The Jacksonville Jaguars came into Cincinnati with a chip on their shoulders on Sunday. With an obvious lack of talent, they knew that executing a game plan and playing with a high desire to win would be their biggest allies in achieving that goal. All things considered, the Jags came pretty close to playing a major "spoiler".
In yet another wacky game in a year that seems to be filled with them, there were moments of pure joy and others that made Bengals fans want to tear the hair from their heads. It was ugly, as some of the Bengals' victories have been of late, but the team still can hang their hat on a 10-point home win. Their winning streak at Paul Brown Stadium remains intact, even if this game made us more uneasy than expected.
Jeremy Hill: Fans wanted more of Hill and they received their wish in the grandest of fashions on Sunday. It was an unfortunate scenario, given that his increased workload was due to Giovani Bernard's injury, but everyone in Bengaldom is now fully aware of what the big kid can do. In a game that needed a spark late, Hill gave it to his team with a 60-yard bolt for a touchdown that would be the major exclamation point on the Bengals' win. He finished with 24 carries for 154 yards, a 6.4 yard-per-carry-average and two touchdowns. FedEx Ground Player of the Week, much?
Kevin Huber: There are sure to be more accolades given out to punters from other more prominent clubs around the league, but Huber is playing at a Pro Bowl level in 2014. He had five punts on Sunday at a 44.4-yard average, but four of those five landed inside the 20-yard line. Part of the issues stalling a furious comeback by the Jaguars and allowing the Bengals to get a big lead in the middle parts of the contest were a direct result of Huber's punting.
Two Blocked Punts: Have the Bengals ever done this twice in a game? I don't personally remember, but we'll get back to you on that. Rex Burkhead and Taylor Mays had two of the more exciting plays of the game and gave Cincinnati much-needed jolts of momentum. The two plays led to only five points because of stall-outs by the Bengals offense, but quality plays nonetheless.
George Iloka To The Rescue: On a day where a blase Jaguars offense looked like a cast of superstars, Iloka stepped up and made a gigantic play that sealed the win for Cincinnati. With Blake Bortles and the Jags on the move to potentially bring the game to within three points, the Bengals needed something to go their way. Bortles made a poor decision and floated one to a well-covered Clay Harbor and Iloka came up with the pick. Oh, and if you didn't like that he brought that out of the end zone, he has a message for you.
Red Zone Offense: Though this stat can get lost in the shuffle of things, it's an important one. The Bengals entered the red zone four times and scored three touchdowns and a field goal. A team always wants to get points of some kind when they enter the red zone and the Bengals offense getting 24 of them in four tries is solid.
Mohamed Sanu And A.J. Green: Even with Green back in the lineup, Sanu shined. Both made big plays and had receiving touchdowns that definitely helped the cause. Green did have his moments of rust, but he continues to dominate the Jaguars with three receiving touchdowns, in as many games. Sanu made acrobatic catches on long balls, with some of them contested. Green finished with three catches for 44 yards and the score, while Sanu had four for 95 and a touchdown.
Three Quarters Of Dalton: Through the various ebbs and flows of the game, Dalton looked sharp and decisive. He had two touchdown passes on the day, one a dart that he zipped to Green between tight coverage. Dalton would have had another touchdown on the day, but Green lined up offsides and the catch was nullified. As I mentioned above, Dalton did help to generate 24 points in the red zone in four tries (a field goal came after Green penalty) and he finished 19 for 31 and 233 yards.
Playing Down To A Lesser Opponent: The Bengals had a number of squandered opportunities on the day, which would have made this game much more lopsided. Turnovers, penalties and other gaffes kept a then-1-7 club in a road game that should have been a blowout. It's admirable that the team once again found a way to win, but seizing opportunities is what playoff football is about and if the team is fortunate enough to make it that far, they need to be better in this aspect.
Dalton For A Quarter Of The Game: This isn't to say that Dalton played poorly for an entire quarter or that he played poorly at all. However, the frustrating dry spell to start the game, including two punts and his going one of four on passes was ugly (only completion was a screen to Jermaine Gresham)--in fact, the team didn't score until the second quarter on their third drive. There were two costly interceptions late in the game, with one rating up there in "Gus Frerotte's Greatest Hits" and "The Butt Fumble". All in all, Dalton was a big reason for the win, but also contributed to Jacksonville hanging around as long as they did.
Kickoff Return Coverage: This was the lone sour spot by the special teams unit on the day. Every time that Mike Nugent allowed Jordan Todman to return a kickoff, he made them pay. He averaged nearly 30 yards per return on his six tries, including a big 39-yarder. It's a minor thing overall, but it needs to be cleaned up going forward.
Tackling: It's understandable that the defensive unit might suffer a bit in this category with injuries to two of their best linebackers (Rey Maualuga and Vontaze Burfict), but it was deplorable on Sunday. Tackling at every level was awful, as both backs and receivers made guys miss with the ball in their hands. This was a staple of Mike Zimmer's units and a back-to-basics approach is needed by Paul Guenther.
Blown Opportunities: Whether it was the dropping of four easy interceptions, or only getting five points from two blocked punts, the Bengals shot themselves in the foot continuously on Sunday. High-quality teams simply don't make those kind of errors, and when they do, they are lucky to be playing a now-1-8 team, to allow them to recover. Emmanuel Lamur had at least two drops, so don't be so impressed with the "passes defensed" on his stat line.
Leon Hall: One of the most dependable players on the defense has been getting routinely torched over the past month-plus. Ever since the bye, Hall seems to be victimized on big passing plays by the opposition. Allen Hurns beat him badly on a big play and then made him look silly as he was turned around. It's just the most recent in the line formed by guys like T.Y. Hilton, Kelvin Benjamin and others.
Almost Every Aspect Of The Defense: The only thing that the defense could hang their hat on from this Sunday's win, was some inconsistent pressure and two quarterback sacks. The tackling was poor, the run defense almost allowed another 100-yard rusher, and the dropped interceptions kept giving a struggling rookie quarterback hope. The team had relied on stout play from the defense over the past few years, but the Bengals have now been forced to get creative with their wins. Oh, and that supposed big boost from Brandon Thompson? Two total tackles from him, while the entire unit allowed 132 on the ground and 6.1 yards per play overall.