Week 1 is always one of the more illuminating weeks of each NFL season, and it was no different this time around.
In 2013, bad special teams play spoiled what should’ve been a Week 1 win against the Chicago Bears. Though the Bengals were dominant throughout the 2013 season, bad special teams play was a major factor in several games, especially in comparison to prior and future years.
In 2014 to open the season, the Bengals won a second consecutive game against the Ravens in what is currently a five-game winning streak against Baltimore. A.J. Green toasted the Ravens’ secondary for 131 yards and a touchdown on six catches, proving that he has Baltimore’s secondary in his back pocket.
In 2015, Cincinnati trashed Oakland in a game which experts thought would be much closer than the final result. Analysts continued to sleep on the Bengals until they started the season with an 8-0 record, well after the team had proved its dominance.
So what will the story be in 2016?
At first glance, people saw the exact Bengals team skeptics were afraid of. The offensive line, overwhelmed by Todd Bowles’ ultra-aggressive defensive scheme, faltered after many had clamored for the team to upgrad the center position all offseason. Early on in the game, Green was the only player who could get anything done for his team. Dre Kirkpatrick and Jake Fisher also gave up early penalties, adding to the slow start.
But the Bengals proved people wrong as they’ve done so often.
Green fried Darrelle Revis in what was one of the most embarrassing games of the future Hall of Fame cornerback’s career. Andy Dalton, despite being sacked a career-high seven times, slung the ball down the field with precision accuracy and, after throwing an interception, demonstrated extreme confidence and poise, picking on New York’s secondary all game long. The offensive line, struggling against what should be one of the league’s best run defenses — as it’s been in year’s past — got the job done when it mattered most, creating a lane for Jeremy Hill to smash through for a touchdown. Margus Hunt, who many called the worst man on the Bengals’ 53-man roster a week ago, proved cynics wrong with the performance of a lifetime, not only blocking a field goal but also tallying a tackle for loss and two passes defensed.
That’s become a common theme for Cincinnati throughout the Dalton era: when you bet against the Bengals, you’re going to have a bad time. With that, here’s what we learned this week.
At his current trajectory, Green will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, yet the national media will continue to make the stories about his competition rather than about the wideout himself.
For all the success Dalton had finding his wideout despite battling a relentless Jets front seven, Green needs the credit he so rightfully deserves. We’ve already seen Pro Football Focus, the New York Post, NFL Network and plenty of others offer hot takes about a potential Revis decline, but the real story should be Green’s sheer dominance against a first-ballot Hall of Famer who is still certainly a top-10 corner or better, at least as of this moment. Green could do no wrong on Sunday, even with New York constantly sending double-teams and other forms of help his way all game long. Green’s shredding of Revis was reminiscent of the 2012 version of Calvin Johnson: a guy who has the potential to be head and shoulders above the rest of the NFL’s crop of talented pass-catchers, even in a loaded position. If he can continue said dominance, the Bengals receiver will have a strong case to make as the consensus number one wideout in the entire league — a form of respect no player has earned since Megatron’s record-setting campaign four years ago.
Green still has a ways to go before achieving that honor — it will take record-breaking numbers to accomplish that feat, considering Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham and Julio Jones are all dominant — but in a Bengals offense which should heavily rely on the wideout, as much as they have since 2012, Green should put up monster numbers in 2016.
A.J. Green: Dismantles a first-ballot Hall of Famer— #HuntingSeason (@HoweNFL) September 13, 2016
"Revis is on the decline"
Antonio Brown: Dismantles a top-10 corner
"AB IS SO GOOD OMG"
I’ll never understand why the national media continues to disregard Green’s dominance.
Rest in peace “Bad Andy.”
It’s officially been over a year since we’ve seen the last of the quarterback’s severe inconsistencies, so it seems safe to say those days are in the rearview. Despite taking a career-high seven sacks and throwing an interception early on, the quarterback still managed to go 23-for-30 with 366 yards (12.2 yards per attempt), a touchdown and a passer rating of 114.0. Dalton wasn’t perfect, but it’s hard to imagine many other quarterbacks would be able to display the confidence and poise necessary to continue taking shots downfield, not to mention pick on Revis, under constant duress.
The Bengals’ offensive line continues to struggle against three-man defensive fronts.
Cincinnati’s offensive line play was subpar, but credit definitely has to be given to Jets head coach Todd Bowles and his coaching staff, formulating a defensive scheme which caused confusion among the Bengals’ offensive line, as well as New York’s personnel for simply executing throughout the game. Bowles was the mastermind who transformed a mediocre Arizona Cardinals defense into an elite unit and orchestrated a Jets defense which finished among the top 10 in both yardage and scoring defense last season. Blame him rather than the offensive line, and see if the guys can get it back together in time for a Week 2 matchup with the Steelers.
That said, it appears as though it’s going to take time for the unit to develop chemistry with new right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi, who often looked overmanned facing a stout Jets front. It didn’t help that Cincinnati’s interior line — both guards and center included — played one of the worst games it has played in the past few seasons.
It’s officially #HuntingSeason in Cincinnati.
Not only did the defensive end flip the game’s momentum (and save his defense three points), but he also looked dominant on the defensive side of the ball. The former second-round pick continued to show signs of improvement after a nice preseason, tallying a tackle for loss and two passes defensed.
People will remember the Estonian’s field goal block more than his defensive disruption, but the latter was just as crucial as the former. Late in the game, Hunt got to Ryan Fitzpatrick, hitting the quarterback’s arm as he released the ball, giving his defense a solid opportunity to record its first interception of the season. And while the defense was unable to pick that particular pass off, the Bengals got their revenge later.
Josh Shaw bailed the defense out on multiple occasions.
Shaw was the first Bengals player to force a turnover in the 2016 season, and he looked good doing it. The defensive back’s interception sealed a Bengals win, but the touchdown-saving tackle he made on Bilal Powell in the first quarter led to the Bengals’ blocked field goal. If not for that play, Hunt wouldn’t have had the opportunity to even block New York’s field goal, which means not only would the Jets have likely won the game, but the Estonian would still be a punching bag among Bengals fans.
Shaw’s two game-saving plays, as well as his overall effectiveness and consistency throughout the game, warrant more playing time. Darqueze Dennard’s job as the Bengals’ starting slot corner isn’t nearly as secure as it previously was, but perhaps that opens the door to the Bengals being more comfortable mixing up their defensive packages. Cincinnati certainly hopes both corners can make an impact in 2016.
Shaw was the standout, but the rest of the Bengals secondary also performed very well.
George Iloka was all over the place as usual and looked solid in coverage. Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick had a couple of bad plays here and there, but the two (as well as Shaw) held Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker to a combined five catches on 15 targets, for 69 yards and a touchdown. If any of the corners played a poor game, I’d like to see what a good game is, considering those numbers. The Bengals’ secondary looks primed to continue its dominance.
The Bengals’ decision to sign Brandon LaFell to a team-friendly deal is looking really good right now.
The veteran hauled in four passes on four targets, tallying 91 yards. LaFell’s hands looked great for a guy whose biggest knock was exactly that, and his ability to get behind the Jets defense on multiple plays showed there’s still gas left in the tank.
Cincinnati has one of the best tight end units in the NFL.
With superstar Tyler Eifert out of the lineup and backup Tyler Kroft limited after coming off an injury, second-year player C.J. Uzomah stole the spotlight, notching 59 yards on two catches, highlighted by a 54-yard beauty. The young tight end looks like a player capable of starting on multiple NFL teams.
Karlos Dansby wasn’t perfect, but he’s a huge upgrade from Emmanuel Lamur.
Beginning the season with a tough matchup against Matt Forte, a threat in both the pass and run games, it’s easy to understand Dansby had his hands full. Despite this, he was still able to play every snap on defense, making a team-high 11 tackles. Rey Maualuga, a liability in nickel defense, only played eight snaps, mainly because the 34-year-old Dansby still has the stamina needed to play extended snaps.
In a game where seemingly everything went wrong, the Bengals not only came out on top, but they didn’t suffer any major injuries.
That’s always a win. On to Pittsburgh.