Sometimes the ugliest wins in the NFL are the sweetest. The Baltimore Ravens were 8-0 in their past eight season openers at home and the Bengals hadn't won a game at M & T Bank Stadium in four years. After dominating the game for nearly three quarters, the Ravens clawed their way back and then the Bengals shut the door swiftly and headed back home a 1-0 team.
Even though it was a quality, hard-fought win, questions began to surface with some trouble areas, which were noticeable in Baltimore. Bengals fans asked us some of these questions for the upcoming home opener against the Falcons this Sunday.
In a word, yes. The trio of wide receivers that Matt Ryan has at his disposal are formidable and many teams have trouble keeping them in check. The New Orleans Saints, who have spent the past two seasons re-building their secondary with players like Jairus Byrd, Kenny Vaccaro and Stanley Jean-Baptiste via free agency and the draft, allowed a record-setting day last week to the Falcons. Though the Bengals have six former first round players in their secondary, they will have their hands full.
Really, the defensive mantra for the week should be the old adage of "can't stop them, just hope to contain them". If you look at last week, defensive coordinator Paul Guenther did a great job limiting the deep ball by Joe Flacco to Torrey Smith and Steve Smith, save for a broken play where Flacco hit Smith. That same game plan will need to be utilized this week.
There is one caveat that will need to be improved upon this week, though: generating a pass rush without blitzing. Last week, the Bengals front four had trouble getting consistent pressure without blitzes by linebackers or safety Reggie Nelson. Perhaps with Margus Hunt getting back to his preseason form and Geno Atkins getting his legs under him after his first full game back from injury, the defensive unit can make it happen. Being able to bring heat without blitzing could force Ryan into making bad throws, thus limiting big plays form their offense.
Can they stop/contain them? Sure--they have the talent on the field and the brains on the sidelines. Will they? It's just up to the execution.
One of our own contributors who goes by "muertedeatenas" had an interesting question this week as well, surrounding the uncertain status of linebacker Vontaze Burfict. As you may remember, Burfict suffered a concussion and is undergoing protocols this week.
@CJAnthonyCUI if Burfict is not ready to go... Rey at WILL on base and Mays at nickel LB?— losbengals.com (@losbengalscom) September 10, 2014
He further clarified that "Rey at WILL" is referring to Vincent Rey, not Rey Maualuga. If you didn't see Taylor Mays much against the Ravens, don't worry, you're sane. The "hy-backer" played only two snaps in Baltimore, relegating his duties to mostly special teams. This tells me two things--first, they love Emmanuel Lamur and second, they still don't trust Mays all that much in critical situations.
Still, with the plethora of Falcons wide receivers that I mentioned above, the uncertain status of Burfict, Maualuga's limitations in pass coverage and Darqueze Dennard nursing an injury of his own, we could see more of Mays this week. Last year in his new role, Mays primarily played the slot, as well as a "rover" type of position where he shadowed running backs, fullbacks and tight ends in short areas.
The Bengals have wisely taken away deep zone responsibilities from Mays and made him in charge of small chunks of the field to play to the strength of his excellent straight-line/short area speed. Mays won't bee needed as a critical player on the defense this week, but a little physicality against the talented Atlanta passing offense couldn't hurt to send a message. The Falcons also use their backs to catch the ball a bit (144 total catches by running backs and fullbacks last year), so maybe that's where they will use him more this week.
Will he be in there often and every time they line up in nickel? I'm not sure about that. I do expect that Mays will see a significant increase of snaps on defense this week, though.
The final question of the week is about a player who is often the subject of Bengals' fans scorn. Tight end Jermaine Gresham had an inauspicious start to the season with just two catches for 16 yards, a drop that would have been a first down and a false start penalty. The worst part about it is that he had three quarters as the primary tight end and couldn't contribute more to the offense than that.
On Monday, Gresham sent out a tweet that caught Danne's eye. It was short, cryptic and could be taken in a lot of ways.
Wish I could speak my mind and tell my side.— Jermaine Gresham (@JGresham84) September 9, 2014
Now, I'm not with TMZ, so I'm not going to go heavily investigating one odd tweet. But, it shows weird timing a day after a poor performance on the field and the same day that the Ray Rice video was released to the public. This could truly mean a number of things.
In fairness to him and his privacy, I won't try and play psychologist. Briefly looking into it, this could be a subtle shot and fans and the media for jumping on him for on-field production, it could be in regards to the Rice situation--heck, it could even be song lyrics, for all we know.
Unfortunately for him, Gresham has become a whipping boy of sorts, along with the likes of Brandon Tate and Russell Bodine. Everything he says and does will be looked at an even finer microscope than that of the average celebrity and/or professional athlete, especially from the fans. We at Cincy Jungle have been tough on Gresham--some of it earned, some of it not--but, we're not going to go deep into speculation on a single tweet. Maybe I'm part of the problem by even shining light on this tweet that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.
I will say this: if, for whatever reason, this cryptic tweet is directed to his on-field play and/or status with the Bengals, I hope that he steps up in Eifert's absence (who went to IR-Recall on Wednesday) and becomes a fixture in this offense. The Bengals offense, for all of its good points on Sunday, was awful on third down and red zone situations and hopefully No.84 can be a solution to those issues.
He's always been a relatively reserved guy since joining the team in 2010 and chooses his words carefully, but let's not read too much into ten simple words. Let's not jump on him either for what is very likely an innocent tweet--just let him play football.
Thanks to everyone who submitted questions this week! Keep them coming for this weekly feature!