The Bengals are playoff bound for the fifth straight season, and for the sixth time in seven years.
Cincinnati continues to be a pillar of regular season consistency. Their 24-14 victory over the 49ers came on a day where San Francisco honored the two 49ers teams that beat Cincinnati in the Super Bowl. It was a blatant slap in the face for Cincinnati, but one that the Bengals can dismiss given the result of the game. The victory over San Francisco allowed Cincinnati to keep control of their own destiny. With this control, Cincinnati must improve in many categories if they wish to continue their success.
The most serious disappointment of Sunday’s game was the pathetic performance of the Bengals offensive line. The offensive line was stout to start the season, but has struggled in the last two weeks. Against San Francisco, the Bengals offensive line allowed A.J. McCarron to be sacked four times. One of those can be blamed on McCarron, but the remaining three were failures in proper pass blocking. To add to the pass blocking problems, the offensive line gave up six tackles for loss.
Coming into Sundays’ game the 49ers were the second worst rush defense in the league. In fact, the Cleveland Browns gashed the 49ers for 230 yards the week prior. Cincinnati put up terrible numbers and their RBs were only able to amass 64 total rushing yards. If the Bengals are going to defeat the Broncos next week then their offensive line needs to step up. Without support from the rushing game next week McCarron will have a steep uphill battle against one of the NFL’s top defenses.
Another concern was the success that 49ers QB Blaine Gabbert had against the Cincinnati secondary. Gabbert did throw three costly interceptions against the Bengals, but that is to be expected from a third rate back up QB. What is concerning is that Cincinnati allowed a D list QB to throw for 295 (without factoring in the sack yardage). That is a nearly 300 yard performance by Gabbert, which is unacceptable for the Bengals to allow. The four sacks and three interceptions by the defense were to be expected against a struggling team. To be effective against a top tier team, like Denver, Cincinnati must apply more pressure to the QB while not giving up big plays through the air. The Bengals have an extremely talented defense, they need to perform to their potential.
Going into the 49ers game most people expected A.J. McCarron to struggle in his first start. McCarron played pretty well but did struggle at times. He finished the game with 192 yards and a touchdown pass to rookie TE Tyler Kroft. McCarron’s biggest issue was his indecisiveness at times. He was overly cautious at certain points, which caused him to miss open receivers and fail to convert on ten third down opportunities. McCarron must improve on his passing and third down efficiency in the Denver game. The good news for the Bengals is that McCarron showed great maturity by not forcing plays or making any critical errors. Another positive aspect of McCarron’s play was his ability to complete several long passes. McCarron should continue to improve as he gets more reps and opportunities.
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Overall Cincinnati did what they needed to do against San Francisco, they won. It may not have been pretty, but the Bengals earned a playoff spot without Andy Dalton, Tyler Eifert, and with limited action from A.J. Green. The Bengals need to learn from their short comings against the 49ers and prepare for Denver. The Broncos are now in desperation mode as they are currently in third place in the AFC and only have a one game lead in the AFC West.
Cincinnati has a lot on the line as well heading into Sunday night’s showdown in Denver. A win over Denver would clinch the AFC North title and a first round by for the Bengals. Cincinnati has to clean up their issues from the 49ers game in order to make that a reality. The catalyst for the Bengals will be the offensive line, if they are successful then McCarron can be successful. It will be an interesting matchup in Denver on Sunday night, one in which the post season picture will become clearer.