Hold out as much hope as you want, but if Vontaze Burfict plays this weekend against the Pittsburgh Steelers, I'll be surprised. Shocked. Taken aback. Amazed. Impressed. Astonished. Disclaimer: I'm well aware of the anything could happen theory, so this is your notice that everyone is aware that anything could happen. Maybe he'll play this Sunday. Everything is possible. Anything can happen. F*cking stop it.
We should also apply our caps of humble ignorance. Knowing that Cincinnati treats information like J.J. Abrams treats his Star Wars project, it's rare that we possess every available fact -- doesn't the flow of information coming from Paul Brown Stadium feel considerably less than usual?
Burfict didn't practice on Wednesday and was reportedly laboring during pregame drills on Sunday and was limping noticeably enough that someone took note of it last week. Even if he practiced on Thursday and/or Friday, one has to ask... "Is he in football shape?" The slow recovery from a procedure designed to scope his knee may prevent him from working out -- or working out enough to regain his conditioning. Who knows. He hasn't played football in five weeks and based on reports over the weeks, he hasn't been able to do much work on the side either.
Yet, Cincinnati must possess some belief that he'll play this year. There are four regular season games remaining, plus whatever happens in the postseason. Why waste a roster spot if he's done for the year?
They do not seem to know when he'll be back or if he'll be back at all, and if they do, then that information is sealed shut. Let's go ahead and group this into the Tyler Eifert recovery storyline -- dislocated elbow during Week 1 win in Baltimore and out for 11 games and 12 weeks. We have to seriously consider these recovery projections the team offered. Had they just placed Eifert on season-ending Injured Reserve, the short-term IR list would have been available for Burfict... who may miss his sixth straight game this weekend. The short-term list requires that players are out for eight weeks.
But none of this was expected. Eifert may return for the postseason and who knows about Burfict at this stage.
FILM ROOM: The First Dalton Pick
Was he supposed to go in... or was he supposed to go out? Maybe he was supposed to hitch the route and pivot back to the quarterback. Whatever the excuse, there was miscommunication between Andy Dalton and A.J. Green on the first interception, leading to three points for Tampa Bay.
"I just think it was missed timing on our part," said Dalton, who will never throw someone under the bus. "We had the look that we wanted, but I got to do a better job of getting it to [A.J. Green]. The timing just wasn't the same for us on that play."
It actually looks like a hitch route... whereas Green broke toward the middle of the field, Dalton expected Green to pivot toward the sidelines. In addition to running the wrong route, it doesn't even appear that Green was even paying attention while the ball was mid-flight. That's the timing part. That's the trust they've developed and it burnt them. It happens. Joe Montana actually threw interceptions when targeting Jerry Rice (Sigh... no, I'm not comparing Andy Dalton to Joe f*cking Montana).
Also... interesting concept. The route is really a two-man route with Green and Kevin Brock. It's a play-action counter that draws eight defenders into the box leaving Green on a defender with a safety over the top. Giovani Bernard slipped out but not until Dalton was determined to hit Green. No one throws the football to Kevin Brock... so just stop that silliness right now.
Green pivoted in and Dalton aimed out. The hilariousness of the play is that cornerback Jonathan Banks was drifting with Green when he suddenly realized... "oh sh*t, Green stopped". Unfortunately, Dalton realized the same thing.
People that want to blame Dalton for the interception, will find their evidence and apply their sound reasoning. People that defend Dalton will find their evidence and sound reasoning. It was a f*ck up with everyone involved and everyone pushed the reset button on the next possession.
A possession that went three and out because of this:
(one yard loss by Jeremy Hill)
Hill also had an eight-yard run on second down.
Dalton's first half wasn't as dreadful as people would like for you to believe -- seriously, we've seen him against Indianapolis and Cleveland. This was better than this... but is that even an appropriate comparison? Three interceptions always look horrible to the observer, but they are statistics without context. The first interception was bad all-around. The second, with Dalton trying to hit Green near the front left pylon, was most likely misread... leaving Dalton to throw into double coverage. And with all due-respect, Green and Dalton have thrived on those scenarios/situations as many times as they've been burnt. The third interception was just bad.
"I was just trying to throw it away," Dalton said after the game. I've got to do whatever I can to get that ball out of bounds. I’ll have to look at it but that was just a bad play. I was just trying to throw the ball away. Obviously, that one sucks."
It was like the suck of suck, you know?
Dalton completed seven of 11 passess in the first half for 62 yards and a rushing touchdown.
There is one play that I loved.
It was when the Bengals were on their own one-yard line with 5:24 remaining in the first quarter. This is power football, baby. Jermaine Gresham, Andrew Whitworth and Clint Boling took care of their backside blocks. Russell Bodine and Kevin Zeitler double-teamed Akeem Spence. Marshall Newhouse shoved the defensive end around the play.
What transformed this play from a goalline heart-attack to a 15-yard Giovani Bernard gain, was the combination of Bodine and Zeitler. After doubling down on Spence, Bodine chipped off to address the MIKE (Ryan Hewitt was assigned WILL) while Zeitler went into SMASH MODE. Lane... clear.
Cincinnati would eventually sputter like Larry the Cable Guy's career and punt.
Andrew Whitworth loves himself a good two-for-one special
With 10:13 remaining in the second quarter, Cincinnati had first down from the Buccaneers 45-yard line. Hue Jackson called an end-around to James Wright. Watch Andrew Whitworth:
Three? Yea. Three.
Wright gained six yards on the play.
OK, the second interception was a forced throw on a poor read. I get it. Dalton threw to Green in situations that he probably shouldn't. I would also argue poor play design, if Dalton was forced to throw to Green (with Jackson saying that he's keeping things simple for Dalton, who can say what Dalton is actually being asked to do). The cornerbacks had the underneath zone while the safeties were playing cover two.
On the right, Brandon Tate ran a post while Giovani Bernard navigated into the peaceful flats on the right. Notice Bernard forced the defense to account for him, freeing Tate's post across the middle -- Dalton had time to wait. On the other side, the defense ONLY have to worry about Green, allowing him to be double-covered. If there was another route underneath, then 1) Green has more room to be spectacular or 2) the underneath route is wide open.
Oh, so it wasn't the play design.
They don't call it Monday morning quarterback (or armchair quarterback) for nothing.
NOTE: While attempting to review the third interception, my laptop said f*ck that. I didn't argue.
If someone is better at timing up their run blitz better than Reggie Nelson, I have yet to see it.
Yes, I know. Troy Polamalu. Or... others. Honestly, I wasn't even thinking when I wrote that.. it just sounded good as a lead-in. With 6:36 remaining in the second quarter, Nelson sprinted to the line of scrimmage just as Tampa Bay snapped the football. Anthony Collins whiffed and Nelson dropped Doug Martin for no yards.