Another week, another win for the Bengals, one which should have been a bigger blowout than the score indicated. Injuries, penalties and points left on the field didn't stop Cincinnati from steamrolling the exciting Falcons offense to the tune of a two-touchdown win on Sunday. Much like the case as it was in week one, it wasn't always pretty, but the boys in orange and black found a way to overcome many obstacles to emerge victorious in the home opener.
It becomes a nitpicking-fest of sorts after a win, but there were some bright spots along with some cringe-inducing times at Paul Brown Stadium in week two. Let's take a look at some of the best and worst from the team's 24-10 win.
The Defense: Staring down the barrel of a lethal Atlanta offense and an unsettling amount of injuries on both sides of the ball, the defense was flat-out superb. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther called up a masterful game plan that frustrated Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan all day. One could argue that it was this unit's performance that solidified the win on Sunday.
Pressure from every direction, a swarming secondary and sound tackling limited any kind of big play opportunity from the explosive offensive crew of the opposition. The Bengals held Ryan and Co. to 309 total yards after they put up a franchise-record 568 just a week earlier. Many of those yards came when Atlanta was either two or three touchdowns behind (A.K.A. "garbage time") and the Falcons showed their frustration on many occasions.
None of the fearsome foursome of Falcons wideouts attained 100 yards of receiving and the leading rusher of the day was Steven Jackson with 46 yards. That isn't even talking about the 25 percent third down conversion rate that the unit allowed. The group truly stepped up in the face of potential disaster.
The Running Backs: If the defense showed up the most on Sunday for the Bengals, then the running backs weren't far behind. With the Bengals' top two receivers out with injuries, the Bengals had to rely on their two talented backs and they answered the call. Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill combined for 164 yards on the ground and two rushing touchdowns against a porous Falcons defense.
As if that wasn't enough, the two also combined for seven catches and 101 yards in the air. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson was true to his word with giving the rookie Hill more touches and he responded with almost five yards per carry and eleven yards per catch. Bernard was lethal in the receiving game and continued his highlight-reel moves against Atlanta.
The Secondary: Yes, we already called out the defense as a whole, but major kudos to the secondary. Leon Hall had a diving interception, George Iloka had two more, while Reggie Nelson, Terence Newman and Adam Jones were physical all day.
As I mentioned earlier, the yards-after-the-catch that is the Falcons' bread-and-butter was non-existent. Furthermore, many of the pressures and sacks on Ryan were thanks to great coverage on the day. Not bad for a bunch of guys that nobody wanted to draft and/or were free agent cast-offs.
Mohamed Sanu: When A.J. Green went out with a toe injury and the starting wide receiver crew consisted of Sanu, Dane Sanzenbacher and Brandon Tate, it didn't look promising. Jackson got creative and decided to get the third-year man the ball in a variety of ways.
Sanu had a back-breaking 76-yard touchdown in the third quarter and finished with 84 on the day (another catch was a critical third down conversion). Aside from that, Sanu decided to show off his former-quarterback self and threw a pretty ball to Brandon Tate that netted 50 yards, leading to a field goal attempt. Major credit to a "third wide receiver" to step up as the primary guy when the team needed him.
Jermaine Gresham: "The Villain" was a no-show in the first half. I know, I know--three catches for 25 yards isn't MVP material. But, one of those was a beastly 19-yarder on third down that extended a drive to help put the game out of reach in the third quarter.
What impressed me about Gresham, in a week that he was highly-scrutinized, was his team-first attitude and willingness to step up as a blocker to aid the run game, when it was sorely needed. When Andy Dalton threw the touchdown to Sanu, Gresham helped his quarterback off the turf and was the first to congratulate his offensive captain. Just a day of dirty work (without penalties or drops) for the tight end and it might go unnoticed.
Andy Dalton: Another solid day from the Bengals' quarterback in the new offense. Almost no forced throws and, once again, zero turnovers in a game that couldn't afford it. He showed guts with his lone touchdown throw, as he took a shot while throwing a great ball to Sanu for the touchdown.
In his first two games, Dalton has turned the ball over. It isn't the stuff that Pro Bowls are made of, but it is the stuff that wins are made of. In two games, Jackson has delivered on his promise of limiting the momentum-turning turnovers that has plagued this quarterback and his team so many times in the past.
Goal-To-Goal Situations: There was a familiar tone to the beginning of the game to that against the Ravens, but CIncinnati rebounded nicely later on. The team was a little better on third downs, but it's in the area that they needed to punch it in the end zone that made the difference.
In goal-to-go series, the team was 100 percent on their tries. More importantly, both of those conversion were the result of the running game, with touchdown runs from both Hill and Bernard. It was a sight for sore eyes for this team in the Dalton era.
Russell Bodine: Such as it is with Gresham, it has become en vogue to bash the rookie center early in his career. However, the loud criticisms from the preseason have quieted in his first two games as a pro. Though there have been some bumps along the way, Bodine has provided heady play at a very important position. Yes, Bodine had a negative Pro Football Focus score on the day, but there were positives that could be seen aside from their respective data.
On Sunday, Bodine had moments where he jumped off of the tape--and not for the wrong reasons. Aside from the zero penalties called against him and zero poor snaps (yes, an expectation of a professional at the position), Bodine was once again a linchpin of a line that didn't allow a sack for the second straight week. On the Hill touchdown run, much was made of the power formation to the left side of the line that provided the lane. However, upon reviewing the play, Bodine had an awesome pancake block on the play to help spring the touchdown run and was also seen making many needed protection calls that showed his precociousness.
Devon Still: If you have been following the Bengals, there isn't much of an explanation necessary here. Frankly, it was great to see Still playing football and contributing with two tackles. Major credit to both CBS and ESPN for talking about the feel-good story around No.75 and his daughter and it must have been nice for Still to get his mind on something else, if only for three hours.
The Officiating: On many occasions, the officiating crew took an inordinate amount of time to make the correct call on penalties. There was indecisiveness and led to periods of uneasiness on Sunday, thanks to multiple conferences. Thankfully, none of the calls were game-deciding.
After-The-Whistle Activities: For those who watched "Hard Knocks" this season, one would have noticed a theme. Just what theme would that be? A nasty attitude that was fueled by the blessing of the Falcons coached. Center Joe Hawley was thrown out of a scrimmage for throwing a punch in the series and he continued that questionable behavior on Sunday.
As the Falcons fell behind, there were a couple of after-the-whislte penalties that took place. Aside from that, others weren't called when jawing and shoving ensued when it wasn't necessary. There seem to be many classy players on Atlanta's squad, but their emphasis on being "more physical" this year seems to bleed over on plays that were already finished.
Bengals Injuries: Cincinnati was already at a disadvantage with Tyler Eifert and Marvin Jones out, as well as A.J. Green and Vontaze Burfict nursing injuries in the week leading up to this game, but Sunday became ridiculous. For those that have followed the club the last decade, the 2006 week three matchup against the Cleveland Browns rings a familiar bell.
Green and Burfict left early and the infirmary began admitting more Bengals bodies. Kevin Zeitler, Brandon Thompson, Alex Smith, Andrew Whitworth and others got banged up. Luckily, none seem to be any ailments that will cost any of these players any amount of significant time, but teams are hard-pressed to come away with wins with so many key guys out of the lineup. Big props to the Bengals for finding a way to overcome and still grab a convincing win, but this team will be truly scary when they are firing on all cylinders.
Mike Nugent: How quickly things can change for a player in the NFL. In one week, Nugent went from team MVP to team goat. He went one for four on field goal attempts on the day, with two misses being very makeable.
In a day that had so many injuries, mistakes couldn't be made if the Bengals wanted to win. Luckily, Cincinnati found a way to beat Atlanta, even with Nugent leaving nine points on the field.