Four Downs Friday: Stars To Make Star-like Impressions

Jonathan Daniel

The Bengals should have beaten the Chicago Bears last week during the regular season opener. Now the Bengals need their stars to either step up, or stop with the mistakes.

LESS MISTAKES AND MORE PRODUCTION FROM RECEIVERS

Despite having a monster game against the Chicago Bears last week (nine receptions, 162 yards receiving, two touchdowns), the interceptions had the greatest impact on the young receiver. The second pick was nearly a perfect pass by Andy Dalton, over the linebacker and in front of the safety and cornerback, triangulating Green in the secondary. Green took his eyes off the ball for a moment to gain a perspective on how far the safety was, losing sight of the ball that bounced off his hands and landed into the embrace of cornerback Charles Tillman. With how the Bengals were generating momentum at that stage in the game, one has to wonder how many points the team would have scored.

Of course it's all in hindsight, but turning the ball over three times only invites the disastrous results that Cincinnati experienced last Sunday. Mohamed Sanu added to the familiar verse with a fourth quarter fumble that led to Chicago's game-winning touchdown. Marvin Jones didn't quite earn the milk carton reference, but his one reception and 14-yard run summarizes his 17-snap contribution. If you think that the Pittsburgh Steelers are so bad that the Bengals can overcome three-plus turnovers, you haven't experienced the NFL much.

AN ATKINS-LIKE GAME FROM ATKINS

If you had to make an argument for best defensive player at this stage, you wouldn't be wrong tabbing Vontaze Burfict after what he did against Chicago. However, since one-game seasons are such a rarity in the NFL, we're open for alternatives. In fact, all we're doing is tapping our collective fingers and waiting for Geno Atkins to have his Atkins-like game.

According to the NFL, Atkins didn't generate a single tackle against the Bears and hit quarterback Jay Cutler once. Pro Football Focus gave Atkins three quarterback hurries and the team's third-highest defensive grade -- better than Vontaze Burfict (which makes no sense to me, but whatever).

Atkins really hasn't had an Atkins like game, especially as a pass rusher, in a meaningful game since playing the Steelers last year during Cincinnati's playoff clinching win. Atkins posted two quarterbacks sacks, six tackles (one for loss), a forced fumble, an additional hit on the quarterback and two pressures. Then against the Texans, Atkins generated four hurries but no hits or sacks and only three tackles.

Don't worry. We're expecting Atkins to compete for NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors, but if you're wondering why we're bringing him up this early, it's because of those huge expectations. Save for a few scrambles, watching Jay Cutler scan the field and complete passes to Brandon Marshall was painful.

MORE TO GROUND

Despite converting a third and one and scoring a touchdown near the goalline, BenJarvus Green-Ellis averaged only 1.8 yards/rush -- largely from four combined runs that last 13 total yards. Now, we're not expecting Green-Ellis to produce ridiculous averages. Converting short yardage situations is exactly why he's here. However, Cincinnati's rushing offense wasn't particularly effective and maybe that feeds the demand for more Giovani Bernard.

That's not a mark against Green-Ellis, but Bernard continues to be an impressive young man. And I'm not talking just about his speed or quickness. He has an ability to slither through the line of scrimmage by taking advantage of the smallest cracks with quick reads in wide-open situations. And while we're at it, let's see more of this kid out of the backfield on designed passes.

ANDREW WHITWORTH'S RETURN SOON?

Obviously the situation is different, but with Andrew Whitworth limited during practice on Thursday, an opening has emerged for his eventual season debut. Is it critical? No. Anthony Collins turned in a good game against the Chicago Bears by shutting down Julius Peppers, and it appears that rookie outside linebacker Jarvis Jones will get his first start.

Jones played 30 defensive snaps against the Tennessee Titans and rushed the quarterback eight times. According to Pro Football Focus' grading scale, Jones scored the third-worst defensive score and the worst in coverage.

However, one only has to recall the team's decision to replace Trevor Robinson in week 16 with the veteran Kyle Cook. Some argue it was a mistake, but others realize the significant increase in difficulty against the Steelers compared to teams like the Raiders, Chiefs, and even the Giants.

Our position with Whitworth remains the same: Assume he's out until he's not. But there is an opening.

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