Turnovers – Likely the most accurate predictor of football games are turnovers. In the last 20 years, teams with a +1 turnover differential win 68% of the time. Bump that up to a +2 and the win percentage goes to a whopping 82.8%. The worst team in the league can beat the best team in the league when they win the turnover battle. The Bengals and Bears are too closely matched for either to have much of a chance withstanding a -2 in the turnover differential category. While the Bengals were the better team yesterday, the Bengals were careless with the football, lost the turnover battle 3-1, and like many teams before them, lost the game because of it.
Turnover #1: Dalton’s INT was a poor throw by Dalton and led directly to the Bears first score.
While I will not excuse Dalton, Green needs to at least break that up. Turnover #2: The 2nd picks was not on Dalton and it cost the Bengals, at a minimum, 3 points. Dalton threw a perfect pass to Green and Green simply dropped it. While the Bears didn’t score, a catch would have given the Bengals 1st and 10 inside the Bears 15, almost assuring the Bengals of 3, or maybe 7 points – as well as control of the game. Turnover #3: Sanu’s fumble was the nail in the coffin. Falling to the ground would have given the Bengals 1st and 10 at the Bears 17 with 12:30 to play and a 21 to 17 lead. At worst, the Bengals go up 7 with less than 10 to go. At best they go up 11 with less than 10 to go. Instead, Chicago, like all good and opportunistic teams, took the gift and went straight down the field to score the GW TD with less than 8 minutes to play.
The Defensive Line – In my preview, I said the game would be won or lost based on the Bengals DL and their ability to control the Bears OL. The Bengals defense tied for 3rd in the NFL in 2012 with 51 sacks. They were going up against a line with 4 new starters, 2 of which were rookies – the DL got some pressure (4 QB hits), but 0 sacks. That is an incredible win for the Bear’s OL and a tremendous loss for the Bengals DL. At times, Cutler had all day to throw, and on top of the 0 sacks, the DL (MJ specifically) let Cutler out of the pocket for a huge 18 yard scramble on 2nd and 20. Two plays later, the Bears went for (and converted) a 4th and 1, setting up the winning TD. Given what is expected of this line, Sunday had to be an utter disappointment.
Green’s Hands – Yes, I know he had 9 catches for 162 yards and 2 TDs. Yes I know he is a top 5 WR and was one of the reasons the Bengals had the lead for most of the game. But, he also let a perfect pass from Dalton go through his hands and into the hands of Charles Tillman. It was a ball that any WR (not just an AJ type) should catch. While it didn’t lead to a score, it did have an enormous effect on the game and momentum. The drive prior, the Bengals offense hit their stride going 97 yards in 9 plays to tie the game, and were marching again for a go ahead TD, a score that would have swung momentum and limited the crowd. If Green catches the pass, the Bengals have 1st and 10 at the Bears 15 – a near automatic 3 points (likely 7 with the way the offense was clicking). The Bengals have a very thin margin for error and can’t afford lapses like this (especially from Green – who also had a fumble earlier in the drive which luckily was kicked out of bounds).
Ball Security – Along with Green’s fumble that was kicked out of bounds, was the fumble by Sanu which essentially sealed the game. Sure, one play doesn’t lose a game, but this was the last of the major plays that did. This fumble was just poor football IQ. The fumble came on 2nd down with Sanu right at the 1st down marker and the Bengals already in chip shot FG range (17 yard line). I like a guy fighting for yards, but not in this situation. Sanu was boxed in by 3 guys and at best he may have been able to fight for another yard. The difference of that yard was 1st and 10 at the 16 rather than 1st and 10 at the 17…meaning he fumbled fighting for a yard that didn’t matter. Even if Sanu didn’t have the 1st down, he was less than a yard short and would have given the Bengals a 3rd and less than 1. Instead, Sanu fought for a meaningless yard, coughed up the ball, and watched the Bears march down the field for the eventual winning score. On 4th down, that’s what I want him to do. On 3rd down I might be able to excuse it. On 2nd down, Sanu has to know better. Sanu’s skill set is unlikely to make himself a name in the NFL. To make a name for himself, Sanu is going to have to rely on his sure hands and savviness, much like a Wes Welker or TJ Houshmanzedah. That was not very savvy…or sure-handed.
The Run Game – 14 carries for 25 yards? Really? Hell, I may have been able to get something close to that…ok, maybe not, but you get the point. Since becoming an OC in the NFL, Gruden has struggled If the Bengals want to win the AFC North (and help Dalton limit mistakes), they have to run better than 21 carries for 63 yards.
The Lack of Gio - What was the point in drafting Giovanni Bernard if they aren’t going to use him? I understand BJGE is still (in theory) their top back, but when your “top back” goes 14 carries for 25 yards, doesn’t it seem like a good time to try the new toy? Not to mention, in the few times they did use Bernard, he produced 22 yards on 4 carries (5.5 ypc), 1 catch for 8 yards, and another 14 yard run that was taken wiped out by a penalty.
Leon Hall – Hall didn’t suck and he had good coverage, but he kills me that he doesn’t turn around when the ball is in the air. How many times does he have to see a WR catch a ball on him despite him having good coverage before he learns to turn around. He is in position for picks, if he would turn around he could lead the league.
Mike Zimmer – For the most part the defense played pretty solid, but there were a few head scratchers that may have cost the Bengals the game: 1) 3rd and 17 and the Bengals fake a blitz – either bring the blitz or play to stop the first down. The fake blitz gets your guys out of position and results in Burfict on Marshall. Result = 18 yard completion; first down; TD. Burfict should never end up on the best WR. 2) Speaking of not being placed on the #1 WR, why was Nelson 1-on-1 with Marshall on the go ahead TD? 3) 2 timeouts in 1 play because you don’t have the right number of guys on the field (10 and then 12)? That is Mickey Mouse stuff. Those 2 timeouts may have been useful at the end of the game…maybe.
Maualuga – Death, taxes and Maualuga sucking. I’ve read articles claiming Maualuga played ok up until his bonehead penalty, but they must have watched a different game than I did. The 1st TD could have been knocked away (or picked) if Maualuga did not have the worst timed jump since Rahim Moore. I also recall Maualuga being in the hole to stop Bush for no gain on a 2nd and 8 on the final drive and he missed the tackle, leading to a 7 yard gain and an eventual 3rd and 1 conversion. Then the unnecessary roughness penalty. I would call that a pretty poor game. Maybe we need to start designating bad games as “Reys?”