Do you really care how the Bengals won on Sunday? Do you really care that Carson Palmer's 60.1 passer rating was his worst since recording a 41.3 passer rating against the Titans in 2008? We're totally not including Palmer's 1.7 passer rating against the Jets in week 17 last year. Do you really care that Cedric Benson and Bernard Scott combined for a 3.4 yard/rush average on 31 carries? Do you really care that of the 11 attempted passes to Terrell Owens resulted in only three receptions for 57 yards receiving? True, it might look bad on paper. But all of this resulted in one single thing: A Bengals win.
Why is there a reason to care how they won on Sunday? But I'm worried about the future. Fair enough. Before criticism outweighs the joy of beating a division rival for the third straight game in a row, let me simplify it for you. Sit back in your office chair, put your hands behind your head with your shoulders stretched out and smile. The Bengals did exactly what they needed to do to win a tough as nails game.
We've never said that this offense is the reason we'll win games. Sure, we have new weapons and an offensive line having a second year playing together. However, the team's core philosophy is the same as last year's. From our point of view, this team has always been the makeup of one that will only advance as the defense plays. They played miserably against the Patriots, and the Bengals lost, even though Carson Palmer threw two touchdowns and 345 yards passing. The defense played great against the Ravens, forcing four Joe Flacco interceptions, yet the offense's 253 yards of total offense is the lowest during a victory since recording 218 yards against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Hey, look that was another win.
Both units will come together soon enough and blow someone out, especially with a stretch of games against teams that aren't the Patriots or Ravens.
Can we expect the Bengals offense to play like this and win every week? No, of course not. But then again, we're not playing the Ravens defense every week either. You might complain about how anemic the offense was, how Carson Palmer isn't the quarterback he once was, or scream to anyone that isn't tired of the same "fire Bratkowski" impulse at the most inappropriate time during quarterly board meetings. In truth, I'd hold off those reactions for now and go back to basics. We beat the Ravens with an opportunistic defense (four turnovers) that only allowed 259 yards to Baltimore, which his similar to how the team formulated their 10 wins last season. Eight times Cincinnati's defense didn't allow an opposing offense to record 300 yards of offense or more, winning seven of those games.
Would you rather have the 2007 squad that scored 385 points, which is a Marvin Lewis era high that didn't even record a .500 record? Or would you rather have the 2009 squad that scored 291 points, yet made the playoffs after a ten-win season? Again, the defense will be the one's that push this team, not the offense; that's just icing on the cake. Yet, at the same time, I still feel there will come a time that both units will finally bring their best game and we can have the best of both worlds.
In the meantime, for you Madden-loving bomb-chuckers, this Bengals squad will live and die by the defense. If you can't get on board with wins like this past Sunday, then you're in for a long season. And I feel sorry for you.
OFFENSE DID WHAT THEY NEEDED TO WIN. I'm not one to complain after a win. The feeling of victory, especially against an opponent the entire world had projected better than the Bengals, is far too great.
Sunday's 15-10 win over the Baltimore Ravens is similar to how Cincinnati won each of their 10 games last season. Defensively strong, offensively manageable. No, no. That's wrong. The defense was more than just strong. They were the game's difference-maker. The win, enabled by the defense, gives Cincinnati three straight against the Baltimore Ravens and eight straight against the AFC North dating back to the Bengals 14-0 shutout over the Cleveland Browns on December 21, 2008. Furthermore, Carson Palmer improves his record as a starting quarterback against Baltimore to 9-3 while Marvin Lewis' record as Bengals head coach improves to 10-5.
But if the difference-maker was the defense, then the biggest difference is that the Bengals offense, while struggling through much of Sunday's game, didn't turn the football over. Not once. You may have daydreamed of calling your own plays because the NFL is so much like Madden video games, but the truth is, the Bengals offense did exactly what they needed to do to win this game. No, none of Cincinnati's four red zone trips went into the endzone, but all four were converted for field goals. That's 12 points, or two points more than what the Ravens scored.
Sure, the Bengals offense had five three-and-out possessions, eight possessions of five plays or less that led to punts and six possessions of less than ten yards. When Cincinnati didn't move the football, they punted it away and the team's defense did much like what the Ravens defense did to the Bengals offense, with the difference-maker, again, being that Cincinnati's defense was more opportunistic, forcing four turnovers. In other words, ask yourself this question before each game. Which team will win: The team that punts the football eight times but gives up no turnovers or the team that punts seven times and gives up four turnovers?
Yes, Cincinnati's offense needs to keep improving if they want to sustain success this year, especially when so many of our opponents are favorites to make the playoffs. But that's for tomorrow's discussion.
PLAY OF THE GAME? It's rare that we'll promote this as a play of the game, but let me make the argument. With 9:35 left in the game, the Ravens lined up 1st-and-10 at their own 29-yard line, Flacco hands off to Ray Rice who explodes through the left side of the line. It looks really bad when ten Bengals defenders helplessly trail the runner. I mean really bad. Chris Crocker, the lone remaining defensive player between Rice and the endzone, cut across the field and wrapped Rice's ankles, preventing a sure-touchdown. If Rice scores, the Ravens take a 14-10 lead. Instead, he picked up 30 yards on the ground and Baltimore had to settle for a field goal.
MIRROR, MIRROR, ON THE WALL. The oddity between the Ravens and Bengals is how similar each team has become with each other. Both teams sported struggling offenses and strong defenses. Take a look at the final team statistics on offense:
FIELD GOALS ACTUALLY WINS FOOTBALL GAMES. I know, shocking, right? Aside from the turnovers, another big difference between the two offenses is that Baltimore scored the lone touchdown. In case I haven't said it before, the Ravens still lost. The Bengals new place kicker, Mike Nugent, was the team's only offense, converting all five field goal attempts -- a career high. Nugent came two field goals short of Shayne Graham's franchise record seven field goals on November 11, 2007. Yes. Yes. You know how irony loves to be teased. Graham's franchise record also came against the Baltimore Ravens, the team that scored the only touchdown in that game. And, you know, lost. Don't you love it when people tell you that we never learn from history?
BENGALS DOMINATE BALL CONTROL. The Bengals offense dominated the time of possession against Baltimore, having 34:16 worth of ball control. Not only that, but Cincinnati's offense had the greater time of possession in each of the game's four quarters.
COVERAGE TEAMS IMPROVE. Cincinnati's kick coverage teams appeared to be in for another struggle, a week after allowing the Patriots' Brandon Tate to average 46 yards/return.
During his first two kickoffs in the game, the Ravens' Jalen Parmele had returns of 34 and 39 yards. That's when Mike Nugent went nuts, kicking the football out of the endzone on three of his final four kickoffs. The one kickoff returned in the second half? Dan Skuta forced a fumble that was recovered by Dennis Pitta.
PLAY OF THE GAME II? With just under six minutes left in the game, the Ravens kicked off after converting a field goal to take a 10-9 lead (see above). Bernard Scott takes the kickoff and with his explosive burst of speed, finds a massive lane up the middle. After avoiding several tacklers through a mass of bodies, Scott was tackled by Josh Wilson from behind after returning the football 60 yards. The result, along with a generous (and I mean REALLY generous) roughing the passer flag on Terrell Suggs, was an eventual 38-yard game-winning field goal by Mike Nugent.
FIRST DOWNS ARE KEYS TOWARDS SUSTAINED DRIVES. One of the things I noticed on Sunday was Cincinnati's plays on first down. Of Cincinnati's 27 first down plays, 13 were runs by Benson and 12 were called passes. Bernard Scott also had two first down runs. Benson recorded 45 yards rushing on 13 first downs and Palmer completed seven of 12 passes for 76 yards passing.
And of those 27 plays, 11 were either incomplete passes by Palmer or gains of one-yard or less by Benson. Incomplete passes and no-gains on first down really sets back an offense's "schedule", forcing the team to pick up 10 yards against a very good Ravens defense.
With :29 seconds left in the first quarter, the Bengals driving inside the redzone, Carson Palmer threw an incomplete pass for Terrell Owens through the back of the endzone. On second down, in double tight end formation, Benson takes the handoff but Jermaine Gresham's (not at all) block was ditched by Jarret Johnson and Ray Lewis, flowing downhill, stopped Benson at the line of scrimmage. With ten yards to go, Palmer tried to force a pass into Terrell Owens, who played the slot running a skinny post from the right. Pass incomplete. Nugent converts a field goal.
With 1:10 left in the third quarter, the Bengals lined up at the Ravens 32-yard line with an empty backfield. Bernard Scott, lined up wide left, stepped backwards at the snap for an anticipated bubble screen. The Ravens defense snuffed out the play and Ray Lewis forced the incomplete pass. After Benson picked up four yards, Carson Palmer was called for intentional grounding after Trevor Pryce's near-sack. Nugent converts field goal.
In truth, the Bengals had good success on first downs most of the time. But when they didn't pick up yards on first down, often it led to either a stalled drive in the redzone or a punt.
WEAPONS OF DISAPPEARENCE. Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin and Houshmandzadeh had zero receptions until 4:52 left in the first half when Boldin caught a 10-yard pass on third-and-nine.
PLAY OF THE GAME III? With 4:27 left in the game, Baltimore lined up second-and-ten at their own 20-yard line. After receiving the snap in shotgun with an empty backfield, Joe Flacco targeted Ray Rice in the flats to the right. Pat Sims bullrushing the right guard, jumped in the air with both hands sprawled upward as Flacco threw the pass, tipping the football. Brandon Johnson, sitting in the middle of the field in zone coverage, broke on the floater and picked off the pass. Mike Nugent converts his fifth field goal of the game after the Bengals offense failed to record a first down.
GENO ATKINS RECORDS FIRST CAREER NFL SACK. After leading the NFL with 4.5 quarterback sacks during the preseason, Bengals rookie defensive tackle Geno Atkins, combined with Michael Johnson, scored his first NFL sack on Sunday.
THEN IT WAS OVER. The Atkins/Johnson combination sack pushed Baltimore to their own 18-yard line, forcing a fourth-and-12. After another sack was nullified by an offsides, Joe Flacco fired a fourth-and-seven pass over the middle into double coverage for Derrick Mason. Chinedum Ndukwe, with some serious hops, jumps over Mason and picks off the pass, giving Cincinnati their first win of the 2010 season.