Friday, October 02, 2015

3 - and Uh Oh

My beloved Bengals are 3-0.  If this were the mid 1990's, I'd be convinced they were Super Bowl bound, after all, from 1991-2002 the Bungals were lucky to win 3 games in an entire season! I think their high water mark was an 8-8 campaign under Bruce Coslet after David Schula was fired midseason.

So the Bengals are 3-0.  They were 3-0 in 2005 before traveling to Jacksonville on a Sunday night and losing by a field goal.  They were 3-0 in 2006 before losing at home to the Pats.  They were 3-0 last year before traveling to New England on a Sunday night and got pummeled yet again.

So 3-0 is no sure thing for the Bengals.  In fact, they haven't been 4-0 since 1988 . . . the last time the went to the Super Bowl.

Their opponent this weekend, the Chiefs, are coming off of a short week (but so was New England last year . . . so that's not a positive) after losing at Green Bay.

The Bengals are coming off a come from behind win in Baltimore.  They have beaten Baltimore before, but something about last week's win just feels different for this team.  And it might be a positive sign of things to come.

First, they didn't quit.  Historically when the Bengals have fallen behind, especially late in games, they tended to fold.  Instead of someone rising up to make a play, someone would fold.  But not last week.  Despite the defense's inexplicable tendency to not cover Steve Smith Sr, the Bengals found ways to come back (namely two late touchdown passes to AJ Green).

Second, Andy Dalton is playing well.  We've seen this before.  Last season the Bengals were off to a 3-0 start and Dalton was playing lights out - he was hardly sacked and was not throwing picks.  Then New England destroyed them, they tied Carolina, and Indy shut them out while they didn't get a first down in the first half.  3-0 quickly became 3-2-1.  And the chief problem was Dalton's play.  Green was hurt.  Jeremy Hill had yet to emerge.  Marvin Jones and Tyler Eifert were out for the year.  And the defense became bad.

Then there was 2013 when Dalton tore through the month of October, earning NFL player of the month.  Ironically, on the day he received the award, the Bengals were playing a Thursday Halloween night game in Miami, which they lost 30-32 in OT.  Dalton threw for a ton of yards, but he also tossed three picks and was sacked for a safety to lose the game.  He was never the same the rest of the year and the Bengals suffered one of their most demoralizing playoff losses ever to San Diego at home.

This year, Andy is playing lights out. Hopefully, that will continue throughout the whole season.  Stay tuned.

Third, Dalton has so many weapons at his disposal.  Barring injury, the Bengals have an embarrassment of riches at the skill positions: AJ Green, Jeremy Hill, Tyler Eifert, Marvin Jones, Mohammad Sanu, Gio Bernard, Rex Burkehead . . . They are absolutely loaded.

In their week one demolishing of Oakland, Eifert had 100 yards and two TDs.  In their week two win over San Diego, Gio had well over 100 yards rushing and averaged over 6 yards a carry.  Last week Green went nuts and hauled in 10 passes for 227 yards and 2 touchdowns.  I'm betting this week Jeremy Hill will get back to his old self and have a strong rushing game (remember he led the NFL in rushing over the final 8 games of the season last year).

The Bengals have the #2 ranked offense in the league and as long as Dalton is steady, that shouldn't change too drastically.

Third, the defense is back to its normal top ten self.  The defense suffered a major step back last year with the loss of legendary coordinator Mike Zimmer and the fact that Geno Atkins was very, very average (coming off an ACL injury the previous season) and that they never found a replacement for Michael Johnson (who took major dollars in a free agent deal in Tampa Bay - but who the Bengals got back this year after TB dumped him).

Atkins is back to his All-World self, raking up two sacks and a forced fumble already.  He is so quick off the snap that he routinely blows up running plays in the back field.  Johnson hasn't had a major impact as he is recovering from an MCL sprain on the first day of camp, but his presence has been good for the entire defensive line.

Fourth, the running game hasn't clicked yet.  The Bengals are 3-0 and Jeremy Hill hasn't had 100 yards yet.  In fact, he has the same amount of touchdowns (2) as he does fumbles (2).  His fumbling problem got him bench for the last part of the San Diego game and allowed Gio to have a huge game.

But it's a good problem to have.  Jeremy is the sledge hammer and Gio is the perfect compliment to him.  Jeremy just needs to have one of his signature 25 carry games for 125 yards and 2 TDs.

While I am cautiously optimistic this week vs. the Chiefs, there is cause for concern.

The defense hasn't generated much in the way of turnovers.  Much of Bengaldom is just waiting for Dalton to have one of his infamous 4 interception games.  And the injury bug has - for the most part - totally avoided Cincy.  And there was been a rash of penalties as of late (holding the main issue).

However, when you look at the Chiefs, they have a great front seven on defense that will probably the best the Bengals have faced so far.  But their offense, outside of Jamaal Charles, is pretty pedestrian.

Hopefully, one of Dalton's big play makers on offense will step up (I'm betting on Hill going off or Marvin Jones or Tyler Eifert) and allow the Bengals to amass 450 yards or so.    If Dalton plays just like he did in the first three games and their running game returns, the Bengals should be sitting at 4-0 with a match up against the Seattle Seahawks in Cincy looming.

Hopefully.  However, every time I expected the Bengals to come out and finally play like a great team, they fold.  So I am not expecting that. I'm just cautiously optimistic.

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