In the NFL, a win is a win, and a win against a division rival is an even better win. Oh yeah, and a 7-0 start is pretty awesome! Here is what we learned in Pittsburgh on Sunday about the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Bengals are 7-0 for the first time in franchise history.
No explaining needed on this one.
At 7-0, the Bengals will get noticed.
Going into the weekend, only 14 teams in the last 25 years have started 7-0, yet I can hear it already: "the Steelers were without Le'Veon Bell;" "Ben Roethlisberger was not 100%;" "the Bengals played terrible;" "Dalton choked on the national stage;" "they still won't win a playoff game;" etc. Mike Greenberg of ESPN's Mike and Mike even tweeted before the end of the game that if the Steelers were healthy, they would be the biggest threat to the Patriots. I have a feeling Mr. Greenberg hasn't watch many of the Steelers games in 2015. Still, we'll likely see pundits who rather than giving the Bengals credit for overcoming 10 penalties for 94 yards, a blocked field goal, an end zone interception, a fourth quarter deficit in one of the hardest places to play and overall bad football, the narrative will be on the negatives and what Pittsburgh was missing. Don't get me wrong, I like the lack of respect and think it will be used as motivation, but the excuses amongst the talking heads as to why this team isn't a legit Super Bowl contender are getting old...and sillier.
Shawn Williams had a coming out party in a huge way!
For three years, Bengals fans have been wondering if they would ever see the third round pick out of Georgia show what he's capable of. Coming into the season, Williams had a whopping 14 tackles one recovered fumble and no other stats. But, Williams showed up on Sunday and showed us he can make a big play when needed. His impressive fourth quarter pick of Ben Roethlisberger was not only the first pick of his career, it all but sealed the game for the Bengals.
The Bengals played terrible football, in Pittsburgh, in a huge (essentially nationally televised) game...and won.
The Bengals had 10 penalties for 94 yards, Dalton threw two picks (including one in the end zone), they had a field goal blocked, they barely ran the ball, struggled passing, couldn't protect their quarterback, and had a number of bad calls go against them...yet they won. In Pittsburgh. Try to remember the last time you saw a Bengals team play so poorly, yet bounce off the mat for a final clutch, game winning drive. I can't. And as much as I would have loved to see the Bengals win by 30, ugly wins count just the same and in my opinion, an ugly win like that proves more to me about the team than a high scoring "pretty" win. More importantly, this team looks like they believe in themselves and each other. That is something I can't say about some of the recent Bengals teams.
Andy Dalton was not great, but he was good when it counted.
It should come as a shock to no one that the Dalton haters started creeping back up on Twitter, both among fans and media. However, he didn't quite play into their narrative when he brought the team back from another fourth quarter deficit and led the Bengals to a victory in Pittsburgh. That being said, I doubt he will get the credit he deserves. Despite outplaying Ben Roethlisberger in Roethlisberger's home stadium, I am sure the focus in the media will be Dalton's two interceptions and his accuracy issues. Don't get me wrong, he did not have a good game, and the interception in the end zone was inexcusable. That being said, he did what was needed to win. Dalton isn't going to keep up his 116+ rating pace for the entire season. He will have bad throws and bad games - just as every quarterback does. (Did you see Aaron Rodgers last night?) The Bengals just need him not to kill them with turnovers and to bounce back when the inevitable turnover comes. He did that Sunday. He also tied the NFL record for most road wins in his first five seasons (23) - an impressive stat that he'll likely break later this season.
Hue Jackson called his worst game of the season.
Through the first six games, I thought Hue had called some great games. Game seven did not fall into that category. In a game that was within one score the entire afternoon, Hue called 64 plays, and by my account, 48 were pass plays and only 16 (or just 25%) were runs. Even more confusing was the single run play to the Bengals leading rusher, Giovani Bernard. Bernard came into the game averaging 5.5 YPC and ran for 12 in his only run of the day. The series that frustrated me (and I think many) the most was the first and goal the Bengals had late in the fourth quarter. Bernard had just run 12 yards to the five yard line and Hue called three straight passes - one fade - and the last was picked off. Hopefully this was just a situation where the penalties and play of the line threw off the plan.
Jeremy Hill is still alive.
Finally, we saw a glimpse of the 2014 version of Hill. While he only had 60 yards and no touchdowns, he did get 15 carries and ended with a respectable 4.0 YPC. If the Bengals can get Hill going, this offense could be the best in the NFL.
The offensive line was brutal.
Coming into the game, the Bengals line had surrendered six sacks, or just one per game. On Sunday, they surrendered half of that (3) and Dalton was constantly running for his life. Andre Smith in particular had a rough day, but he was not alone. It seemed as though every member of the line got flagged on Sunday.
After the first drive, the defense played pretty well...but I still don't trust them.
It is hard to bang on the defense after surrendering just 10 points to the Steelers, and just three after the first drive. But, I do not trust this unit at this point. Roethlisberger had all day to throw behind a beat up line and DeAngelo Williams and Le'Veon Bell averaged 6.1 YPC. Not to mention, the prevent defense that saw the Steelers drive down to the Bengals' 15 yard line at the end of the game before faltering was lacking. I think the defense is better than their stats show, but they worry me.
Darqueze Dennard deserves a look for the starting cornerback role.
All offseason long, we were told how great Dre Kirkpatrick looked. Well, through seven games, count me as unimpressed. Kirkpatrick was abused by Antonio Brown early on and while Brown is one of the most difficult guys to cover in the league, he is not the only person Kirkpatrick has struggled with this season (Steve Smith and Jeremy Maclin come to mind). While Dennard has not played a bunch, in the limited snaps I have seen, he has looked very good and had a very impressive interception. At some point, I think Dennard deserves a shot to see what he can do as a starter.
Vontaze Burfict at 75-80% is still the best linebacker on this team.
Despite only playing about half the snaps, Burfict's presence was felt. He had the first two tackles on Bell and it was Burfict that ultimately put the hit on Bell to knock him out. The play was not a dirty play and was just good hustle by Burfict to chase the play down. How nice was it to be sitting at 6-0 and getting one of the best linebackers in the game back to help bring the team to 7-0.
The level of officiating in the NFL is embarrassing.
I will say, I was impressed the crew picked up the Pass Interference penalty on the Bengals. Rarely do you see that, but it was the right call. That being said, that was about all the refs got right. Most notably was the play right before Dalton's interception. The Steelers pushed A.J. Green out of the back of the end zone and the crew picked up their flag, saying there was no pass interference. While that was debatable, what wasn't debatable was the fact that Green was pushed out of the end zone 15 yards past the line of scrimmage...way past the 5 yard contact rule. That call nearly cost the Bengals the game, because instead of first and goal from the one, it was third and goal from the five and Dalton was picked off in the end zone.
The Bengals cannot afford another game like that in terms of penalties.
I will say it one more time, 10 penalties for 94 yards. That can't happen again. The Bengals lost a field goal due to a penalty and had multiple situations of great field position wiped out by penalties, most notably the penalty by Adam Jones after his punt return. We all love Jones' intensity, but he has to make sure he doesn't hurt his team. On Sunday, he hurt his team.
In the midst of writing this, 12 more flags were thrown.
20 penalties were accepted on Sunday. Countless others were offset, declined or negated. That makes for brutal viewing.
The NFL fines players for shirts being untucked and socks too high/low...yet they don't fine the Steelers for wearing those blinding uniforms?
Wow those things are bad.
Someone needs to develop a "Mute Dan Fouts" app.
There can't be a worse, less prepared and more biased announcer than Fouts and I cringe anytime I have to watch a game (Bengals or not) where Fouts is in the booth. On Sunday, Fouts got Vinny Rey and Reggie Nelson confused - other than the dreads, the height, the build, the number and the name, they are basically twins. He also mixed up Mike Nugent and Kevin Huber and I am sure there are plenty others I am missing. How shallow is the color analyst talent pool that Fouts continues to be CBS' guy?
A.J. Green needs a new pair of pants!
I saw a post from Green over the weekend on Instagram. Apparently A.J. Green had a date night with his wife this weekend and posted a picture of his outfit; it appears as though a Bengal tiger got to Green's pants. Apparently, he has not used any of his new wealth to buy a new pair of pants.
The conversation shifts from winning the division to getting a playoff bye and home field advantage
At 7-0 and with a 3.5 game lead in the division, the focus now shifts from winning the division to acquiring a bye and home field advantage. Unfortunately for the Bengals, they are in the AFC with two other 7-0 teams.