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What We Learned: Week 11 - Bengals vs Saints

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Just 10 days after one of the worst performances in recent history, the Bengals went on the road to New Orleans and handed the Saints their worst home loss since 2004 and their second straight home loss. Here is what we learned.

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL is impossible to predict - especially the 2014 Cincinnati Bengals

I hate the term "any given Sunday" but, annoying as the phrase may be, it is true. How else can you rationalize the fact that the Bengals team we saw gain 165 yards in Week 10 against the Browns was the same Bengals team we saw rack up 171 yards in their first two drives this Sunday? I still don't understand how that is the same team.

That was a huge win and puts the Bengals back in the AFC North driver's seat

This win not only put the Bengals back in first place in the division, but it also put them back in control of their own destiny and back on pace for 10 wins - by my calculation. I believe the Bengals can/should split with the Steelers and Browns and beat the Texans and Buccaneers. That would get them to a minimum of 10-5-1. I believe that record will be good enough to not only make the playoffs, but win the division.

Andy Dalton is not as bad as we decided he was after Week 10

After a historically bad 2.0 passer rating in week 10, Dalton responded just like we wanted him to - with an impressive 143.9 passer rating this Sunday. That is an unbelievable 141.9 improvement! Which is the real Dalton, you ask? I say neither. I say the "real Dalton" is somewhere in between, but much closer to the 143.9 than the 2.0. As bad as Dalton was last Thursday, he was equally as good this Sunday. The Bengals don't need Dalton to have a 143.9 passer rating each week, but they do need him to be in the 90 range and they especially need him to stay away from killing them with three turnovers. He likely will not get the proper credit for it, but Dalton had some great passes on Sunday; most notably the third and 18 dime he dropped to Green in the fourth quarter and the perfectly placed touchdown pass to Green to seal the drive...and the game.

Jeremy Hill needs 15 touches per game

When Giovani Bernard comes back, Jeremy Hill still needs to have 15-20 carries per game. In just four more carries (113-109), Hill now has 106 more yards than Bernard and is averaging 4.9 YPA to Bernard's 4.1. In games where Hill runs 10+ times, the Bengals are 4-1. In games where Hill runs less than 10 times, the Bengals are 2-2-1. As the high temperatures continue to decrease, Hill's touches should continue to increase.

Rey Maualuga makes a difference for this defense

Rarely have I been so excited to see Maualuga on the field as I was Sunday. As much as I criticize Maualuga, his absence has shown me exactly why he starts over those behind him. Maualuga's presence helped settle down the Bengals shaky run defense and he was a key reason why the Bengals had their best day of the season as far as defending the run goes (26 carries for 75 yards - 2.9 YPA). Thanks in large part to Maualuga, Mark Ingram had his second worst day of the season (23 carries for 67 yards - 2.9 YPA).

Jermaine Gresham's ball security issues never cease to amaze me

On Sunday, Jermaine Gresham did what Jermaine Gresham does - he fumbled (yet again) while fighting for yards. The box score - two catches for two touchdowns doesn't tell the story. Gresham was tackled in the field of play one time on Sunday and he fumbled. The fact that he recovered it in the end zone - and celebrated like an idiot - is a moot point. His carelessness with the football nearly cost the Bengals a touchdown. For whatever reason, Gresham does not comprehend when it is a good (and safe) time to stretch out with the ball and when it is not a good idea. When you have achieved a first down inside the one yard line and are being hit by three defenders, that is not a good time to stretch the ball out. Secure the damn ball and give your team first and goal from within the one yard line. I once had a coach tape both of my hands to my hockey stick for an entire practice to drive home a message to me - keep two hands on your stick. Marvin needs to tape both of Gresham's stone tablets - I mean hands - to a football for an entire week. I doubt Gresham would get the message, but it would be worth a try.

Dre Kirkpatrick filled in nicely for Terrence Newman

Kirkpatrick has been a favorite punching bag for many Bengals fans, but be honest, you didn't realize he was out there on Sunday, did you? If you don't notice a cornerback, that is a good thing. Kirkpatrick didn't do anything spectacular, but he had a solid game and led the Bengals with two passes defensed. It is promising to see Kirkpatrick get significant playing time and play well.

The Bengals cannot get to the quarterback

The Bengals had zero sacks again on Sunday and now have gone 10 straight quarters without a "legitimate" sack (they did sack Bortles on the last play of the Jacksonville game - a garbage sack). Only the 0-10 Raiders (10) have fewer sacks than the Bengals (13). If you can't get to the quarterback, you don't play much beyond December.

Marshall Newhouse didn't suck

"Not sucking" is a very low standard, but after dressing like a turnstile on national television last Thursday, Marshall Newhouse responded with a solid game on Sunday and did not suck. The Superdome is one of the most difficult environments for an offensive lineman and I cannot recall cursing his name one time on Sunday.

Playing defense in the NFL is impossible...and it is making games difficult to watch

All game long, the announcers talked about how "tightly" that officiating crew calls games. Well, they lived up to their billing and made some questionable--at best--calls. The calls against Iloka and Peko for unnecessary roughness were bogus and are exactly the types of penalties that are driving fans, players and coaches crazy. Dear NFL, it is tackle football. Please let them play tackle football.