You could see the elation on the Bengals players’ faces as they left the field at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday, finally victorious for the first time since Week 7. Cincinnati thoroughly dominated the Eagles in almost every facet of the contest and got their fourth win of the season to the tune of 32-14.
Because of their dominance, there was a lot more to like about the team’s performance this week than in past four games. Here are the best and worst facets from the Bengals’ win this Sunday.
Andy Dalton: One could argue that Dalton’s day against Philadelphia was his best of the season and one of the better ones over the past two years. He finished 23-for-31 for 332 yards, two touchdowns and zero turnovers, hitting nine different targets. Dalton was Pro Football Focus’ top-rated quarterback from Sunday and once again instilled confidence that Cincinnati should have a solid bounce-back season in 2017.
The receiving corps’ new faces: Part of what made the passing offense’s explosion so great to see was the new guys stepping up in a big way without A.J. Green. Brandon LaFell had an outstanding day, racking up five catches for 95 yards and a touchdown, while Tyler Boyd had another game moving the chains with four catches for 66 yards. The nicest surprise was fellow rookie receiver Cody Core, who had two catches for 58 yards, including a 50-yard bomb to set the Bengals up at the Eagles’ six-yard line.
The linebackers, led by Vontaze Burfict: It’s been a great handful of weeks for the Pro Bowl linebacker, even if it hasn’t translated to wins. Burfict led the defense’s dominance on Sunday with 15 total tackles (10 solo) and two interceptions off of rookie quarterback, Carson Wentz. Karlos Dansby and Vincent Rey roamed the field well, helping to hold the Eagles to just 53 net rushing yards.
Paul Guenther’s game plan against Carson Wentz: It was a bit of a mystery as to what the Bengals would do against the athletic Wentz. Was pinning the ears back and blitzing him the key, or was a more conservative spy-like approach by the defensive line the key? Guenther found a nice balance of both, mostly preferring the latter to force Wentz to make plays. It didn’t work out well for the Eagles and, as mentioned before, the Bengals clamped down on the run game too.
The disparity in accrued penalties: One of the areas the Bengals have cleaned up recently is in the penalty area and the scales tipped heavily in their favor on Sunday. Cincinnati only had three penalties for 23 yards, while the Eagles had 10 for 88 yards.
Third down efficiency: Cincinnati’s offense has largely struggled on the most critical down this year, but Sunday was a different story. Against the Eagles, the Bengals offense was 7-of-14 on the afternoon, which helped to tell the tale of the tape.
Mike Nugent’s missed extra point: The shame of Nugent missing yet another extra point attempt was that it overshadowed his four made field goal attempts on as many tries. However, things have been going so poorly for the veteran kicker this year that every time he nailed a kick on Sunday, the home crowd gave the loudest cheers (which were actually boos) of the afternoon, mocking Nugent when he did his job.
Run game: One of the most inconsistent areas of the team since Marvin Lewis and Co. rebuilt the squad back in 2011 is in the running game. Cedric Benson and BenJarvus Green-Ellis were around in the early years, but from 2013-2014, the team invested heavily in the position with Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill.
The team has still struggled with consistency and Sunday was no different. Hill had 23 carries for 33 yards, while Rex Burkhead had eight carries for 38 yards. Fortunately, the team didn’t need a stout running game to win, but it doesn’t bode well for the future.
Red zone efficiency: Third down and red zone efficiency have been issues for the Bengals this year, and though they were solid on the former in Week 13, they weren’t so productive with the latter. They were just 3-of-6 in red zone tries, which isn’t a rating that is usually indicative of a good team.
The Fumbles: You never want to turn the ball over, but the Bengals did that twice on Sunday. Jake Fisher’s fumble was particularly ugly, not only because of the odd play call when the Bengals were trying to run out the clock, but also because he got injured on the play. Rex Burkhead’s fumble was untimely but, neither turnover proved too costly in the win.
Poor special teams returns: Though Cincinnati didn’t get many opportunities to return kicks on Sunday, Alex Erickson didn’t offer up the same type of spark he’s shown in recent games. Erickson had just one kickoff return for 19 yards and two punt returns for eight yards.
Remaining inability to cover tight ends: It was a good day from the defense, for the most part, as the back seven limited big plays and came up with three interceptions of Wentz. Even so, the needed athleticism to keep up with those big pass-catchers is still a bug-a-boo for the Bengals’ defense. Zach Ertz had nine catches for 79 yards and a score, while Trey Burton had five catches for 53 yards.