One of the stigmas that have stuck with the Bengals in the Marvin Lewis era is inconsistency. Much like this year's Detroit Lions squad, the Bengals have head-scratching moments where they make boneheaded mistakes out of nowhere. A lot of them are on the field, but some of the more troubling mistakes have come from the sideline, via the coaching staff. We saw examples of both in the team's season finale drubbing of the Baltimore Ravens.
Fortunately for the Bengals and their fans, this year's squad looks talented enough to overcome these mistakes and still pull out a win. Perhaps no game exemplified their ability to overcome more than the Week 11 rematch against the Cleveland Browns. And while that's a great quality for a team to exude, it's not a trend that you want heading into a postseason run.
On Sunday versus the Ravens, there were a plethora of mistakes that plagued the team, yet they still managed to have a 17-point margin of victory. In reviewing the game, there are some specific areas that need to be cleaned up for the team's Wild Card game at Paul Brown Stadium.
How About Some "Solid Andy"?:
Both side of the Jekyll and Hyde monster that is the Bengals' quarterback showed up on Sunday. Dalton threw a pretty 53-yard bomb to A.J. Green and another dart to Marvin Jones for a score. He also had four, I repeat FOUR interceptions. Those turnovers simply can't happen in the postseason if the Bengals want to make a Championship run.
While one could argue that one or two of those interceptions could be blamed on others, some were inexcusable. One sailed high across the middle and one other was an awful throw on an end zone fade route (which was a horrendous play call and will be covered in the post a little later). Those two throws could prove very costly for a team in a single-elimination game.
The funniest thing about the day for Dalton was his breaking of franchise records for passing yards and passing touchdowns in a single season. It really sums up Dalton's NFL career so far: moments of brilliance, some frustrating mistakes and the ability to come out with a win. The Bengals are a balanced enough roster and a good enough team at home that they don't necessarily need performances from Dalton that we saw against Detroit, Buffalo, the Jets, the Vikings and/or the Colts. They just need him to be an efficient and solid.
Shore Up The Play-Calling, Please:
Dalton throws four interceptions, seven against the Ravens this year, yet he still throws 36 times? The Bengals had the lead or were tied for about three quarters. Yes, some of the short passes can be equated to running-type plays, and yes, Dalton still made some nice throws, but why would you have him throw that many times? Did we mention that BenJarvus Green-Ellis was getting six yards a carry on the day?
And, oh the call on first and goal from the one-yard line late in the game with a ten-point lead. Most media members that watched the game agreed that the fade route that resulted in an interception was an atrocious play-call. Obviously, hindsight is twenty-twenty, but run the ball two or three times--not only for ball security reasons, but also for clock management.
Speaking of clock management, this was a major problem late in the game against the Ravens as well. Hogging the ball and nursing the lead late in the game, the offense was inexplicably snapping the ball with 20-25 seconds on the clock. When you have the opponent on the ropes, bleed the clock when you have the ball. It's smart football and crushes their sprits.
Though Marvin Lewis has been uncharacteristically awesome with his challenges, he did waste one on a play that cost the team a timeout on Sunday. Lewis needs to be astute with the red flag and not be wasteful of the team's timeouts.
Special Teams Needs To Be More Special:
Ten-yard punts in the NFL aren't common because if you do that as a punter, you will be out of a job. Both things happened with Bengals punter Shawn Powell on Sunday and it really helped to fuel the Ravens' comeback in the game. The Bengals wisely picked up former Patriots and Steelers punter Zoltan Mesko and hopefully he will help ease the loss of Kevin Huber.
Here's the other tricky thing: Mesko will be the third holder on field goals that kicker Mike Nugent has worked with this year. While it hasn't bit them yet, these two will need to make sure that they get on the same page quickly. Mesko had some inconsistency issues early this season when he was with Pittsburgh and the team has to hope that those are behind him.