The Bengals offense failed to eclipse 200 yards against a struggling (although talented) Broncos defense, yet they were still able to come away with a 20-17 victory. How was this so? The Bengals offense has played poorly for about a month now, but this was the first game in that stretch in which they were able to have nice plays on third down. The team didn’t even convert half of their third down opportunities (they were seven for 15), but they scored all three of their touchdowns on third down. Let’s break down that success in big moments in more detail.
The majority of the Bengals’ yards on Sunday (52 percent to be exact) came from A.J. Green and Joe Mixon, but it was contributions from guys like Brandon LaFell, Alex Erickson, and the above play from Tyler Boyd that made a difference down the stretch for the team.
Facing a crucial third-and-four, the Bengals needed to find a way to continue the drive so they called their second year receiver’s number on a bubble screen. While it might be safe to say Boyd’s sophomore campaign has been disappointing on a few fronts, he got the job done on this play. He does a nice job after the catch of reading blocks and splitting defenders in order to reach out past the sticks. I was able to sense some urgency or desperation from the Bengals’ offense that hadn’t been seen the last few weeks so it’s nice to see that they can answer with their backs against a wall. For his efforts, Boyd rewarded the offense with a first down and the drive would eventually cap with the next third down conversion we’ll cover.
On third-and-four, the Bengals dialed up a money play for the most versatile member of their receiver room. Denver brings pressure, which Cincinnati is able to pick up extremely well. The Bengals’ line isn’t able to pick up one linebacker coming on a delayed blitz, but it gives Dalton enough time to stick in a tight pocket and find his man on an almost skinny wheel route. With the Broncos only playing a single high safety, Erickson being able to blow by the corner makes the throw an easy touchdown as there’s no way the safety can recover in time.
Finally, it’s near impossible to look at the Cincinnati film every week and not find at least a couple impressive A.J. Green plays. This past week was no exception.
As you’ll notice pretty quickly, this play looks eerily similar to the Erickson touchdown above, with the Broncos insisting on showing Cincinnati a Cover 1 look in this part of field. Green simply puts an outside move on the defender to get separation and uses the unique ball skills that only premier talents like Green have in order to haul in what would be the Bengals’ final score of the day. It’s a nice callback from earlier in the game to see Cincinnati take advantage of a look on which they previously had success.
But of course not all was good during this road trip. There were still problems on the offensive line, as well as with Dalton staring down receivers and panicking when his first read wasn’t there.
Derek Wolfe had a pretty good game for Denver. He bullied Cincinnati along the front line pretty much all day. While he does get this sack, I want to note that I would blame this just as much, if not more, on both of the tackles than on Clint Boling. Both of the Bengals’ bookends are beat badly to their outside, and the resulting pressure forces Dalton to step up into a pocket that is being collapsed from both sides. Dalton really couldn’t do anything more to help himself on this play.
However, Dalton still has an issue with staring down receivers and immediate reads.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m never going to expect Dalton to read the entire field. That’s not reasonable and there’s very few quarterbacks who would have both the ability and time to do that in the pocket right now. But number 14 just can’t stare down one guy and immediately panic when it’s not there. Dalton is at his best when he can make a pre snap read and get rid of the ball in about two seconds. When that read isn’t there and he’s wrong, Dalton will hold onto that ball for an eternity. If he insists on running with one read, fine, but throw it away if it’s not there. It’s in this specific aspect of the game where Dalton has his most glaring weaknesses. At this stage in his career you should expect more from a veteran quarterback.
Overall, this was a win the Bengals very much needed in order to stay alive, and they succeeded. They’ll have a change to get within one game of .500 if they can beat up a still winless Browns team at home, so odds are very good. If you’re one of the Bengals’ fans hoping for a tank, I’m sorry but that’s not going to happen. If you’re one of the fans thinking the team can still make the playoffs, I doubt that’s going to happen as well. That said though, the latter has a much higher chance of coming to fruition than the former. If the Bengals are going to go on a late season run, they’ll need to beat some extremely tough teams in the Steelers and Vikings to do so. All we can do now is wait and see.