It is often said that more is learned from failures and losses than successes and wins. I, for one, believe this to be true, and Monday night offered plenty of learning opportunities for the Bengals, both on and off the field. This Sunday night, we will see just how much the Bengals learned from their lackluster performance on Monday night, most of which was on the negative side. However, before we launch into the bad, let's keep in mind that the Bengals are still 8-1, have the third best record in the NFL and are still sitting pretty for the number two seed in the AFC. So, here is what we learned once all the dust settled after the Texans upset the Bengals in Cincinnati.
The Bengals missed a HUGE opportunity on Monday night.
With the Patriots continuing to win and the Broncos losing their second game in as many weeks and looking vulnerable without a healthy Peyton Manning, the Bengals really needed that game to not only keep pace with New England, but to create some space for the two seed.
The Bengals scored six points and had nine penalties.
I may not have the background of some of the big money analysts, but I can tell you this much: when a team has more penalties than points, that is not a recipe for success and I would venture to guess that few teams in NFL history have won a game where they had more penalties than points.
Hue Jackson needs to throw out the game plan he used for the Texans.
Much is made of Jackson's creativity as offensive coordinator and his use of crazy formations to confuse defenses, but sometimes coordinators can get too cute. I think that is exactly what happened on Monday night. Trying to negate J.J. Watt with the quick passes and reverses, may make sense in theory, but when it isn't working (and it wasn't), the plan needs to change. Jackson did a poor job of adjusting. When you have better players than your opponent, and the Bengals had better players than the Texans, the best recipe is to just to line up and let your talent win the game. I thought Jackson negated his talent advantage by getting too cute and as a result, the offense never got in rhythm.
Penalties killed the Bengals early.
In fairness to Hue, the Bengals kept shooting themselves in the foot with penalties on early downs and causing the Bengals to start in a hole. As a result, the Bengals' game plan was likely thrown off a bit.
Andy Dalton was not the problem, nor the reason the Bengals lost...but he will get the blame and the talk of his "Primetime Woes" will continue...and get louder.
While Dalton had some poor throws - most notably the deep balls where he didn't give his receivers a chance - if you watched the game objectively, he didn't play bad. If not for the uncharacteristic three drops by Tyler Eifert - all of which would have extended drives - Dalton's 22/38 for 197 yards, would have been 25/38 (65.8%) for about 240 yards, a stat line that many would have been interpreted much differently than it is today. But, because Dalton has the reputation for folding in the primetime, he will get the blame and the critics will overlook the drops, the penalties, the offensive line issues and his strong performance just 10 days prior (which was also in primetime). Unfortunately for Dalton and the Bengals, because this narrative has been written for so long, this is going to be a difficult reputation to shed.
The last two regular season losses ended with the Bengals driving for the win and A.J. Green fumbling.
There was plenty of blame to go around in this game, and one complaint is that Green was not involved enough. However, with the game on the line, just as he did last year in Pittsburgh, Dalton looked to his big time receiver to make a play. In both situations, Dalton made a clutch throw and Green made the catch. Unfortunately, in both situations, Green landed on the ground with the ball no longer in his possession. For all the talk about Dalton's struggles in primetime, Green is right there with him.
Tyler Eifert played terrible on Monday night, but I am not concerned.
Eifert wasn't himself on Monday night. There is no point in sugarcoating it, and to his credit, he said the same in his postgame comments. He was tossed around in the run game. He couldn't catch. And in my opinion, he altered his route on the missed connection between he and Dalton when his defender fell down. That being said, I am not one bit concerned with Eifert. He will bounce back.
For the third straight game, the Bengals offensive line did not give Dalton enough time.
The other narrative which will be ignored during the national pummeling of Dalton will be the poor play of the offensive line. After a hot start to the season, the line has allowed eight sacks, 12 quarterback hits and countless pressures on Dalton the last three games. Monday night, the line gave up three sacks, four quarterback hits and Dalton rarely had time to sit in the pocket and go through his progressions. Eric Winston filled in OK for Andre Smith, but the Bengals could certainly benefit from the return of their big right tackle.
I don't know what is wrong with Jeremy Hill, but he has not earned the playing time he is getting.
Jeremy Hill does not look like the player that led the NFL in rushing yards the last nine games of his rookie season. In 2014, Hill ran with a purpose. He ran angry, he hit the hole and he was a load to take down. That is not the Hill we have seen through the first nine games of 2015. The 2015 version of Hill is spending a lot of time dancing and rarely picks up any yards after contact. My observation last night was that Hill is stopping his feet as soon as he is contacted and is not driving through contact. Maybe his knee is bothering him. Perhaps the fumbles are in his head. But at this point, the offense stalls with him in the lineup and he has not earned the snaps he is receiving.
A.J. Green owes Andy Dalton a huge apology.
This may sound crazy, but as I stated above, the Bengals last two regular season losses ended with Dalton leading the team deep into their opponent's territory with what would be a game winning drive under the bright lights, only to have Green fumble the ball (and the game) away. Before Monday it was the Week 17 game against the Steelers in 2014 where this happened. By no means am I placing the blame of either game solely on Green and absolving Dalton, but in both games - both on the national stage - Dalton was driving his team deep, making clutch plays and had Green held onto the ball, Dalton would get credit for leading two clutch - and gutsy - late game-winning drives on the national stage. Instead, Dalton is yet again getting slammed in the media for his inability to win and play well when the games matter most and while his quarterback gets raked over the coals, Green's miscues slide under the radar.
T.J. Yates will not be getting a Christmas card from me.
Red Sox fans refer to former Cincinnati Red, Aaron Boone, simply as "Aaron F@$%ing Boone" and I now refer to T.J. Yates as "T.J. F@$%ing Yates." The former fifth round pick out of North Carolina apparently turns into Joe Montana when facing the Bengals. Yates has played in 17 games, going 3-4 as a starter and compiling five touchdowns to 10 interceptions. Against the Bengals, he is 3-0 (2-0 as a starter) with four touchdowns and just one interception - including a 31-10 win over the Bengals in the 2011 playoffs. If I never see Yates again, it will be too soon.
J.J. Watt's comments about Dalton, in my opinion, were a bad joke and surprising based on what I know about Watt, but Dalton overreacted.
In the words of the great Ron Burgundy, "boy, that escalated quickly...I mean, that really got out of hand fast." I like Watt and have always thought he was a great ambassador of the game, on and off-the-field, so I was surprised by his comments, but I don't think there was any ill intent. It was nothing more than an attempt at a joke that fell flat. Dalton's response, in my opinion, was an overreaction. In defense of Dalton, he likely didn't get the context around the quotes coming minutes after the game, but he would have been better served just passing it off and moving on. That being said, Dalton was angry, and if he can leverage that anger for the rest of the season the way he leveraged the All-Star game boos he received in July, that could be great news for the Bengals and could turn Watt into my favorite player.
DeAndre Hopkins is really good.
For the most part, the Bengals held Hopkins in check (5 catches, 57 yards), but his touchdown was a thing of beauty. Adam Jones had perfect coverage on the play, and in real time, I thought there was no way: a) Hopkins caught the pass to begin with, or b) got his feet in bounds. I certainly didn't think both had occurred, but, as has happened once or twice before, I was wrong. Sometimes you just have to tip your cap to the opponent and realize a great player made a great play to beat you and that is exactly what Hopkins did.
The Bengals defense played very well.
As frustrating as Monday night was, there were some good things to take away from the game and one of those was the play of the defense. The Bengals have now surrendered just 10 points in each of the last three games and while the Browns and Texans are by no means potent offenses, the Bengals' defense now ranks first in the NFL in terms of points per game (16.9).
Giovani Bernard has earned the bulk of the playing time.
Bernard was the lone bright spot on the offensive side of the ball. With 79 total yards and 4.5 yards per carry on eight carries, Bernard has earned more carries than he is getting. Every time the Bengals needed a big play/3rd down conversion, it felt like Bernard was the one that came through. At this point, the offense simply runs better with Bernard on the field.
The Bengals are 8-1 and this debauchery will be forgotten if the go to Arizona and win.
The Bengals bandwagon - especially from a national standard - may have gotten a bit less full after Monday night, but if they bounce back and win in Arizona, it will fill back up very rapidly and most of Monday's sting will be forgotten. Regardless, after nine games, the Bengals are 8-1, have a 2.5 game lead in the division and a one game lead in the race for the second bye, and that, as Marvin Lewis would say, is a good thing.