Bengals vs. Chargers: Three Takeaways
Sep 20, 2015; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (27) tackles San Diego Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen ()13 in the first half at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports
The Cincinnati Bengals took care of the San Diego Chargers with a 24-19 victory in the team’s home opener at Paul Brown Stadium. The win wasn’t pretty, but a win is a win. The Bengals’ victory wasn’t nearly as nice as the team’s blowout win in Oakland, but at least now Cincinnati will now have a grasp of which units need to step up their game. Here are three areas where the Bengals can improve before they travel to Baltimore next Sunday.
1. Limit Mistakes
The Bengals have actually done a great job taking care of the ball during the past two weeks. Andy Dalton hasn’t thrown a single interception in the past two games, while the offensive line has blocked well enough to the point that Dalton hasn’t been sacked in either game. The Bengals’ issue with ball control lies with running back Jeremy Hill. While Hill is one of the game’s most explosive running backs, he also fumbles a lot–he’s fumbled seven times in his very brief career, including two lost fumbles today.
Outside of Hill’s fumbling issues, Cincinnati just needs to limit its general mistakes. The Bengals were flagged several times in this game; I wish I had the stats, but I’m pretty sure that Cincinnati gave up of 70 yards from penalties, including a few that kept a couple of the Chargers’ drives alive.
Cincinnati’s tackling issues are still evident, especially with the team’s linebackers. Melvin Gordon and Danny Woodhead had relatively quiet games, but bad tackling helped the two backs get loose on a few runs.
Overall, the Bengals actually did a good job in limiting mistakes, but they still could have done a better job. When they face stiffer competition like the Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals and Denver Broncos, the Bengals won’t be able to afford simple mistakes like these.
2. Capitalize on Opportunities
Sep 20, 2015; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green (18) catches a pass for a touchdown over San Diego Chargers cornerback Brandon Flowers (24) in the first half at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
In order to be a Super Bowl team, the Bengals will need to capitalize on their opportunities; Cincinnati can’t afford any missed opportunities if they’re going to be playing for a title. The team was too insistent on handing the ball off to Giovani Bernard in the red zone, something that hasn’t been effective since Bernard entered the league. Even though Jeremy Hill occasionally fumbles the ball, he’s a huge back and is great in the red zone. Penalties also cause Cincinnati some missed opportunities. George Iloka had a near-interception (another missed opportunity), but even if he caught it, another defender was flagged for a penalty–which would have negated the interception if Iloka managed to catch the pass.
Another thing that could end up haunting Cincinnati is the team’s lack of hands in the defensive backfield. Iloka, Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick all dropped catchable interceptions this week; the only defender who managed to pick off a pass was linebacker Vincent Rey. When a ball is in your hands, you’ve got to come up with the catch–even if you’re a defender.
Missed opportunities can end up deciding games, and these missed opportunities could haunt the Bengals if they ended up having a bigger impact on this game. Cincinnati can’t afford missed opportunities.
3. Take Over the Game
Sep 20, 2015; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert (85) catches a touchdown pass against the San Diego Chargers in the second half at Paul Brown Stadium. Cincinnati defeated San Diego 24-19. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports
Cincinnati did a great job as a team, but it’s going to take players like Andy Dalton, Jeremy Hill, A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert taking over the game on offense for Cincinnati to win. All four of these guys have the talent to take over the game, so Cincinnati is reasonable in expecting these players to show up big–especially Green, who just signed a huge contract last week. If any of these guys can step up and take over, they’ll be able to free up teammates to make even more plays.
When Eifert went off against the Raiders, he opened up running games for Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard while pulling coverage away from A.J. Green and Marvin Jones. We saw what ensued when he took over.
Cincinnati has the playmakers; now these playmakers need to make some plays.
Wrapping it up
Overall, the Bengals looked solid on Sunday. I made a few negative points, but that’s mostly because there were so many overwhelming positives. The Bengals’ offensive line kept Dalton upright for the second straight week, not allowing a single sack this season so far. Dalton was on fire, throwing for three touchdowns and zero interceptions (Dalton, by the way, has five touchdowns and no turnovers on the season). All of Dalton’s starting running backs and pass-catchers caught at least one pass (although none of them gained 50 yards through the air). On offense, Cincinnati was solid.
And on defense, Cincinnati looked almost just as good. Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap consistently put pressure on Philip Rivers, while Michael Johnson and even Domata Peko made a couple of nice plays. The defensive line looked as good as it was in 2013, so now it’s time for the secondary to step up and help carry the load on defense. And so far, so good. A week after catching 15 passes, Keenan Allen only managed two catches for 16 yards against Cincinnati. Cincinnati held Amari Cooper in check during the team’s Week 1 win as well.
This is a Bengals team that I’m very excited about; you should be excited too. The Bengals are one of the strongest and deepest teams in the NFL; it’s going to take a lot of bad luck for Cincinnati to miss the playoffs this season.