There were some bright moments, there were some scary moments, but when the clock expired at the end of the fourth quarter on Sunday, the Bengals had more points than the Bills. Despite the turnovers, injuries, and inclement weather conditions, the Bengals had enough big plays to come out on top. Andy Dalton and A.J. Green both had season highs in yardage, giving Green enough to become the second leading receiver in the NFL. But most importantly, the Bengals are now only one game back in the AFC North after a Steelers’ loss on Sunday. Somehow, after a horrifying 0-3 start to the season, the Bengals are miraculously in the playoff hunt.
After everything that transpired on Sunday, here’s what we learned:
Bill Lazor’s offense is working really well
I know that the Bengals only scored 20 points against on Sunday, but the Bills managed to keep the Falcons to only 17 the week before. The Falcons' 17 points were the most anyone had scored on them all season. All this is to say that the Bills defense is the real deal.
Against this defense, which has only given up 234.8 passing yards a game, Dalton passed for a season-high 328 yards on a heavily-taped left ankle, all while missing Tyler Eifert, John Ross, and Tyler Boyd for most of the game. Green had a day as well, accumulating an NFL-high 189 receiving yards on Sunday. Joe Mixon scored his first NFL touchdown which was also the team’s first rushing touchdown this year.
The running game is still not where we would like it to be, but it has shown improvement. Mostly due to the struggling offensive line, the talented running backs have had difficulty finding holes to run through. But Lazor has been rotating Andre Smith through, and that has provided some help.
Floundering offensive line notwithstanding, the offense has taken leaps and bounds under Lazor’s leadership. The running backs have benefited, the passing game has taken off, and the team has won games.
The young secondary is ready to go
With the rain came injuries to both sides. The Bengals secondary seemed to get hit the hardest, losing both starting cornerbacks Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick. Safety Shawn Williams even gave way to Clayton Fejedelem for a few snaps, giving three young defenders some considerable playing time.
Despite the lack of depth at the cornerback and safety positions, opposing quarterback Tyrod Taylor only completed 20 of his 37 passes for a total of 167 yards (which is 4.5 yards per attempt) and a below-average rating of 63.6. Even though Taylor and the Bills do not have the best passing game the Bengals will play this year, the young players have shown that they can all hold their own in the NFL. Years of taking cornerbacks in the first round are starting to pay dividends. We hope that Jones and Kirkpatrick will be able to return in Week 7, but if they cannot, the two first rounders, Darqueze Dennard and William Jackson, will make the Steelers have to work for points.
Nick Vigil and Vontaze Burfict might be the best linebacker duo the Bengals have had in a while
Vontaze Burfict led the game in total tackles with 13 (which was third in the NFL in Week 5), and Nick Vigil added another nine. Three of Burfict’s tackle were for a loss, one of which was a sack, and Profootballfocus.com gave him the highest rating on the team. Whenever LeSean McCoy was tackled for a loss, it seemed like Burfict was there even if he didn’t make the tackle. When Burfict wasn’t there, Vigil was. In Burfict’s absence Vigil was the Bengals’ best linebacker, but his production has only suffered a minimal drop-off since Burfict’s return.
These two linebackers are one of the best pairs in the NFL right now. Dare I say they are a top-five duo? The way they are playing now, they are the best Bengals linebacker pairing since Takeo Spikes and Brian Simmons of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
The linebacking unit is finally shaping up and rounding out a defense that is second in the NFL in scoring, total yards, passing yards, and sacks.