As the glow from Paul Brown Stadium wears down, the Bengals are reflecting in the completion of a game plan that was implemented last week against the Broncos and the elder Manning but executed this week against the Giants and the younger Manning.
Taking advantage of a much weaker offensive line, the Bengals defensive front pressured Eli Manning into some terrible decisions. In addition to his huge impact in run defense, nose tackle Pat Sims snagged an interception off one of many Geno Atkins pressures. Atkins spent a good portion of the game in the Giants backfield, but defensive end Carlos Dunlap turned in what was easily his best performance of the season.
Dunlap finished with 1.5 sacks, but more importantly played the run very well in a big step towards proving he can be an every down player. The defensive line as a whole played a huge part in the win, as Manning’s other interception was a horrendous throw under duress. Nate Clements was the lucky recipient of that miscue.
The Bengals secondary was huge, as well. Leon Hall played his usual tough, physical brand of football. He shadowed Victor Cruz throughout the game and shut down one of the best slot receivers in the game. Hall has slowly worked himself back to his pre-Achilles injury status of a shutdown corner, and eliminating Cruz without a dedicated bracketing safety was a big reason the Bengals stymied the Giants offense.
That is not to say that he was the only outstanding corner, because Adam Jones played the best game he ever has in stripes. His punt return will make the highlight reels, but he played man coverage within inches of his designated receiver and showed outstanding instincts in zone, disrupting passes with excellent instincts and closing speed. Bengal nation is praying that when he left the game with a calf injury it was mostly precautionary.
On the offensive side of the ball, the line shut down the vaunted Giants pass rush. Undrafted rookie Trevor Robinson has improved with every snap that he has played and makes the coaching staff feel better about letting Kyle Cook mend at his own pace. Robinson might not be the all-around center that Cook is, but his rough edges become smoother with each contest. Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith were impenetrable barriers on the edge, and guards Clint Boling and Kevin Zeitler played heady football picking up the blitzes and twists that the Giants threw at them.
With that solid protection, Andy Dalton played his best game of the season. His ball placement was the genesis of many of the biggest plays of the game, especially in his touchdown pass to Andrew Hawkins. Even though it was late in an out route, he threw it past the defender but still in a spot where Hawkins could reach it.