Only the Cincinnati Bengals know how to make create a roller coaster of emotions in a 48-hour period. After receiving help from the Steelers in the AFC playoff picture on Sunday before they even took the field, the Bengals clinched the division and held their destiny in their hands. If they beat a quality, playoff caliber team with a backup quarterback they would have a postseason bye week to get their starting signal-caller healthy. If they lost, which we now know they did, it would be a bit more of the same experience that fans have seen and felt over the past half-decade.
Now, Cincinnati's chances of grabbing the bye have seemingly slipped through their fingers. Even so, the Bengals are still set to host a playoff game, though they aren't sure exactly who'll they be hosting and if the help they received in Week 16 will appear again in the final week of the season.
Given the tumultuous time in Who Dey Nation, we received a couple of interesting questions this week. Submit your questions to us via Twitter or email to be answered on this weekly feature!
@CincyJungle why don't coaches take a TO or offsides penalty when there is a player lineup that is getting gashed a la Hunt, Sims, Thomspon?— Mike (@MikeThomas_1970) December 30, 2015
This is such a great question from a loyal CJ reader and listener to the Inside the Jungle podcast. There were times late in the game against the Denver Broncos where fans had to be hoping the coaches would throw in the towel, likely in the form Mike is talking about. After barely being on the field for much of the first half, the Bengals' defense was getting gashed by just a handful of plays.
A number of issues were to blame on Monday night: certain defenders' inability to cover a tight end late, the famed Denver zone blocking scheme in the run game making C.J. Anderson look like a star, and the altitude and its thin air gassed the Bengals' defense late. However, so many coaches at so many levels call timeouts while their offense is on the field to ensure the correct formation is in play. Why don't more coaches do it frequently to aid the defense?
Any number of fans could see the Bengals' defense was struggling late in the game, hence why heady veteran Domata Peko seemingly feigned an injury to spell a unit that had their collective hands on their hips. It isn't a coincidence that Michael Johnson forced a critical fumble just two plays later to spark life in the Bengals.
Defenders getting "injured" to slow up an offense isn't a new fad in the NFL. In the Bengals' late 1980s heyday, teams like the Buffalo Bills famously faked ailments in a playoff game, which Cincinnati ultimately won. With the emphasis on the passing game in recent years and with so many offensive coordinators using the hurry-up offense to aid young quarterbacks, why aren't defensive coordinators using more tactics to aid their flailing defenses.
For the Bengals specifically, there is one obvious reason as to why they're not. For all of the wizardry Hue Jackson has added to Cincinnati's offense, the big tarnish on the resume this year is the incessant burning of timeouts. Some think it's because of the complexity of his scheme, while others point to the relative youth of the offense as the reasons why. Either way, the Bengals have often seem to be wishing for timeouts back at the end of halves.
With a premium placed on the offense having as many timeouts available in the second and fourth quarters, using timeouts on the defense catching its breath and regrouping just isn't a priority. But, often times, it should be. Using timeouts on defense can throw a red hot offense off track and get everyone's legs back under them.
As for taking an offsides penalty, I can't agree there. Giving up free yards just isn't a viable option, especially if we're talking about scenarios where the defense is already getting gashed. I think the "injuries" and timeouts are probably the better options. We'll see if the Bengals utilize some more of these tricks going forward, especially when facing some pretty potent offenses in the postseason.
@CincyJungle Question, I am curious how may times in a game Dalton changes the play? Is this the usual game plan or is this conservative.— George Frost (@gef1219) December 30, 2015
To be honest, I'm not sure, and probably only Andy Dalton and Jackson know the official answer. I'm sure the amount changes week-to-week, but there's no doubt the fifth-year quarterback has changed plays at the line and excels at it. Perhaps Jackson gives him a couple options pre-snap, but Dalton's comfort level in this offense and Jackson's confidence in Dalton making the right decisions had him in the 2015 MVP race before his Week 14 thumb injury.
Where I've personally noticed a lot of the pre-snap changes is when Dalton ends up keeping the ball and running with it. Many times this year, Dalton has read defenses and audibled a quarterback keeper, often with awesome results. This tactic has become especially effective with the full arsenal of weapons back for Cincinnati's offense.
I wouldn't call it conservative per se, I'd say it's intelligent and playing to what the offense sees as opportunities to strike. It has usually worked very well in their favor on many occasions, so it's hard to argue against the effectiveness.
In fact, the audibles and pre-snap reads are what the offense is missing the most with Dalton's injury. AJ McCarron has stepped up admirably with four touchdown passes and just two interceptions (none of the interceptions came in his two starts), but consistency on the offense is lacking. Some believe it's due to drives deeper into games that go off the script Jackson has laid out for McCarron.
I say it's his inexperience and inability to read NFL defenses to make the types pf pre-snap changes Dalton was able to consistently make this year. While the Bengals are 1-1 in McCarron's starts with the loss coming on the road in overtime, it's the scripted plays that currently work best for the second-year backup. In this vein, Jackson might be utilizing a bit of conservatism, preferring to have the young McCarron stick to a plan and not get too creative.
This isn't to say he can't grow into a player capable of making the type of early reads Dalton does, but he just isn't there yet. And, because of it, the offense isn't where it was at its peak in 2015.