Observations from the Bengals’ 31-23 loss to the Denver Broncos…
-This team (and most others) won’t win many games after falling behind 17-3 in the second half, particularly with Peyton Manning behind center for the opponent. I thought the squad responded surprisingly well, particularly after the Broncos returned the second-half kickoff for a touchdown, but you can’t put yourself in that position.
-The offensive creativity was better this week. Even if the deep balls and reverses don’t always work, I at least appreciate the fact that they try something and attempt to keep the defense on its heels. The unit seems to be getting better at the no-huddle style of play.
-The defense disappointed when it hurt the most. After the Bengals went up 20-17 early in the fourth quarter, the next two Denver drives went 5 plays-80 yards-touchdown and 8 plays-46 yards-touchdown. Three of those 13 total plays were short, quick passes that led to missed tackles and big yards after the catch, two of which came on third down. I realize Peyton Manning is Peyton Manning, but that becomes irrelevant when he throws 3-yard curls that result in gains for 15-plus yards. A stop on either of those drives would have been huge.
-Terence Newman had a fairly disjointed game. Yes, he had two interceptions—the first of which was a very nice play, picking off a pass in the endzone. But the turnovers were also a product of the Broncos targeting him quite regularly when they dropped back. I recall Leon Hall getting beat once in the first half on the deep ball to Demaryius Thomas, but it didn’t appear that Manning glanced at his side of the field too often otherwise. This should serve as praise for Hall’s play (though the guys at Football Outsiders felt he was involved more than I did), but the targeting of Newman is what caught my attention—specifically on both Eric Decker touchdowns (Newman slipped on the first one) and Decker’s big 30-yard play on 3rd and 3 in the final quarter. His interceptions were key and kept the Bengals in the game, but he also spent a good deal of the contest getting picked on.
-In defense of Pacman Jones: I thought he did a nice job of playing the ball on that pass interference he drew in the endzone against Thomas. I’ve seen much worse go unflagged.
-In criticism of Pacman Jones: Does he know he’s allowed to call fair catch on punts?
-Overall, I thought Andy Dalton played pretty well. He managed to find A.J. Green down the field a few times and made some impressive plays scrambling out of the pocket or firing quick passes under pressure. His biggest mistake was the fourth quarter interception, but it’s tough to fault him entirely on that one. It came on 3rd & 25 following a pair of penalties on the offensive line, at which point he was just trying to make something happen and keep his team in the game. Fans would have groaned at a draw play or screen pass in that situation, too.
-Having said that, Dalton targeted Brandon Tate six times on pass plays. That’s about six too many.
-It does feel as if Dalton takes a bad sack too often, but I also remember cursing Carson Palmer as he forced interceptions into triple coverage.
-It sure would be nice to get Kyle Cook back from injury sometime soon.
-As usual, Doc is spot-on when it comes to the culture surrounding this team.
Things I liked: Throwing deep to A.J., throwing to Jermaine Gresham (period), the no-huddle offense, Devon Still against the run, Emmanuel Lamur, any play involving Mohamed Sanu, Brandon Tate on kick returns.
Things I didn’t like: Penalties, lack of pressure on the quarterback, burning a timeout because you can’t get the right defenders on the field, Dan Dierdorf’s color commentary, Chris Crocker and Taylor Mays on the field at the same time, Brandon Tate on offense.
Parting Thought: Playoff teams win tough games on their home field.