finally, one note about our LB depth and compensation for its lack. Mays really has played beyond expectations in his "Joker" role, but we're weak in depth with only DiManche and Vinnie Rey behind our 3 starters. If we get an injury, we're dead for the rest of a game.
* DB: Great play from an injured group. We'll piece together our group and hope that we continue to get great play. However, our top three CBs all have strained hammies, our next two have concussions, and the newest two are inexperienced. Throw in a hammie injury as well to our top Safety Reggie Nelson, and note the inexperience of co-starter George Iloka and backup Shawn Williams. Enter Chris Crocker, the mini Peyton Manning of Zimmer defensive alignment on the field. I think it's good timing. One note though. The DB roster now stands at 12 with a drop of 1 from each of the LB and DL rosters. It will be interesting in a couple of weeks when guys are coming off PUP and some DBs are getting healthy to see how they reshuffle the deck in roster numbers.
* STs: Huber continues to shine. Nugent is doing a nice job with kicking dependability and field position on kickoffs. However, the coverage and return teams are going no better than providing a neutral trade off. We need more here. I think that Simmons is struggling with a lot of young STers and the losses of Jeromy Miles, Dan Skuta, Hawkins & Lamur to name a few.
So onto the over riding conclusions for this week:
1. Andy Dalton: Good stats, bad taste. I don't know how to say it better. If you judge a guy by his stats, you would have loved Vinnie Testaverde. You'd love RG3 this year. You'd love Tony Romo. But the game isn't played on paper. You gotta make the plays in critical situations, be consistent, and do the things you can do well. Dalton is hitting on one of these (making the plays) some of the time but lacks consistency and hasn't figured out yet how to overcome his lack of speed and lack of arm strength in the form of a game package. I'm laying a lot of this blame on Gruden because Dalton does not have an experienced sideline mentor who can help him with this. I'm thinking that we're actually missing Bruce Gradkowski this year more than we thought we would. There is still time for Dalton. For those of you who write in and say that he "looked great" or is getting better, I think that's part of the story but still doesn't account for the lack of consistency that you have to have sooner rather than later. Dalton played a great second half and a pretty bad 1st half after a good first drive. He had a weak first half against Pittsburgh. He struggled early in the 1st Qtr and in the second half vs. Chicago. It is what it is, and I'm not the only guy who watches football who is noticing and commenting that Dalton seems to be becoming an anchor around our ankle at times.
2. Gio Bernard: This guy appears to have been a steal at #37. Fine pick. He and Eifert are making a difference early in the season and are two reasons to have hope that Gruden and Dalton can figure this thing out in time.
3. Zimmer: One of his finest moments as the Bengal DC came last week when the Packers barely eked out a 1st half lead after scoring 7 on a defensive play and getting the ball on turnovers countless times inside our 40. Add that to the second half mastery where the D took over the game and made big play after big play. And finish it with him willing to listen to Burfict and change his play on the final critical play. We're lucky to have this guy.
4. We are for Real!: I asked this question last week, and got an answer. We can stay for real only by getting better each week. Now is the time for a run of impressive wins, and we need to find out whether we can sustain greatness. The pressure is now on our Offense. Who is struggling there? We already noted that we are getting great play from the WRs, OL, TEs, and Gio Bernard. Who does that leave? We need to get more production from the touches by the Law Firm, the play calling from Gruden, and the execution by Dalton. It's tough to be a true West Coast team that moves the ball 10-12 yards every 2-3 downs, but that's mostly what we are. That means no turnovers, no penalties, no dropped passes, no sacks, no overthrows. It's tough to be that perfect, but that's what we have to aspire to in order to make this O better.
5. What's the Buzz!: Is the city going to be able to pick up the buzz and elevate this team? The Super Bowl years were special in Cincy because the buzz elevated the team into the zone of supreme confidence. The Green Bay game should have made believers of everyone.