Have you caught your breath yet? Hard-fought, exciting, frustrating and emotionally-charged are all descriptions one can use when talking about the season opener between the Jets and the Bengals. Cincinnati came out on top with a last-minute field goal to beat Gang Green on their home turf on the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
It wasn’t the cleanest victory in Marvin Lewis’ tenure, but the Bengals beat a team that many feel is a playoff-caliber squad. Let’s take a look at the best and worst from the Bengals from Sunday afternoon in New Jersey.
Andy Dalton: It started off rough for the Bengals’ signal-caller, both in terms of poor offensive line play and his subsequent forcing of a couple of throws. But, offensive coordinator Ken Zampese altered the game plan and Dalton thrived as the game wore on. He had just two incompletions in the second half, which is impressive, considering he hadn’t played in a meaningful NFL game since last December.
Adriel Jeremiah Green: Was this the most impressive performance we’ve seen from A.J. Green as a Bengals receiver? Maybe, maybe not, but he took over the game against one of the league’s better cornerbacks in Darrelle Revis. He caught a bomb of a 54-yard touchdown, worked the sticks on short routes and made an amazing catch on an intermediate ball down the sideline in the fourth quarter. If not for the chemistry he and Dalton have built since 2011, the Bengals would likely be sitting at 0-1 right now.
Margus Hunt: What a nice game from one of the most embattled players on the roster. With so many injuries hitting the defensive line, Hunt really stepped up during a game in which the team needed a defensive line backup to step up. He finished the day with a critical blocked field goal, a tackle for loss, and a broken up pass. He made the kinds of plays the Bengals were hoping he’d consistently make since being drafted in the second round of the 2013 Draft.
Zampese’s Adjustments: It wasn’t a perfect day from the new-look offense, but there were positives to be taken away from the contest. Because of constant pressure and seven sacks given up by the offensive line throughout the day, Zampese was forced to change facets of the game plan. One of them was the switch from longer-developing passes and deep dropbacks to plays where Dalton could get the ball out quickly to neutralize the Jets’ pass rush.
Complementary Receiving Options: With two new receivers taking prominent roles and Tyler Eifert still rehabbing his ankle, Zampese needed his new pieces to make plays. Rookie Tyler Boyd had 24 receiving yards and drew a big pass interference penalty, while tight end C.J. Uzomah (59) and Brandon LaFell (91) combined for 150 of Dalton’s passing yards on the afternoon.
Mike Nugent’s Path to Redemption: A lot of things weren’t in Nugent’s corner going into Week 1. He had a poor preseason and was entering a hostile environment, even though he was familiar with it from his time with the Jets. Though he missed a big 52-yard attempt, he had 11 total points on the afternoon, including the game-clinching 47-yard dagger with under a minute to play.
The Running Game: It wasn’t a surprise that the Bengals had trouble in the trenches against a talented New York defense, but the amount of overall problems were definitely concerning. The two top backs, Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard, combined for just 56 rushing yards, and even other creative run calls were stymied often by the Jets. There were positive moments from the interior of the line, but they were also responsible for a lot of the issues the team faced on Sunday.
Minimal Pass Rush: Geno Atkins had a sack on the afternoon, but pressure was a bit inconsistent along the line, especially early on in the game. Ryan Fitzpatrick had his way against the defense in their game plan, which consisted of short passes to backs and receivers to help negate the rush from the Bengals’ line.
Defending Matt Forte: If Gang Green Nation does a weekly MVP post like ours, Forte should be on their list of candidates. He continuously navigated into the open spaces of the Bengals’ defense and ran through tackles. Forte was a key to what the Jets were doing on Sunday, finishing with 96 rushing yards and 59 receiving yards.
Tackling: Whether it was on kickoff returns, in the running game, or allowing Fitzpatrick to slither away from potential sacks, one of the strong points of the team utterly failed on Sunday. Jalin Marshall had three kickoff returns with an average of 36 yards per return, mostly thanks to a 65-yard scamper where he seemed to have broken a tackle attempt from every Bengals player out there trying to cover the kick. Forte, Bilal Powell and Quincy Enunwa all proved to be difficult to bring down with the ball in their hands.
The Offensive Line: For a group that has been one of the league’s best over the past half-decade, we saw one of the worst performances across the unit in recent memory. The line gave up seven sacks to Dalton and allowed the offense to only net 57 rushing yards. While most of the negative focus will undoubtedly go to center Russell Bodine, the guards had issues adjusting to stunts and other looks the New York defense gave them as well.