But Dalton did have his bright spots when his protection was effective. Gruden dialed up effective pass concepts against a good Broncos secondary and was more willing to send Green deep despite Bailey’s still elite play. Dalton placed a very nice pass down the sideline over Bailey’s head, thanks to a double move by Green, and could not have thrown another sideline ball better despite Bailey’s heroic effort to break up the pass.
Dalton did not totally clean up his game over the bye week, however. On a couple occasions he bailed too early when there was no pressure and dropped his eyes, but in another instance he did the opposite. He rolled out to his left, eliciting the usual feeling that he did not let the play develop, but then fired a pass downfield as he rolled out.
Even though on another couple occasions he held the ball too long, both those instances and the roll-out completion on an extended play show an effort to improve on one of the more troubling aspects of his game.
Mohammed Sanu became increasingly involved and Gruden put him in position to use his big body and soft hands. A post route against Cover 3 was a perfectly executed, as Sanu broke out as soon as he got behind the linebacker underneath, and Dalton fired the ball in before the safety could take over the route coverage. Andrew Hawkins was utilized much better this week, as well, as Gruden ran concepts that placed him in space for YAC opportunities.
On the other side of the ball, Terence Newman snagged interceptions on consecutive passes from Manning. On the first interception in the end zone while covering Eric Decker, Newman was in zone coverage and recognized the slant route. Although Decker sometimes will switch the slant into a pivot in the red zone, he was outside and did not have the space to run it. Newman played heads up, read Manning’s eyes, and beat Decker to the spot where he out-positioned Decker to make the interception.
On his other interception, Newman played the ball well on an overthrow from Manning. But, as it often does, Newman’s lack of physicality hurt the Bengals, highlighted in a missed tackle that led to a 40-yard gain.
The loss of Reggie Nelson to injury also hurt, as Manning began moving the ball much more efficiently through the air after he went down. Taylor Mays just does not offer half of what Nelson does in coverage.
Or in any phase, really. Nelson’s return is crucial against the younger Manning next week.