In a pleasantly surprising turn of events, the Cincinnati Bengals defeated the Detroit Lions on Sunday.
While many didn’t see that coming, Bengals fans will take it. Even though the Bengals are not playoff contenders, the Lions were.
The Bengals played their best against a team that was fighting for their life. Where would the Bengals be right now if they played like this every week?
Speculation is of little use now, but we can still learn some things from this win.
Bengals do best when everyone gets involved
It was good to see A.J. Green get plenty of attention and it was good to see Joe Mixon (somewhat) back. It was also good to see Brian Hill rumble for a couple of huge gains. It was good to see Tyler Boyd step up on third down. It was good to see C.J. Uzomah wide open in the end zone.
When things get tough, we say Andy Dalton should look for Green more often. This is true, but the flip side is that only a fraction of your weapons are available. When Bill Lazor and Dalton spread the offense out like this, the Bengals can really move the chains.
This is the first time this season we have really seen the showcase of talent the Bengals have. Giovani Bernard didn’t even start, but he had 30 touches for total 168 yards. Hopefully, he will never start the year as the third-string running back again.
Hill came in for for five touches and gained 51 yards. Boyd racked up a season-high in targets, receptions, and receiving yards. These guys are good, which is why the Bengals drafted or signed them in the first place.
The Bengals spread the ball around and had the Bengals scored the most points they have all season when not playing the Browns. That’s no coincidence.
Vontaze Burfict makes the defense better
This really should be obvious, but when he has missed the last three games, we could use a reminder.
His numbers didn’t pop out, but the way the rest of the defense played was a huge improvement from last week. It looked like everyone had quit against the Bears and the Vikings, but Burfict rallied the defense to keep Matt Stafford’s offense to only 17 points. For all of his antics, the way he transforms the team makes everything worth it.
Bengals must address vulnerability at linebacker
Outside of Burfict, who was named as a Pro Bowl alternate despite missing five games this season, the Bengals have little to write home about at linebacker.
Vincent Rey has been pressed into duty frequently over the last few weeks and has been exposed many times. The same could be said for Jordan Evans, the highly anticipated rookie out of Oklahoma. Both gave up huge pass plays to Eric Ebron, including the game’s first touchdown (against Evans).
With the exception of Burfict, pretty much every linebacker that has played this year has left something to be desired. Kevin Minter and Nick Vigil had a lot of promise, but have battled injury and failed to deliver when healthy. Rey has proved he is a good spot-starter but definitely not a player the Bengals want to build the defense around. Evans, Hardy Nickerson, and Brandon Bell are still prospects and will take a lot of development if they are to become valuable players in the NFL.
Offensive line did better after big shakeup
One of the surprises of the weekend was seeing Clint Boling at left tackle. Without a doubt the best offensive lineman at left guard, he shifted over to allow Christian Westerman to start. The Bengals added the veteran, Eric Winston, three weeks ago, and he got the start at right tackle. Who knew that three-fifths of the opening day offensive line would either be inactive or out of position, and the Bengals would still rush for the second-highest total of the season. For a unit that has been holding the Bengals back in the first half of the season, they sure have stepped it up in the second half.
Even though Boling didn’t have his best game of the year, Winston, Westerman, and even Alex Redmond probably did. As the offseason approaches, the Bengals might want to consider how they will work Westerman and Redmond into their future plans.