In AJ McCarron's three starts, the Bengals went 2-1. The second-year quarterback didn't throw an interception in games against the 49ers, Broncos and Ravens, and his only loss was a heartbreaking overtime showdown in Denver. Of course, McCarron did throw two interceptions in his first significant game action when he came in for an injured Andy Dalton in a game against this week's opponent, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Why will things be different time around?
On Saturday, McCarron will lead the Bengals into battle after nearly a month of preparation to be the starter. In the previous matchup against the Steelers, McCarron took the field with the Bengals already in a 10-0 hole. A 66 yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green made it a 13-7 game, but McCarron was clearly overwhelmed by the magnitude of the game. He has now gained invaluable experience-- and it shows.
As a starter, McCarron (552 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs and 65% in three starts) has been smart with his ball placement and taken timely shots down the field. Also, in last Sunday's game against the Baltimore Ravens, he finally received substantial help in the running game from Jeremy Hill (16 carries, 96 yards, 1 TD) and Giovani Bernard (6 carries, 36 yards), as the Bengals rushed for 145 yards on 27 carries, good for 5.4 yards per carry. That was a significant improvement over the Bengals' first two games after Dalton's injury, as Cincinnati averaged 1.9 and 3.27 yards per carry against the 49ers and Broncos respectively. And it was especially impressive considering the fact that the Ravens only allowed 4 yards per carry in 2015 (10th best in the NFL). With McCarron having settled into his role and his running backs providing significantly more support, expect the Bengals to prove the naysayers wrong and win their first playoff game in 25 years.