Heading into Sunday, most fans of the Cincinnati Bengals were already looking to the offseason and possible forthcoming changes. However, the players had something different in mind, as they grabbed a win in Denver for the first time in over 40 years.
Though there were speed bumps along the way in the Bengals’ win against the Broncos, they came through at the end and came back home at 4-6 and alive for the playoffs.
Here are the best and worst aspects of the Bengals’ 20-17 win in Week 11.
Andy Dalton: It’s been an odd year for the Bengals’ signal-caller, as he has a quarterback rating over 90 this season and has just eight interceptions against 16 touchdown passes. Still, there has been criticism on his ability to stretch the field this year and having some happy feet.
Regardless, Dalton had a pretty efficient day against the Broncos, throwing three touchdowns, while not committing a turnover. The touchdowns went to three different receivers, as Dalton hit 15-of-25 passes for 154 yards.
A trio of defensive stars: It’s been a slow statistical season for Carlos Dunlap, as he has only had two quarterback sacks heading into Week 11. He was a force in Denver though, logging two sacks, four tackles and knocking down a Brock Osweiler pass.
Meanwhile, Vontaze Burfict had 12 total tackles (11 solo), a forced fumble that was recovered by Shawn Williams and a sack on Osweiler. It was a great bounce-back game from No. 55 after getting tossed early in last week’s game.
Finally, though Dre Kirkpatrick had some moments of allowing plays to Demaryius Thomas, he did have one of the biggest plays of the game with a 100-yard interception return. Cincinnati followed the play up with a touchdown.
Keeping the Broncos’ star receivers in check: Based on what happened when these two teams faced off last year, one of the major goals in Week 11 was to limit the damage done by Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. After all, the two torched the Bengals last year for a combination of 15 catches, 217 yards and three touchdowns.
While Osweiler isn’t known as one of the league’s elite passers, Cincinnati’s defense definitely played better against these two this time around. Thomas had five catches for 64 yards and a score, while Sanders had just two catches for 15 yards.
Key offensive efficiency ratings: It wasn’t a great all-around day from the offense (more on that later), but the Bengals did do some good things in critical situations and in key areas of the field. Cincinnati was 7-of-15 (46 percent) on third down conversions against the Broncos after going a woeful 1-of-10 on the down last week versus the Titans.
Additionally, the Bengals were 2-of-2 in the red zone and 1-for-1 in goal-to-go situations. They still have a lot of work to do on that side of the ball if they want to sneak into the postseason, but it was good to see some improvement this week against a stout Broncos defense.
Limited penalties: Last week, the Bengals committed a whopping 12 penalties for 84 yards—one, of course, being the infraction that kicked Burfict out of the game for touching an official. It not only directly helped to lead to the loss to the Titans, but it brought about questions on Marvin Lewis’ control of his squad.
Well, this week, Lewis and his team really turned the corner. They only had three penalties for 14 yards against Denver and with the offense struggling for consistency, giving up free yards to the opposition would have likely led to their seventh loss of the year.
Special teams: For every good play the Bengals made on special teams, there seemed to be two or three other poor ones. KeiVarae Russell had a nice block on a field goal attempt, and Kevin Huber had two punts pinned inside Denver’s 20-yard line which were positive highlights.
However, Alex Erickson nearly had a big lost fumble on a punt return, which he recovered, while also failing to make an impact on returns (yes, we understand the effect of the high altitude in this aspect). Additionally, Huber had just a 35.6 yard-per-kick average, and Randy Bullock missed another extra point that loomed large at the end of the game.
The continuing disparity of yardage between the Bengals’ offense and opposition: This plays into a couple of other points on this post, but the Bengals’ defense is just on the field way too much. Part of the reason is their continuing problem of getting off of the field on third down, as evidenced by Denver’s 57 percent conversion rate on third down (12-of-21).
Part of it isn’t the defense’s problem though. The offense isn’t sustaining drives long enough to not only tire out the opposing defense, but to allow their own to catch their breath at critical times in the game. This is a trend that can’t continue if the Bengals are to sneak into this year’s playoff bracket.
The offensive line and running the ball: Same story, different week. Denver got Andy Dalton to the ground twice, while the line only mustered 49 net rushing yards against the No. 5 rushing defense.
A staggering six of the Bengals’ 26 rushing attempts went for losses, as the exciting duo of Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard couldn’t find any running room.
Other critical stats on offense and disparity to the opposition: Aside from the lack of running the ball and giving up of the obligatory 2-3 sacks a game, the offense struggled in other aspects. The biggest was probably their net total yards of 190 yards.
Aside from that, Bill Lazor’s unit only mustered 12 total first downs, 1.9 yards per rush, ran just 53 plays to Denver’s 79 and only maintained the ball for 24:49 of the entire 60 minutes. While everyone will take the win, these simply aren’t the type of statistics that are sustainable for success with games coming up against Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Minnesota.