While offensive stars like Tyler Eifert and Jeremy Hill got much of the limelight in this one, it was Cincinnati's domination in the trenches that won this game. We already knew the Bengals had one of the best offensive lines in football, but it was the defensive line and front seven that were surprisingly good in this one.
After all, the defense finished dead last in sacks last year (20 in 16 games) and 20th against the run (116.3 yards per game allowed). Against the Raiders, they allowed a mere 63 yards on 16 carries (3.9 yards per carry) while registering a pair of sacks and several more QB hits and pressures.
But the real story was how well the offensive line played and how they made the Raiders' front seven look like a scout-team defense. Not only were the big uglies paving the way for Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard to run wild (126 yards on 27 runs combined), but they also did an admirable job protecting Andy Dalton.
Not once was Dalton sacked in this one and was hit just once while passing. He rarely made a throw while being even remotely pressured, and he knows his big day (25/34 269 yards, 2 scores) can largely be attributed to his lineman.
"Yeah they did a really good job. We knew what we were going up against: a couple really good rushers and they are good up front. No it was big for us," Dalton said at a press conference Sunday. "Those guys played really, really well and my hats off to them."
Raiders star linebackers Khalil Mack and Aldon Smith were turned into ghosts in this one as Andrew Whitworth and the rest of the line blanked them to the tune of six tackles, no tackles for loss, no sacks and one QB hit.
"He’s (Aldon Smith) got something like 44 sacks in 50 games, but I’ve played him twice and he doesn’t have one," Whitworth said on Sunday after the game. "They’re good pass rushers. They’re going to be a good team, but the Cincinnati Bengals have good tackles."
While it was nice to see guys like Hill and Eifert showing they can be big playmakers in this offense, teams often win big by dominating in the trenches, and Cincinnati did that on both sides of the ball on this day.If they can keep doing that against better teams, this could be the Bengals team that finally makes a deep playoff run.