Indeed, nobody saw this coming. A team that got destroyed just 10 days before at home and could not get anything going went on to beat Brees, Graham, Ingram and friends at the Superdome. And they did so without Vontaze Burfict and Terence Newman, but got Rey Maualuga back, who made his presence felt early and often.
Drew Brees missed open receivers for big gains, and a lack of pushing the football down the field was felt, which ended up costing their recently improved running game.
Cincinnati did a great job keeping the chains moving on offense, sustaining big drives and getting their defense fresh. This is something that might have helped Peko, one of the key players last Sunday and a big contributor against the run. Ingram, who had run for at least 100 yards in his last three games, was held to 67 on 23 attempts (2.9 yards per carry). I think he had more arm tackles in that game than in the rest of the season.
#Bengals Film: Peko stood out in run defense. Angles to ball, can move.— Andy Benoit (@Andy_Benoit) November 19, 2014
The game could have started far worse for Cincinnati had Brees been more accurate on a couple of deep throws in the middle of the field; first overthrowing one receiver badly on an in route off play action and then missing Josh Hill on what would have been a touchdown. The Saints tight end was out of Reggie Nelson's reach. The Bengals safety was again poor playing trail technique, and that play reminded me of the 28 yard catch by Browns tight end Gary Barnidge during the prior game.
After those throws, Brees seemed unwilling to go deep, and Cincinnati was able to limit the big plays. They had some success against the zone though, and had good plays with multiple crossing routes, like this one where Jimmy Graham gained 13 yards on 3rd&8 (he had another like this one later on).
Jimmy Graham was slated to be one of the toughest matchups the Bengals defense would face this season, and even though he did not get too involved, watching the tape I did not see the Saints utilizing him that much, at all, last Sunday. Many times lining up wide out, he only saw one target there, and got hit by Iloka when Brees under-threw him on the slant route. It was a mismatch going inside against the cornerback but Brees could not take advantage of it. Some other times the quarterback didn't even attempt to look at him, even when he was open for the touchdown on the inside seam after beating Reggie Nelson in the first drive. Too many times Brees checked down not trusting his arm, and I am sure those early misses didn't help.
The goal line stand in the second quarter forcing the Saints to turn the ball over on downs was a piece of beauty, with Peko and Maualuga being key to the play. Shawn Williams also deserves some credit; he recognized the play quickly on fourth down and helped the linebacker stop the fullback.
The defensive line is still an issue, but Thompson is back and gave 20 good snaps again, helping to keep his fellow defensive tackles fresh. There was no pass rush out of the front four at all, barring this holding on Wallace Gilberry rushing inside (we have already discussed this here) and another play by Dunlap when the starting Saints RT was out with an injury.
Bend but not break defense reminded many fans of the units Cincinnati had during the last few seasons under Mike Zimmer, but their opponent helped. Some shots were there to be taken. This is 3rd&5 and Graham is again outside against a much smaller cornerback.
And this was a clean pocket situation where Brees failed to see Graham wide open on the inside seam. The quarterback scrambled in turn, and the following pass was incomplete.
Graham tiene superado a Lamur por dentro y todo el centro libre pero Brees no se la da. Pocket limpio y corre. pic.twitter.com/IZxNpYEsNf— losbengals.com (@losbengalscom) November 20, 2014
It was also nice to see Kirkpatrick and Dennard play. Dre played 43 snaps outside, mostly on nickle formations, and this year's first rounder played 15 inside. They were both good, and PFF graded them positively (+1.0 and +1.3).