Two weeks into the season and the Bengals rank fifth in points scored, third in points against and are one of just nine unbeaten teams. That, my friends, is what you call a hot start. With the Ravens on the schedule next week, the Bengals have the opportunity to blow open a huge early season gap between them and one of their division rivals. Here is what we learned in the Bengals' Week 2 matchup against the San Diego Chargers:
Sloppy wins count the same as pretty wins...and 2-0 feels really nice!
It wasn't pretty. In fact, for the most part, it was downright ugly (for both teams) on defense, special teams and at times, offense. But as they say, a win is a win and at the end of the season, this one won't have an asterisk next to it and that means the Bengals are 2-0 and no other team in the division is.
Andy Dalton is playing very good football right now.
Most won't admit to it, or they will try and minimize his play by pointing out a few missed deep balls, but Andy Dalton is playing some of the best football of his career right now. After two games, Dalton is 41/60 (68.3%) for 483 yards, 5 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, 0 fumbles and a rating of 120.3 and a QBR of 71.9. That is good. That is not just "good for Andy" good, that is simply "good for any quarterback good." Sure, it is only Week 3, but through the first two weeks, Dalton is 5th in the NFL in quarterback rating, 5th in QBR, tied with Aaron Rodgers for 4th with five touchdowns and is top 12 in completion percentage, yards per attempt. Hell, about half of Dalton's 19 incompletions have been throw aways or drops (and smart throw aways). Most importantly, through two games, Dalton has zero turnovers (knock on wood). Say what you want about Dalton, but he looks comfortable and when Dalton plays the way he has thus far in 2015, this Bengals team will be hard to beat.
Tyler Eifert's presence makes this offense one of the most difficult to cover.
He didn't have the numbers he did in Oakland, but Eifert now has 13 receptions for 157 yards and 3 touchdowns and has proven that he cannot be covered. If teams want to double up Green, Eifert will make them pay. It is becoming very apparent just how much the Bengals (Dalton specifically) missed the big tight end in 2014. Eifert is too fast for linebackers, too big for safeties and corners and is very effective in the screen game as well. What also is apparent is that even when "covered," Eifert is still open.
Giovani Bernard looked like the Gio we anticipated in 2014.
Perhaps Bernard was more injured than we realized in 2014, but he had a disappointing 2014 season and did not look impressive in the preseason, but since the real games started, he has been the best back in the Bengals backfield. Bernard now has 186 yards on 28 carries (6.6 YPC) compared to Hill's 102 yards on 29 carries (3.5 YPC). Most importantly, Bernard has zero fumbles.
It is nice to see Marvin Jones back on the field.
Eifert's injury in 2014 was the most devastating, but Marvin Jones was a close second and after Sunday's 45 yard touchdown strike, it is easy to see why. Jones has the speed to make teams pay in one-on-one matchups and is much more sure-handed than last year's No. 2 receiver, Mohamed Sanu. What many forget/don't know (especially the national folk), is the last time Marvin Jones was healthy for an entire season (2013), he contributed 712 yards and 10 touchdowns. With the emergence of Eifert and the running game, Jones may not put up those sort of numbers, but anytime a team looks to take away Green and or Eifert, Jones is capable of carrying the load.
Dennis Roland is no Jake Fisher.
When is the last time you saw the old tackle eligible play result in said tackle running a wheel route and rumbling down the sidelines for 31 yards? How about never. Fisher, a former tight end, looked extremely athletic and quick running the route and Hue gave defensive coordinators just one more thing to think about. Normally, when the third tackle comes in as eligible, it is a sure fire run - at least it was when Roland perfected the "Tackle Eligible" play - but now opposing defenses will have to respect Fisher's ability to catch and that gives the Bengals an advantage on that play the rest of the year.
Chris Hairston is having nightmares and the bogey man in his dreams is wearing No. 97.
The injury in Week 1 to Chargers right guard D.J. Fluker meant Chris Hairston took over as the starting right guard...and drew the unenviable job of blocking Geno Atkins. Safe to say yesterday's game couldn't come to an end soon enough for Hairston. Atkins finished the day with 3 tackles, 1 sack, 3 quarterback hits and seemingly spent all afternoon living behind the Chargers offensive line. When Atkins wasn't making the play, he was blowing the play up and allowing someone else to make the play.
Leon Hall is still a solid No. 3 cornerback.
The Bengals don't have a top 5 cornerback on their team - at least not yet - but I would be willing to bet they have the best group of corners as a whole. In the words of Chuck Sheen, when Leon Hall is your slot corner, you are "winning" when it comes to cornerbacks. Hall is playing well enough at the moment to hold off 2014 first round pick Darqueze Dennard and Sunday, Hall had a few nice plays including a huge stop on the two-point conversion attempt late in the fourth quarter. Hall's perfect read on the short pass allowed the Bengals to keep a five point lead and forced the Chargers to go for a touchdown on their last possession and not play for a field goal. Hall may not hold the slot corner position much longer - heck, he may not be on the team after 2015 - but he isn't giving up his role easily and the team is better because of it.
Remember the defensive line that finished dead last in 2014 with 20 sacks? Well, this is a different line...and as Marvin says, that's a good thing.
Really, the only difference (personnel wise) is Michael Johnson and Pat Sims - solid players, but not world beaters - but, combined with a healthy Atkins and an improved Will Clarke, it results in a deeper line and allows the Bengals to get back to the eight man rotations they used so effectively back in 2012 and 2013 - a rotation which made them one of the best lines in the league. Through two games, the Bengals have six sacks, about one third of their 2014 total.
The Bengals missed seventeen more tackles.
Honestly, I lost count of the missed tackles after about....well, the first drive! Rarely do you see a team tackle so poorly yet control a game the way the Bengals did. I don't want to knock what was - overall - a decent defensive game, but the Bengals must improve their tackling. That sort of effort against the Ravens, Steelers, Broncos, etc. will result in a blowout - in the wrong direction.
For the second week in a row, Dalton was not sacked...but too many rushers were unaccounted for.
When the quarterback stays upright, you have a much better chance of winning and through the first two games, the Bengals quarterback has been sacked zero times. That being said, I can remember about five times off the top of my head when a blitzer got to Dalton completely unimpeded on Sunday and that needs to be cleaned up. Most notably was when Mantei Teo got to Dalton without being touched and obliterated him, and if not for replay showing Dalton's arm coming forward (just slightly), the Chargers would have had a touchdown and the game may not have turned out as it did.
Jeremy Hill has issues holding onto the football and until he proves otherwise, Bernard needs to play more.
One thing that was lost in Jeremy Hill's breakout rookie season (pun intended), was his issues with ball security. Hill fumbled five times on just 222 attempts (2.3%) and after his two fumble outing on Sunday, Hill has two fumbles on 29 touches in 2015 (6.9%). Yes, I think his knee was down on the first one, but it doesn't matter, he has to secure the ball to the ground. While he only lost two of his five fumbles in 2014, that is dumb luck and what isn't in that stat is his "near fumbles," i.e. when he fumbled but replay showed his knee was down - something that happened on more than one occasion. Good running backs only fumble 2-3 times per year; Hill just hit that total in one game. Hill is a great runner, and in my opinion, has the ability to be the best back in the NFL, but if he can't hold onto the football, he can't play. The Bengals have a fully capable back in Giovani Bernard, and while he isn't the powerful bell cow back that Hill is, he is trustworthy with the ball. Until Hill can prove he can secure the football, Bernard needs to see more playing time than Hill - and that makes this offense slightly less dynamic.
Brandon Thompson has been inactive the last two games and that says a LOT, because Domata Peko offers the defense very little.
I don't know what is going on with Thompson as I thought he looked good last year, but he has been a healthy scratch in both games in 2015 and that says a lot, because Peko does very little when in there. If Thompson can't beat out Peko for a starting spot, it makes me wonder why the Bengals didn't go after a defensive tackle in round two who could improve the line instead of taking Jake Fisher. While I supported the drafting of Fisher, imagine if the Bengals had a good tackle to put next to Geno. That would be scary. Most of the tackles they had their eye on were gone by the 53rd pick, but Carl Davis was there and would have looked nice next to Geno.
Vinny Rey and Rey Maualuga were getting abused in coverage.
Melvin Gordon, Danny Woodhead and Ladarius Green accounted for 12 receptions and 125 yards on Sunday, most of which were against Rey or Maualuga. Sure, that is a tough trio to cover for any linebacker, but it just looked too easy and seemed as though the Bengals players wearing the numbers in the 50's were always a good five feet behind the person they were supposed to be covering. Rey made a nice interception to end the game, but I imagine teams with pass catching running backs (Ravens, Steelers, etc.) took note of the Bengals linebackers in coverage.
The Bengals should have kept Josh Brown after the 2012 season rather than Mike Nugent.
I like Mike Nugent. I think he is a great guy and he had one hell of a bounce back after his awful start in 2014. I also think he is an average kicker that a team can win with. But, in 2012, due to a Nugent injury, the Bengals picked up Josh Brown for the final four games of the season and he proceeded to go 11/12 with his only miss being a 56 yard attempt in Pittsburgh - a nearly impossible kick. In the 2013 offseason, the Bengals decided to not resign Brown - a career 83.0% kicker - and instead continue with Nugent - a career 80.3% kicker. Since then, Brown is 53/58 (91.4%), including 6/7 from 50+ (85.7%) while Nugent has gone 47/57 (82.4%). In a sport that is often decided by three points or less, an extra three field goals made per year could be huge.
One team in the AFC North is 2-0 and that team resides in the Queen City.
Ending on a good note, when you woke up this morning and looked at the AFC North standings, only one team is 2-0 and that team is not the Ravens or Steelers. In fact, with the Ravens at 0-2, the Bengals have a chance to deliver a huge blow to the Ravens playoff chances before the calendar even changes to October.