The Bengals lost to the Giants by only two points, which is actually a miracle. To their credit, the Bengals kept it close.
The formula is tried and true: the Bengals look terrible and fall behind; then they start to make a comeback; they make it look like they might just be able to pull off a win; finally, they blow it horribly.
Bengals fans got a first look at life after Burrow. Without Joe Burrow at quarterback, the Bengals will have to get used to Brandon Allen, Ryan Finley, or whoever whose abilities they can overestimate.
After a narrow defeat that really should have been more pronounced, what did we learn about the Burrow-less Bengals?
Special Teams is the strength of the Bengals
It’s rare when the special teams unit carries the team, but it happened on Sunday. The gap would have been much farther than two points if not for special teams.
The first score of the game for the Bengals was on a kickoff return. Brandon Wilson has been a special teams ace the last few years, whether returning kicks or covering on punt returns.
When the offense hit yet another three-and-out in the second half, the Bengals’ dialed up a fake punt. That gave the offense the juice it needed, and it looked like the Bengals might put a drive together. Of course, it came to a screeching halt, but at least it got the offense going.
Then, Alex Erickson, the master of the fair catch, had a 29-yard punt return. It gave the Bengals a realistic chance to close the game out until another Allen turnover squandered yet another gift from special teams.
The offense only manufactured seven of the Bengals’ 17 points. If it weren’t for the special teams and the defense, the game would have been lopsided in the Giants’ favor.
Which brings us to defense.
Defense is stepping up
If Burrow were in the game, keeping the Giants to 19 points would have been enough to win.
It was against and poor-quality opponent, but the defense played one of their better games this week. All of the linebackers played extremely well. Josh Bynes and Germaine Pratt looked improved, and Akeem Davis-Gaither had one of his better games.
Mackensie Alexander had a few bad plays, but overall he was one of the best defenders on the team. For the most part, the secondary played an outstanding game.
The only thorn in their side was Evan Ingram. But to Lou Anarumo’s credit (which is a phrase I don’t think I’ve ever used before), he didn’t keep sending Vonn Bell out to cover him in hopes that it would just start working magically. Bell, Wilson, and Alexander all got their shot at covering the tight end. While the former two didn’t have much success, at least Anarumo was trying to find something that worked.
All in all, if you take out Ingram, you remove about half of the Giants’ passing offense. And he did most of his damage on only two plays. The performance, in the big picture, could be considered a net positive. For the second level at least.
The defensive line needs pressure
For as well as the back seven played, the line needs to figure something out.
Daniel Jones entered the game as the fourth-most sacked quarterback in the NFL, and the Bengals didn’t record a single sack.
It was too easy for the Giants to key on Carl Lawson and let the rest of the unit flop.
Yes, the Bengals are mostly playing guys that they promoted off the practice squad. But they need to find ways to pressure the opposing quarterback regardless. It’s just too easy to sit back in the pocket and wait for the coverage to break down, especially with LeShaun Sims filling in, or with Bell on a tight end.
The Bengals are third-worst in sacks per game. They need to figure out a way to get to the quarterback, bad line or not.
Brandon Allen is not the answer
Burrow really ruined our standards for quarterbacks.
It’s pretty clear that Allen is not a starting level quarterback.
The offense only had one drive of more than 31 yards the entire game, which was in the last four minutes. The second longest drive of the game ended in a punt. The third longest drive of the game started near midfield, and ended in a field goal.
Allen only created one scoring opportunity, which he converted into a touchdown to Tee Higgins. The special teams and defense created three or four opportunities, and Allen squandered all but one.
The kickoff returned for a touchdown was completely independent of Allen and the offense. Then, the defense gave Allen the ball at his own 45-yard line, which ended in a field goal.
Then the special teams gave the offense fresh life after getting a first down on a fake punt. This wasn’t necessarily a scoring opportunity, but it gave Allen a second chance on that drive. He took that chance and threw an interception.
Finally, after the defense made a crucial stop, Erickson returned the punt to the 50-yard line. All the Bengals had to do was gain about 15 yards to set up a roughly 50-yard field goal. Granted, Bullock isn’t great from that range, but is three of four this season. It would still be perfectly feasible.
But Allen held onto the ball for nearly five seconds, took a sack, and fumbled the ball away.
Imagine what Joe Burrow could have done with that play.
Should Allen start again? No. Will he? Yes, and here’s why: the other alternative is Ryan Finley.
Finley, who the Bengals’ traded up to get, who passed the Parcells test, and who was the only backup quarterback on the active roster for the first 11 games, is a worse alternative than Allen.