Each week, we will be taking a look at what we learned from that week's game. We will examine what we learned - good and bad - not just about the Bengals, but their opponent as well. We kick this new segment off with what we learned from the Bengals week 3 beat down of the Titans.
What we learned:
Andy Dalton is Good
I hear the Dalton haters already - "he can't win in the playoffs!" Well, to win in the playoffs, you have to get to the playoffs and so far, Dalton is three for three in getting to the playoffs and well on his way of going four for four. After 51 starts, Dalton is now 33-18, a .647 career winning percentage.
He looks good under Hue's system and his numbers are reflecting it. While his TDs are down - something we expected - they won't stay this low all year. Dalton's completion percentage (65.5%) is 4.4% above his career average.
His 8.6 YPA is up 1.55 YPA over his career average and his rating (95.4) is 9.2 points above his career average. Most importantly, in three games, he is 3-0 and has just 1 INT - a tipped ball - not a great pass, but catchable.
The Bengals Have Few (if any) Weaknesses
The Bengals are arguably the best team in the NFL right now. What is not arguable is that they are the most balanced team in the NFL. The Bengals offense ranks in the top 10 in terms of YPG, Passing YPG and PPG. On defense, the Bengals are No. 1 in terms of PPG.
The Bengals have a top 10 offense and defense, and possibly a top five offense and defense. Even the special teams play - with the exception of Nugent - has been solid. January is a long ways away, but when was the last time you can remember seeing a Bengals team with so few holes? I would say 1988.
Hue Jackson > Jay Gruden
Sure, they have had some redzone struggles, but the offense just seems like a much more well-oiled machine than it ever did under Gruden. The offense is dictating pace, keeping defenses guessing and Dalton is playing more efficient (and mistake-free) football. Most importantly, Hue is calling plays that utilize the Bengals (and Dalton's) strengths and building on those strengths rather than trying to out think the opponent as Gruden had a tendency to do.
The Bengals Defense is Really Good
The stats, in terms of yards, are a bit misleading as the Falcons and Titans put up some garbage time yards against backups and the Ravens had one 80 yard broken play. Where the defense really has excelled is in the PPG category where they rank first (11.0 PPG). In fact, of the 33 points the Bengals have allowed, 21 of those points have come in garbage time, and I believe only three have come without Burfict on the field.
Jeremy Hill is the Real Deal
Jeremy Hill has been just as advertised...maybe better. While he only has 26 carries, he has 2 TDs and is averaging 5.1 YPC. He is the perfect complement to the small and shifty Bernard and creates a dangerous backfield that keeps defenses from teeing off on rushing Dalton.
Paul Guenther Is an Upgrade from Mike Zimmer
I know, such a statement is blasphemous in Bengals Country, but, while it is only three games, this Bengals defense looks even better than those under Zimmer. The Bengals lead the league in PPG (11.0) and 21 of the 33 points surrendered have come in garbage time (Falcons and Titans TDs) or a broken plays (Ravens).
This is a defense that gave up 10 points to the Falcons (seven of which came after the game was over), the same Falcons team that put up 37 in week one against the Saints and 56 in week three against the Bucs. What I like about Guenther's defense is the pressure he brings. Zimmer didn't bring many blitzes, and though blitzes can leave a defense vulnerable, they help keep a quarterback from getting comfortable and in rhythm.
Guenther seems to be timing his blitzes well and it shows in how the opponents QBs have looked. Flacco, Ryan and Locker have looked extremely uncomfortable against Guenther's defense.
The Bengals Run Game is Still a Work in Progress
While Hill has run the ball well and Bernard has been explosive in the passing game, the Bengals are only averaging 3.6 YPC and that needs to improve. Hue Jackson's goal this year was 4.5 YPC and so far, Bernard is only getting 3.4. Whether it is a product of the blocking or Bernard not making the right reads, you would like to see the YPC at least above 4.0. As the season wears on, I would expect this number to improve.
If Jake Locker is the Answer, the Question is Not "Who is the Titans Franchise QB"
Yes, the Bengals defense was good, but let's not kid ourselves, Jake Locker left a lot of plays on the field on Sunday. Locker's knock coming out of college was his accuracy and it still appears to be an issue (career 57.1%). With this being a contract year for Locker, the Titans find themselves in quite a bind - unless they think Charlie Whitehurst is their franchise QB.