Thursday, October 31, 2013

Five Things: Bengals vs. Jets

Ok, with the 49-9 beating that took place Sunday, I'm going to do something a bit different and just evaluate the team as a whole after eight games. I'd be really pressed to find five bad things about yesterdays game so I'm just going to take a look at five things I've got my eye on going into the second half of the season.

1. Andy Dalton (!!!) Holy smokes. 1034 passing yards, 11 TDs to 2 INTs and a 66 % completion percentage for Red in his past three games, all victories. Over the last 16 regular season games, Dalton has a 12-4 record, nearly 3,800 yards with 29 TDs to 12 INTs on 63% completion. I'd take that in a heartbeat from Dalton, yet he's still currently on pace to best any number he has put up in his pro career, be it counting numbers or rates. I left out his playoff numbers because those are no secret to anyone, but I'm not sure if people realize what kind of run Dalton is currently on. He's eighth or higher in just about every counting QB measurement this season, but it's more than numbers. He's getting rid of the ball quicker. He's putting passes in windows that I haven't seen him do before. His touch on deep pass looks better. He's been outstanding as of late, and he's done it all without the benefit of...

2. Any sort of running game. After a 25 rush, 79 yard (3.2 YPC) day against the Jets, Cincy is down to 25th in the league with 3.6 YPC. Benjarvus Green-Ellis is averaging a Trent Richardson-esque 3.2 YPC, while Gio Bernard is slightly better at 3.9 YPC. Yet, Gio has 12 carries in the past two weeks, while BJGE got 11 carries in the NYJ game alone. BJGE is murder on this offense. He can't run, he's not a threat to catch the ball and Dalton is getting the ball out his hands in around 2.5 seconds, so his skills as a pass blocker aren't really justifying his time on the field. I'd love to shoot for the moon and throw some draft picks at the Vikings for Adrian Peterson, but I wonder if a guy like Ben Tate or James Starks could form a nice platoon with Gio, for much cheaper. Any sort of a running threat could take an offense playing well right now to the next level.

3. Schedule. The Bengals started 6-2 in 2011, but did it against losing teams. Just one of those six wins came against a team that finished the season with a winning record, the Titans who were the only such team the Bengals beat all season. This year Cincy has beaten Green Bay, Detroit and New England, in addition to destroying the Jets who currently sit a half game outside of the sixth playoff spot. Moving forward, the schedule doesn't look awful. Thursday night @ Miami, before 10 days to prepare for a trip to Baltimore. After that, four of the final six games are at home, and three are against teams that don't appear to be making postseason plans (Cleveland, Baltimore, Minnesota). Cincy has done well against good teams but will they play down to their competition in the second half of the season?

4. Injuries. Good grief. A week after losing Leon Hall for the season, four Bengals left the game yesterday with injuries: Rey Maualuga, Taylor Mays, Andrew Whitworth and Mo Sanu. Maualuga has been ruled out 3-4 weeks with a sprained MCL, but there is no word on if the others will miss Thursday nights game. Whitworth has a solid backup in Anthony Collins, and the emergence of superstar first ballot HOFer Marvin Jones means Sany won't have to rush back, but I'm not sure how the team will handle the loss of Maualuga and Mays. Mays depletes an already short secondary, and Maualuga had been playing reasonably well this season. A short week and a bye week that doesn't come until Thanksgiving make this a rough stretch for us.

5. Defense.  8th in yards per game, 11th in pass yards per game, 8th in rush yards per game, fifth in points per game allowed. The defense has been outstanding but the injuries are really piling up. Starters Robert Geathers and Leon Hall are out for the season, along with reserve S Taylor Mays. Starters Rey Maualuga and reserve DT Devon Still are out a couple of weeks. LB Michael Boley and DE Wallace Gilberry are questionable for this Thursday night. I trust Zimmer's ability to work guys into these defense, but goodness. Will there be anybody left? Rookies Margus Hunt and Shawn Williams will have to step up for the defensive line and secondary, respectively but I'm unsure about linebacker. You either give more snaps to James Harrison, rely on young backups or practice squad material. Keeping this defense in the top ten with the injuries that have taken toll may be Zimmer's toughest task thus far in Cincy.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Week 8 Picks

I'm coming into this a little late this week, but I swear the beginning of these games haven't influenced my picks in any way.

Cowboys over Lions
Shockingly, the Cowboys' defense has looked pretty good so far.  The Lions' front four looks good, but that secondary is terrible.  Romo goes nuts here.

Chiefs over Browns
I have nothing to say about this.

Patriots over Dolphins
Tannehill seems to be making a habit of digging himself in a hole early, then trying to dig out for the rest of the game.  You're not good enough to be doing that, fella.

Saints over Bills
Yeesh.  Some pretty terrible games today.

Eagles over Giants
I can't imagine the Eagles will be shut down on defense two weeks in a row, especially with Vick back in at QB.

49ers over Jaguars
I'm with you on the jerseys.  Best part of the London games.  There are almost always strange throwback jerseys out there, too.  Pretty sure I saw a JJ Stokes jersey at some point.  I assume that there's a guy on a cart outside the stadium, selling random jerseys for $10.  "Reach your hand in the bag and keep what you grab."

Bengals over Jets
That defense will force Geno into a handful of mistakes.

Steelers over Raiders
This game seems insanely boring.

Broncos over Redskins
Even a hobbled Peyton should be able to put up big numbers against this Redskins defense.  Of course, a couple big hits and they may be looking at Osweiler.

Cardinals over Falcons
The Cardinals defense is too good to let Harry Douglas beat them.

Packers over Vikings
Josh Freeman played about as terrible a game as I have ever seen last week.  I loved it.  Couldn't stop laughing.  I love that Ponder can be seen as an improvement over anyone.

Seahawks over Rams
Guh.  Has there been a good Monday Night Football game this year?

Week 8 NFL Picks

Lions over Cowboys- Lions are at home here, Megatron is a week healthier and it's up in the air whether Demarco Murray will play for the Cowboys. Also, can we stop with the comparisons of Dez Bryant and Calvin Johnson through their first 50 games? A much better comparison is one that shows Johnson's numbers after 50 games with Matthew Stafford compared to Bryant's first 44 game with Romo. Around 6 catches for 98 yards per contest for Johnson compared to 4 catches for 69 yards for Bryant show that there is little comparison between the two.

Chiefs over Browns- Chiefs at home. With Jason Campbell starting for Cleveland.

Patriots over Dolphins- You remember when the 3-0 Dolphins were ready to unseat the Patriots as AFC East champs? That was cute.

Saints over Bills- It won't matter much here, but Jimmy Graham battling a partially torn plantar fascia is huge for New Orleans. That's probably an injury that will nag him for the rest of the season. I'm sure Brees will make due with some bum off the street plugged in at tight end, but I imagine that limits the ceiling of this Saints team as a whole if Graham is hobbled or out altogether long term.

Eagles over Giants- It's looking like Mike Vick will be back in the lineup and not a moment too soon, because with Nick Foles being concussed the Eagles would have been left with Matt Barkley starting here. Just think, if Barkley went pro after his junior year he could be stinking it up in Miami with a first round paycheck instead of stinking it up in Philly as a third stringer.

49ers over Jaguars- The best part of these London games is the random NFL jerseys that you'll see in the stands. Bank on a few Peyton Mannings, an Adrian Peterson or two and a wildcard. My money is on a Randy Moss in San Fran jersey. You'll have to tell me about it because I won't be watching a minute of this game if I can help it.

Bengals over Jets- Cincy is 3-0 at home while the Jets are 1-2 on the road. I'm hopeful that the home crowd can fluster Geno into an early turnover or two that has the Jets playing catch up all day. The more Geno drops back, the more I like the chances of our pass rush making things tough on him. Hopefully, he won't have enough time in the pocket to exploit our Leon Hall-less secondary.

Raiders over Steelers- This is NOT your grandfathers Raiders vs. Steelers.

Broncos over Redskins- Peyton clearly didn't look 100% after that hit by Robert Mathis on Sunday night. Word is that he is fine, but I'd imagine the Skins would like to let Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan make that decision.

Falcons over Cardinals- This could be it for the Falcons season. They have a long road ahead of them to get back into the playoff mix, but a win here puts them at 3-4 and that's not too far out of things. Going to 2-5 with a brutal schedule ahead of them would all but shut the book on a disaster of a season.

Packers over Vikings- Good grief. How bad is Matt Cassel in practice that he can't beat out Josh Freeman or Christian Ponder?

Seahawks over Rams- Don't know who is starting for the Rams between Kellen Clemens, Austin Davis or Brady Quinn. Don't care.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Bengals vs. Lions: 5 Things

Five good things: 

1. Andy Dalton. One of his best games as a pro. 24/34, 372 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs. He only had one rush, but it was for eight yards on a 3rd and 7. Of course, it was then challenged and changed to a six yard game, but he still made the effort to run. After throwing 5 TDs/5 INTs over the first five games of the season, Dalton has tossed 6 TDs/1 INT over the last two. I also read that he's had four games of 70% completion percentage so far in 2013. He had four such games in 2011 and 2012 combined. Is Dalton good enough to lead us to the promised land? I'm still skeptical, but I see a lot of "He's the same exact player he was when he was drafted", and I just don't see that to be true. He's playing very well right now.

2. Marvin Lewis. Again. Billy Barnwell had him on the list of worst coaching moves of the week, and I disagree. Lewis actually went 2/2 on challenges, which is miraculous in itself. The first one saw him get a 19 yard Calvin Johnson catch overturned. The one Barnwell wrote about had the Lions converting a 3rd and 11 with a 19 yard Joique Bell catch, but a penalty would have nullified the catch and made it 3rd and 21. Lewis challenged the validity of the catch, and won thus turning it into a 4th and 11 and making Detroit punt. Barnwell argues that 3rd and 21 isn't that much different from 4th and 11 and that Lewis should have taken the penalty and kept his challenge flag tucked. I argue that the Lions were 13/17 (not a misprint) on third down conversions up to that point and we were minutes removed from Calvin Johnson doing this.... 

With those things fresh on his mind, I think Lewis made the right choice by forcing Detroit to punt the ball.

3. Vontaze Burfict. 13 tackles, two tackles for loss, two passes defenses, one QB hit. Those 13 stops put him at the top of the league with 74 in seven games. He's been fantastic this season, he just turned 23 last month and he's currently the 51st highest paid Bengal.

4. Turnovers. Zero turnovers for the second time this season. This is not an offense good enough to withstand turnovers yet so not giving the ball away is huge. 

5. Jay Gruden. I have to tip my cap to Gruden for making it a point to get AJ Green involved over the last two weeks. To no one's surprise, these are Dalton's two best games of the season. Against Pittsburgh, Green Bay, Cleveland, New England, Green scored one TD combined, didn't have a game of over 61 yards of receiving yards or a catch longer than 20 yards. In the past two weeks against Buffalo and Detroit, Green has 258 yards, two touchdowns and catches of 27, 54, 82. It seems like in trying to get Dalton's rhythm established early in the game with a number of short passes, the offense made it a point to get everyone else involved to set AJ up for a deep pass that never came. He has picked up a couple of offensive PI flags in that time period, but it's a worthy trade off if Green is going to be more aggressive because he knows the ball is coming his way downfield

Five bad things: 

1. Third downs. The Lions went 13/19 converting third downs and were 13/17 at one point, as I mentioned earlier. Detroit is fourth in the league as far as successful third down conversions, but 68 percent is insane. Cincinnati held the ball for all of 1:42 in the first quarter and 7:44 total in the first half, yet went into the break up 14-10. On one hand, you fault the defense for giving up that many third down conversions, but on the other hand, being on the field almost 23 minutes in the first half and giving up only 10 points is impressive.

2. Leon Hall. Boy oh boy. For the second time in three years, Hall will end the season on injured reserve due to a torn Achilles. And it's the other Achilles this time, meaning he's torn both since 2011. And I hate it. Pro Football Focus has Hall ranked as the 3rd best corner in the league for 2013 and he's extremely valuable to this team. Pacman Jones (ranked 139th by PFF. How does that even happen???) and more importantly, Dre Kirkpatrick will have to step up as Marvin Lewis stated the team will not be making any signings to cover for Hall. I wouldn't mind kicking the tires on Antoine Winfield, but I trust in Zimmer. Part of me is terrified at Jones/Kirkpatrick filling Leon's shoes, but the other half is intrigued. Kirkpatrick was a first rounder in 2012 and pretty much redshirted last year due to injury, and the team not needing him. This year he has battled small injuries, but if there's a place for a DB to succeed, it's Cincy. I've mentioned it before but Mike Zimmer has worked magic in the secondary with the likes of castoffs Reggie Nelson, Chris Crocker, Terrence Newman, Roy Williams and even Pacman. With a great pass rush in front of him, Kirkpatrick should have every chance to prove himself worthy of his first round tag.

3. Jermaine Gresham. Jesus Christ. Gresham made contact with an official trying to break up a scrum after a 7 yard run by Gio, and the resulting flag turned 2nd and 3 into 2nd and 18. He also had a huge penalty late in the fourth quarter. On a 3rd and 1 with the game tied at 24 and the two minute warning approaching, Gresham got called for a false start. With 3rd or even 4th and 1 with that much time left and Cincy at the DET 38, one yard is manageable. Six is considerably less manageable. On the next play, Ndamukong Suh sacked Andy Dalton to take us out of FG range. Brutal. Gresham did catch four of the five passes thrown his way for a season high 64 yards, but untimely penalties like that make it hard to remember the good he does on the field.

4. Running game. 18 rushes for 57 yards, 3.2 YPC. The worst rushing day of the year came against a Lions team that was 29th in the league stopping the run going into this game. On the season, this Cincy team is averaging 3.7 YPC, good enough for 23rd in the league. Last season, we ranked 20th in YPC and the year before that? 27th. I just hope people keep that in mind when they are criticizing Dalton because he's never had as much has an average running game behind him. On the lowest of lowkeys, I'd start to ask Minnesota what kind of draft picks it would take to get Adrian Peterson off of their hands.

5. Pass rush. Matthew Stafford came into the game having only been sacked nine times this season. He left the game having only been sacked nine times. However, He was hit seven times, including getting nailed by Michael Johnson as he threw that 50 yard TD to Calvin Johnson. The contrast in arm strength between he and Dalton, who mustered every bit of arm he had to throw the ball all of 49 yards to AJ, was on display. Stafford's cannon arm and him making quick decisions (if not good ones) play a big part in keeping him upright.

Week 8. Home against the NY Jets.

1. This is a big game. A 6-2 record at the midpoint of the season would obviously be great, but a home win here with road games at Miami (Thursday night) and Baltimore up next would mean just as much. I can't recall us being 6-2 at the midpoint of the season during my Bengal fandom.

2. Geno Smith has thrown deep (ball over 20 yards in the air) on almost 18% of his passes (tops in the league), and he's fourth in the league at completing those passes at 53%. Those two things combined with this being our first full game without Leon Hall have me worried.

3. On the flipside, waiting for the deep routes to develop has gotten Geno sacked 25 times, second most in the league. I'm hoping our pass rush can bounce back from being shut out to force Geno into some bad throws.

4. The Jets are second in the league at stopping the run and our run game is pathetic, so I imagine that we won't even bother. Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson are monsters and I worry about our interior lines ability to keep them out of the backfield.

5. The Jets run the ball plenty (11th in the league in rushing yards), but I think our defensive line can keep them in check and make Geno put the ball in the air. I like our chances to win if Geno has upwards of 35 or 40 passing attempts. And if we're really lucky, he may try to take the ball between his legs like Meadowlark Lemon.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Week 7 NFL Picks

Falcons over Buccaneers- The Falcons had their bye week just in time to have still be without Steven Jackson and Roddy White here. What a nightmare of a season. I think they win here, but it will be closer than it should. They have to start fielding offers for Tony Gonzalez now.

Bengals over Lions- This looks like a very even matched game, and might be one of the better early games. I think it will be a close one but I think we come out victorious. Quick passes should help negate the Lions interior D line against our weak interior O line and I think Dalton has another good game here. We can manage Reggie Bush carrying the ball, but him catching passes out of the backfield worries me.

Bills over Dolphins- I really liked what I saw from Thad Lewis last week and think he gets the win here. Of course, I don't know much about the Dolphins defense so maybe they don't make practice squad QBs look like Hall of Famers, the way Cincy does.

Patriots over Jets- Rob Gronkowski is back, but I'm sure he jumps right into mid season form the way he's being projected. I also don't know if he'll be enough to corral some of those bad throws Brady has been making this season. Still, he'll be a tremendous help over the zero they have been getting from the TE position.

Cowboys over Eagles- This might be for the division. Whoever wins here goes to 4-3, and that might be all it takes to win this awful, awful division. I imagine whoever gets to 6 wins in the NFC East probably sits their starters for the remainder of the season to get ready for the postseason.

Bears over Redskins- RG3 looked a little more mobile last week than he has all of last season, but his accuracy just isn't there. This Bears defense isn't great, but I do think their ballhawks will be able to take advantage of a couple of errant throws by RG3.

Panthers over Rams- Bradford has 13 TDs this season to 3 INTs. You trust him yet? I surely do not. Bradford was last #1 overall pick to get a ridiculous deal before the NFL renegotiated rookie deals. Cam Newton, the #1 pick that following year, won't let him forget it today.

Chargers over Jaguars- I don't care and you don't either.

49ers over Titans- Glad to see Jake Locker back but I hope he isn't coming back to early. That early prognosis called for him to miss a couple of months, but he's back in the lineup after a couple of games. Colin Kaepernick looks afraid to run to me. I don't know if it's injury related or the coaches told him to run less, but he looks like a very average QB without the threat to run. The 49ers have won three straight and scored 101 points in those games, so maybe they don't need him to scramble, but he doesn't scare me like he did last season.

Packers over Browns- Hate to see Randall Cobb go down and hope he makes a full recovery from that leg injury. The Packers offense hasn't clicked yet, but they've won two straight and I think they make it three straight here.

Chiefs over Texans- Eek. What a way for Case Keenum to get his first career start, on the road against an undefeated team. Not much to see here.

Ravens over Steelers- A Steelers victory would be great to keep some breathing room between first and second place in the AFC North, but I can't see it. I mean, Tomlin did ban Uno from the locker room and I suspect that's exactly what has been holding Pittsburgh back, but I don't know man. I just don't know.

Broncos over Colts- Good Lord, what a game this should be. I see a lot of picks for the Luck and the Colts, but I don't think they get it done here. That Colts defense couldn't keep Phillip Rivers and his crew of flunkies off the field last week. I don't think they do it against Peyton Manning. Also, Von Miller is back today and the internet tells me that he's gained 16 pounds of muscle. I'll take the Broncos here, please.

Vikings over Giants- I don't care about this game, but your pal Bill Simmons mentioned that the Giants should trade Eli Manning for a first round pick and just start over. He then listed multiple teams that he thought would give a first rounder for Manning (Texans, Browns, Bengals, among others). Can you imagine any scenario where a team gives up a first rounder for a 32 year old Manning that has completed 54% of his passes and thrown 15 interceptions in six games? I'd riot if we traded anything for Manning, nonetheless a first rounder.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Bengals vs. Bills: 5 Things

Five good things: 

1. Andy Dalton. Stop me if you've heard me telling you that you've heard this before, but Dalton played very well outside of an awful interception. For the second week straight. 26/40, 337 yards, 3 TDs and that abysmal INT. He also rushed 7 times for 17 yards (4 yards on a 1st down, 6 yards to convert a 3rd and 6, three times for zero yards while backed up at his own one yard line to end the half, 2 yards to convert on a 3rd and 1, 5 yards on a 1st and 10). Again, the rushing numbers don't look impressive but making things easier for himself on first down and picking up two third downs with his legs is huge. He hit eight different receivers, threw a beautiful touchdown to AJ Green and had another nicely thrown ball on a TD to Marvin Jones. It was Dalton's best game of the season and I really hope he can build off of it.

2. The running game. 41 rushes, 165 yards, 1 TD. A couple of big runs by Marvin Jones and Benjarvus Green-Ellis inflate the 4 YPC, but the entire team did a great job of rushing against the Bills. They played a big part in helping to keep possession of the ball for nearly 43 minutes, compared to 25 minutes for the Bills.

3. Marvin Jones- Jones has nearly passed the number of receiving yards he had all of last season (201 to 190) and has already doubled his touchdowns (1 to 2). He had his best game as a pro against the Bills. He had a 34 yard run on a reverse, a 42 yard catch and run after a screen and a 10 yard touchdown catch. Jones might be exactly what we need at receiver lining up alongside AJ Green. He had a flare for great grabs last year, but struggled with consistency. He's looked better this season.

4. Defensive line- Four of the five sacks, five of the eight tackles for loss and 10 of the 11 quarterback hits came from the defensive line. Thad Lewis is relatively mobile and the line still got pressure on him plenty throughout the day. Great work.

5. James Harrison- Clearly, James is a fan of the blog. After winding up in last week's bad things, he bounced back with his best performance in a Bengals uniform. 3 tackles, 2 tackles for loss and a sack on fourth down with the Bills two yards away from the end zone. If he shows he can give us that type of performance, even in limited snaps, a good defense gets a bit better.

Five bad things:

1. Mike Zimmer. A week after singing his praises, Mike Zimmer had a couple of shaky calls that made the game closer than it should have been. With the Bills facing 4th down and 8, Zimmer called for a blitz that left DE Carlos Dunlap covering TE Scott Chandler all by his lonesome. To no one's surprise  Chandler blew right past Dunlap before he could get in position and caught the easiest touchdown he'll ever catch. This made the game 24-17. With 2:40 left in the game, Zimmer called for another blitz that left Terrence Newman covering on Marquise Goodwin by himself. Goodwin clocked a 4.2 40 yard dash at the combine this year, so there wasn't a thing the 35 year old Newman could do as Goodwin ran right by him to catch a 40 yard touchdown that tied the game. 

2. Penalties. Just gonna start calling this section, "Penalties and four bad things". Eight penalties for 78 yards, including one that took points off the board, almost did us in. Vontaze Burfict had three himself (though an unnecessary roughness flag for a hit on Lewis was bogus) and Andrew Whitworth surprisingly had two of his own. Cincy is only 19th in the league as far as most penalties, so it could always be worse, but it's frustrating to watch.

3. Making bum quarterbacks look better. Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady have combined to complete 54% of their passes and toss 2 TDs and 4 INTs against Cincy this year. Brian Hoyer, Jay Cutler and Thad Lewis have completed 63% of their passes and have 6 TDs and 1 INT against Cincy this season. Naturally, I'm terrified what Matt Stafford might do on Sunday.

4. Tight ends. I'm not exactly sure what's going on, but I dont think the double tight end experiment is going as well as Jay Gruden had planned. Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham combined to catch four passes (seven targets) for 18 yards. Hardly what you'd expect for two first round picks. It's easy to say their presence is helping to open things up for other guys, and maybe that's true, but I don't know if I buy it. If I'm a defense, I'm much more concerned with Green and even Jones, than I am with Gresham or Eifert. Their combined targets have looked like this since week one: 10, 13, 7, 10, 11, 7. Jimmy Graham has more targets than that by himself, and Jordan Cameron isn't far behind him. 

5. Shaky play on the road. Of Cincy's two losses this season, both came on the road and it took overtime to beat a Bills team down to their third quarterback. Three of our next four games are on the road, including games against Miami and Baltimore. The two losses have come by a combined 14 points, so it's not like they get waxed on the road, but it's still concerning. 

Week 7: On the road against Detroit.

1. Calvin Johnson is questionable for the game and I'm praying he sits this one out. He only caught three passes against the Browns and felt some soreness in his knee afterwards, so I'm hoping the Lions do the right thing and keep him inactive.

2. The Lions defense is 21st in the league against the pass and 29th against the run. They are also 26th in the league in sacks, so I'm not too worried about them. The match up of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairly lining up over the weak interior of our line could be troublesome, but Dalton is playing pretty well. I trust he'll get rid of the ball quickly or step up and run for a couple of yards if the pocket collapses too quickly.

3. Matt Stafford has been playing well this season, but Reggie Bush worries more than anyone on that offense (outside of Megatron, of course). He's rushing for nearly 5 YPC and his ability to catch out of the backfield, along with the inability of our linebackers to cover, has me concerned that he could have a big game.

4. Detroit is one of the more penalized teams in the league, on both sides of the ball. They should give us plenty of opportunities to extend drives with turnovers. We just have to make sure that we don't do the same in return. 

5. Though they aren't in our division, I've kept an eye on the Lions for the last couple of years. They've had a similar rise to the Bengals of late. Both teams made the playoffs with 10-6 records and 2011 and were popular picks to breakout the next season after losing in the wild card round. Both teams got off to a middling start in 2012 (3-5 for Cincy, 4-4 for Detroit), before the Bengals rallied to go 7-1 and make the playoffs while the Lions lost their last eight. Now, both teams are off to 4-2 starts and in first place looking to ride hot starts into the playoffs.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Week 6 NFL Picks

Bengals over Bills- Just saw that Michael Johnson and Leon Hall will be playing for Cincinnati and that Stevie Johnson will not be playing for Buffalo. I like our defense to make things rough on Thaddeus Lewis without his best receiver.

Lions over Browns- I think the Lions are so happy to have Calvin Johnson back after the way they looked last week without him, they go crazy here. And by crazy, I mean around 24 points because that Browns defense is legit, but it's enough to get the win.

Chiefs over Raiders- If you watched any of Alex Smith in San Francisco, you've seen this Chiefs team. The pieces around him aren't as good, but the teams he's playing aren't either, so it works. Also, I keep seeing rumors of a Tony Gonzalez back to KC for a 4th round pick deal. KC has to make that offer right? Maybe you don't start with the 4th rounder for 10 more games of Gonzalez, but they have to at least inquire about his availability.

Vikings over Panthers- You think Adrian Peterson walks out of the tunnel ready to have a great day, until he walks on the field and sees Christian Ponder, Josh Freeman and Matt Cassel throwing passes in warmups and goes to vomit in a corner? I like to think that he does.

Jets over Steelers- I really like what I've seen from Geno Smith this year, from a football and an entertainment standpoint. He's made a number of gorgeous throws in every game I've seen and he really tried to take the football behind his back during an NFL game. I loved Tomlin cutting the games out of the locker room too. Yes, Ryan Clark and Felix Jones playing spades after practice is why the Steelers are winless.

Eagles over Bucs- "Foles! Glennon! The NFL on CBS! Hello out there, I'm Ian Eagle alongside my co-host Rich Gannon...."

Packers over Ravens- I agree with you here. I think the Ravens will be corral Torrey Smith and dare another receiver to beat them, and I don't think they'll find one. Ray Rice is averaging under 3 YPC this season so I don't know that he'll be of much help carrying the ball either.

Texans over Rams- Every At the beginning of the season, I saw Andy Dalton called a "poor man's Matt Schaub". At this point, I'm not entirely sure who that is more insulting to.

Broncos over Jaguars- I need more Peyton Manning naked bootleg runs in my life. Pronto.

Seahawks over Titans- "Geeze, Jake. You HAD to get hurt during the Jets game and  right before the Kansas City and Seattle games huh? Couldn't have hurt that hip before our home and home with the Jaguars???"- Ryan Fitzpatrick, under his breath to Jake Locker.

Saints over Patriots- This one might get ugly. We had our chances to take a decent lead against the Patriots and missed them. The Saints wont.

Cowboys over Redskins- If the Cowboys are really ready to throw in their hand on Romo, I will drive him to Cincinnati myself.

Colts over Chargers- Luck threw a number of beautiful passes against that Seahawks defense last week. This week he gets the Chargers 27th ranked defense. Also, maybe Trent Richardson really does stink. He's averaging 3 YPC since he joined the Colts. That's Benjarvus Green-Ellis territory, jack. Colts running backs not named Trent Richardson are averaging 5.6 YPC this season. At least Richardson's great hands have snagged him one pass for six yards during his time in Indy. So there's that.

Tigers & Picks

I haven't really talked about the Tigers in the playoffs yet.  I won't say much here, but I would like to mention them for a second.
Oakland took them to Game 5, and Verlander promptly shut them down.  For all the struggles he had during the regular season, he really locked it down in the middle of September, and that hasn't let up during his two playoff starts.  Through 2 starts, here is what his postseason currently looks like:

15 IP, 6 H, 2 BB, 21 K, 0.00 ERA.


And then Sanchez went out last night against the Red Sox - the best offensive team in the league this year - and threw 6 effectively wild, no-hit innings, en route to a 1-0 Tigers win.
I have a feeling in the back of my mind that the Red Sox are absolutely going to bludgeon the Tigers in at least one game this series (my money would be on tonight's Scherzer start or Fister's start on Wednesday.  But last night's game was a terrific start to the series.  A very good win on a night when the offense wasn't doing too much.

To the picks.

Packers over Ravens
Matthews is out, which is going to hurt their defense a bit.  But the defensive line looks good, and the secondary has been terrific.  The Ravens only really have 1 threat in their receiving corps.  They should be able to crowd the line a bit to be able to slow down the running game, and still be able to handle the passing game pretty well.  Packers win big.

Bengals over Bills
If Dalton can't come out and clearly look like the best QB on a field that includes him and Thad Lewis, something is seriously wrong.  Still, the Bills won't be able to do much of anything on offense, so I guess it doesn't matter too much.

Browns over Lions
The Browns have a pretty good defense, and Calvin Johnson is on the shelf this week.  Their offense didn't look great without him last week, and that continues here.  Still, with Weeden back at the helm, it's not like the Browns are going to put up a ton of points.  13-7 sounds about right.

Chiefs over Raiders
I still haven't seen much of the Chiefs this year.  I guess I know what I'll be doing this week.

Panthers over Vikings
I had faith in the Panthers last week, and they went out and got destroyed by the Cardinals.  If they lose to the Vikings this week, I'll have to think long and hard about picking them to win another game this year.

Jets over Steelers
I love the story about Tomlin banning games at the Steelers facility.  I love that it started with Roethlisberger basically taking games away from the rookies.  "You're too young.  You don't know what it's like to win.  No playing games.  This is football."  Something tells me their terrible start has less to do with playing games and more to do with their team just not being very good.  But that's just me.

Eagles over Bucs
The Eagles absolutely have to win this game by 20, right?  The Bucs look absolutely terrible.  If the Eagles lose, I'll have to assume they just really want Mariota in the draft.  Either that or Foles isn't great.

Texans over Rams
With Janoris Jenkins staring at him from the defense, Schaub has a decent chance of extending his pick-6 streak.  Still, the Rams aren't good, and the Texans are better than they've looked recently.

Broncos over Jaguars
And it's in Denver, too.  Maybe the Jags just decided not to get on the plane.
You know, for as much as I hate him, it's still hard not to appreciate what Manning is doing this year.  His TD number is padded a bit (he seems allergic to checking to a run inside the 5), but he's still putting up monster numbers at 37.  And his arm looks better now than it did in that first week.  Some of his downfield passes are still a bit wobbly, but he has plenty of zip on the short-to-intermediate stuff.  It's quite possible that he'll wear down towards the end of the season (it seemed to happen last season), but, for now, he looks incredible.  A tip of the cap to a player I can't stand.

Seahawks over Titans
Would've loved to have seen what Locker could have done here.  Oh well.  Fitzpatrick throws at least 3 INTs here.  The Seahawks corners will just sit on the short stuff and undercut the routes.

Cardinals over 49ers
The Cardinals defense is really good.  They'll be able to shut down the running game and lock down Boldin.  This will be an ugly game (it's not like the Cardinals are a great offensive team), but I expect the Cardinals will have the game well in hand by the time the 4th quarter starts.

Saints over Patriots
Even if Gronkowski plays, it won't matter too much.  The Saints can score in bunches.  Right now, the Patriots can't.  Plus, the Saints defense is looking pretty good this year.

Cowboys over Redskins
It'll be close for a little while, but the Cowboys will pull away in the second half.  Griffin seems to be getting a little more comfortable with each passing week, but he's not 100% back yet.

Colts over Chargers
After seeing what they did to the Seahawks last week, I think I'm done doubting the Colts this season.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Bengals vs. Patriots: 5 Things

Five good things: 

1. Mike Zimmer. I can't say enough about what a job Mike Zimmer is doing with the defense this year. Without Michael Johnson and Leon Hall (the two best Bengal defenders according to Football Outsiders), this unit made Tom Brady look like a very average quarterback. Brady was sacked four times, hit eight times, had five passes defensed and one intercepted. More importantly, the Patriots converted 1/12 of their third down conversions on the day. Chris Crocker was signed off the street two weeks ago and had a huge game as the nickel corner here with 7 tackles (2 for loss) and 2 passes defensed. Zimmer consistently makes due with guys that were cast off from other places (Reggie Nelson, Taylor Mays, Pacman Jones), middle round draft prospects (Michael Johnson, Geno Atkins, Domata Peko) or guys that no one wanted altogether (Vontaze Burfict, Terrence Newman). He's excellent.

2. Bill Belichick. Dare I say Belichick was outcoached by Marvin Lewis??? Your twitter BFF Bill Barnwell covered it here, but I was shocked that Belichick didn't go for the touchdown on that 4th and 1 late in the game. The Patriots were down 13-3 with around 6 minutes to go, and had trouble even getting to the redzone all day so I figured that going for it on fourth down was a given. Nope. The Patriots kicked the field goal instead. Minutes earlier, Marvin Lewis chose to go for it on 4th and 1 at the goal line to put Cincy up 10. I thought it was a great move, for the same reason I thought Belichick would go for it. Both defenses played great, so if you get a chance for seven points, you take it. At worst, you let your defense loose on the other team under the shadow of their own goal post. I also think Belichick outsmarted himself by sitting LeGarrette Blount after his second quarter fumble. Blount only averaged 4.3 YPC, but seemed like he was a broken tackle away from a big gain with every carry. I was delighted to see him benched until the fourth quarter as Belichick called himself trying to prove a lesson. 

3. Andy Dalton. Stop me if you've heard this before, but outside of a crippling redzone turnover, I thought Dalton played an excellent game. He went 20/27 (with three dropped passes) for 212 yards, 0 TDs and 1 INT. The interception was a boneheaded throw across his body that he regretted as soon as the ball left his hand. It was his first career redzone, but it came after a 7 play, 76 yard drive that had us at the NE 9 yard line. Even a field goal there changes that game, but with the way we were moving the ball, scoring a touchdown seemed likely. Outside of that, I thought Dalton was great. He had a throw on 3rd and 15 from his own 2 to Marvin Jones that is one of the best I've seen from him. An absolute strike where only Jones could make a play on it. He ran the ball 6 times for 25 yards, which doesn't look impressive, but each was crucial. The first saw him keep it on a read option (!!!) for 9 yards on a 1st and 10. BJGE picked up the first down on the subsequent play. On a 3rd and 5 in the third quarter, he scrambled for 6 yards and the first down. We scored a field goal on that drive. On a 2nd and 8 in the fourth quarter, he scrambled for 6 yards. BJGE converted the third down on the next play. Later that drive, after a penalty turned 3rd and 1 (at the NE 1) into 3rd and 5, Dalton scrambled to pick up 4 yards. BJGE picked up the touchdown on the next play that sealed the game.

Sidebar: The penalty that turned 3rd and 1 into 3rd and 5? A false start on Domata Peko who was in at fullback. If ONLY we had a true fullback on the roster that would know not to jump there.

His other two runs were kneel downs at the end of each half, so he really had 4 attempts for 25 yards. I love Dalton running. When you're a limited quarterback, you have to find ways to manufacture yards and Dalton has experience there. He rushed for over 1600 yards and 22 TDs in four years at TCU, so this isn't exactly asking Drew Bledsoe to turn into Randall Cunningham. Jeff Garcia made a living out of short scrambling, because those little gains add up. When Garcia saw trouble, he'd dash even if it was only for a couple of yards because 2nd and 6 is more manageable than throwing the ball away and looking at 2nd and 10. I don't know how much more read option Jay Gruden will call for Dalton, but I'd love to see him pull the ball down and scramble a little more.

4. Running game. Gio Bernard, BJGE and Andy Vick combined to rush for 162 yards on 39 attempts (4.2 YPC) against New England. Gio had a critical fumble in the fourth quarter but I'll attribute it to a great play by Devin McCourty and rainy playing conditions. Bernard didn't have a fumbling issue in college, and this is his first one in the NFL. That success running the ball helped keep the Cincy offense on the field nearly 10 minutes longer than the NE offense.

5. Mother Nature. What a gal. The conditions were overcast all afternoon, but the rain didn't start pouring down until the Patriots were on their last drive of the game needing to go 65 yards in less than two minutes. And it seemed that as soon as Pacman Jones came down with the game sealing interception, the rain eased up. Even Mother Nature hates the Patriots. 

Five bad things: 

1. Protection up the middle. Dalton was sacked four times and hit six times, and most of that pressure came from up the middle as three of the sacks came from interior linemen/linebackers coming up the middle. Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith are great on the ends, RG Kevin Zeitler is solid but LG Clint Boling and C Kyle Cook have to improve. Most run plays that find success are behind Zeitler/Smith and most of the ones that fail are up the middle. The pressure that Dalton sees dropping back is initially from Cook being pushed right into his lap. You have to skimp somewhere so Boling at LG probably isn't going anywhere, but we have to find an upgrade at center.

2. The James Harrison experiment. James Harrison has six tackles in five games, and four of them came last week against Cleveland. To his credit, it's not like he's being beat in coverage and whiffing on tackles...he's just not out there. I'm not sure why he's on the team, other than everyone being afraid to sit down with him 1 on 1 to actually release him. I do wonder if we'll see him line up at defensive end at any point this season, because the 4-3 linebacker thing isn't exactly working out.

3. Penalties. After committing only eight combined penalties against the Packers and Browns, Cincy committed seven against New England for 59 yards. This looks bad in comparison to the zero penalties for zero yards for the Patriots. It looks even worse when you consider three of them came in the fourth quarter and could have cost us the game. The first was Peko's false start which I discussed earlier. The second was Chris Crocker jumping offsides on 4th and 4 as a Tom Brady pass fell incomplete that would have effectively ended the game. Nope. New set of downs for New England. The third came moments later after Wallace Gilberry (who otherwise had a great game) got a roughing the passer penalty on a pass that fell incomplete. This turned 3rd and 10 at the Cin 42 into 1st and 10 at the Cin 27 and me into a complete mess watching this all unfold.

4. Jermaine Gresham. The more I watch Gresham, the more I realize that the Tyler Eifert pick wasn't one to complement Gresham. It was one to replace him. Gresham caught all four of his targets yesterday, but for only 24 yards. I'll let you do the gruesome YPC math. Gresham is in the fourth year of a five year deal, and despite coming off of two Pro Bowl appearances, there appears to be no rush to extend his deal. Pro Football Focus has him as the worst run blocking tight end in the game and over the past three years and his drop rate is over 11% per Pro Football Focus. That isn't terrible considering the rates of some of the other big names on that list, until you remember that he is nowhere near the playmaker that some of the other top dogs are. He has 27 targets this season to Eifert's 24, though Eifert's targets are on the rise for the past three weeks (2, 5, 7) while Gresham's are not (5, 5, 4). The season is young and I'm hopeful he turns things around but it's certainly not looking like Gresham will be here for the long haul. 

5. Injuries. Good grief man, Mike Zimmer can only do so much. We gotta get Leon Hall and Michael Johnson back on the field pronto. Dre Kirkpatrick was active for the game, but Crocker still played the nickel DB. Hopefully this was a testament to Kirkpatrick still being a little banged up, and not to the fact that a guy two weeks off the street took his snaps. Vontaze Burfict has been slow to get up a couple of times this year and our bye week isn't until Week 12. Ugh.

Week 6: On the road against Buffalo.

1. Thad Lewis has been promoted from the practice squad and will start at QB for the Bills. Naturally, I'm terrified. The Cincy defense has made elite quarterbacks (Roethlisberger, Rodgers, Brady) look like mortals, but has had trouble with Cutler and Hoyer. I think we'll be able to manage it, but if Lewis goes 29/34 for 344 yards and 4 TDs, you heard it here first.

2. The Bills are 3rd in rushing offense. The Bengals are 11th in rushing defense. With Lewis at QB, you figure they'll be leaning on that run game more than ever to get him a little room to work. If we can stop the run early and  force Buffalo to air it out, I like our chances.

3. That Bills defensive line is great in pass rush, but struggles stopping the run. We aren't much of a running team, but if there was a time to try to get it going, it may be against Buffalo.

4. We figure to have Leon Hall and Michael Johnson back in the lineup, but I don't know how healthy they'll be. Johnson is returning from a concussion so hopefully there will be no lingering effects, but Hall is coming off a hamstring injury. I'd rather play it safe with a hamstring injury so it doesn't pop up later in the season.

5. The Browns host the Lions this week and the Ravens host your Packers, so I'm hoping the NFC North can do us a solid. I feel that the Browns will eventually snap out of this hot streak and I'm not sure how good the Ravens are, but I certainly don't want to take any chances. Any games we can get up now on our competition is a plus.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Week 5 NFL Picks

Saints over Bears- While I don't think Cutler looks as bad as he did last week against Detroit, I still think he has a rough game here. That Chicago pass rush has been lacking this season, so Brees will have plenty of time in the pocket to work.

Bengals over Patriots- It's looking like we'll get Reggie Nelson and Dre Kirkpatrick are back but Leon Hall and Michael Johnson are out. Johnson being out is huge because he's been our best defensive linemen thus far. I won't say this a must win for us, but I think the Ravens will only stink for so long and Weeden didn't look terrible in relief against Buffalo. With the Patriots adjusting to the loss of Wilfork, I refuse to believe that our offense will look as pitiful as it did last week.

Packers over Lions- I agree with you and think the Packers pick up the win. The NFC isn't as brutal as it was looking at the beginning of the season but a 1-3 start for the Pack wouldn't bode well for their playoff chances. They'd still have a shot with Washington, Atlanta and San Fran struggling as well, but they'd need a lot of help from hot starters like Detroit, Chicago and New Orleans.

Chiefs over Titans- Have you seen that Chiefs schedule? After traveling to Tennessee to play Ryan Fitzpatrick, they get Oakland, Houston and Cleveland at home before going back on the Buffalo. Outside of those Denver games, they're looking at CAKE. Also, would KC be a decent destination for Josh Freeman? Andy Reid has gotten good football out of lesser QBs, so even if they bring him in to coach him up and flip him for a pick, it's worth looking at, no? I think the 4-0 start is enough to quiet any perceived "controversy" for the starter.

Seahawks over Colts- The Colts have won big the last two weeks, but there won't be any of that this afternoon. Seahawks keep rolling.

Rams over Jaguars- With any luck, I won't see a second of this game. Live or highlights.

Dolphins over Ravens- As long as the Bengals keep stinking, I gotta keep rooting for whoever plays the Ravens to keep winning.

Eagles over Giants- 1000 total yards. 10 combined touchdowns. I'm ready for whatever here.

Panthers over Cardinals- I have little faith in that Carolina secondary. I have less faith in Carson Palmer's ability to exploit it.

Broncos over Cowboys- I see a lot of Dallas over Bronco picks and I don't see it. Phillip Rivers had a great game last week against that secondary with lesser weapons. They only hit Rivers once so he had plenty of time to cook. I see more of the same from Manning.

49ers over Texans- The 49ers have a pretty favorable schedule for the next month or so after this game. Get ready for the "49ers back?!?" stories. I think they keep going to that running game and get Kaepernick involved in it a little more to get the victory here.

Chargers over Raiders- The Chargers have lost their two games by a combined six points to teams with a combined 5-3 record. And that stinks because I had lowkey began plotting in my mind what it would take to get Rivers off of the Chargers if they had a shabby start. A lot has been made of Tom Brady playing with makeshift receivers but what about Rivers? Vincent Brown and Eddie Royal are his starting receivers. Eek.

Falcons over Jets- I don't know if I can ever pick the Jets to win a football game ever again after Geno Smith trying to take the ball behind his back like Kyrie Irving.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Week 5 Picks

I missed last week's picks.  My bad.  My weekend was busier than I thought it would be.  I hope you didn't miss me or my less-than-stellar picks too much.

Packers over Lions
To get ready for this game, I watched all 4 Lions games this year.  Here's what I found.
They have a good - if inconsistent - offense.  The addition of Reggie Bush has really raised their game up to a new level.  He looks like the best running back in the league right now.
Their offense is comprised of a surprisingly good running game (due to part to Bush, but also due to an offensive line that looks better run-blocking than pass-blocking), an effective short passing game (a lot of middle screens and passes within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage), and a handful of intermediate-to-deep passes mixed in (they seem to particularly love the skinny post).  Their downfield blocking on their middle screens is terrific.  The main things that hold this offense back are Stafford's erratic arm, dropped passes, and penalties.
Their defense looks better than I thought it would.  Their secondary covers pretty well (although they are prone to bouts of miscommunication).  Their defensive line can get a pretty good push with their front four.  But what really impressed me was their tackling.  Solid tackling.  If a defender got their hand on a player, he was going down.  They don't allow a lot of YAC.
They're a good team.  Their 3-1 start is no fluke.
Still, I think the Packers will win here.  They're coming out of their bye week, having been fairly disappointing so far.  They should be getting some injured players back.  It'll be close for the first half, but the Packers will pull away in the second half.

Saints over Bears
The Saints look legit.  The Bears have won a couple close games against terrible teams, and one blow-out of a terrible team.  I think this is going to get ugly.

Bengals over Patriots
Even though the Patriots' receivers looked pretty good this past week, I don't think they'll be able to do much against this Bengals defense.  The Bengals aren't exactly setting the world on fire with their offense, but they'll do enough here.

Chiefs over Titans
Man...just when Locker was starting to look really good, he gets taken out by a cheap shot.  If he were in, I would be taking the Titans here.  But Fitzpatrick vs. a solid Chiefs defense?  No thanks.

Seahawks over Colts
The Colts have surprised me a little bit this year.  I didn't think they'd look this good to start the season.  But this Seahawks defense is terrific.  Luck is good for a couple turnovers here.

Rams over Jaguars

Dolphins over Ravens
This is less because I believe in the Dolphins and more because of my complete lack of faith in the Ravens.

Eagles over Giants
With the Eagles picking up the pace, will Eli turn the ball over 6+ times?  I can't wait to find out.

Panthers over Cardinals
After decimating the Giants last week, I think this is when the Panthers finally become the team we thought they would be for the past couple years.  Either that, or it'll be a close game and they'll lose thanks to some questionable decisions by Rivera.  It's a toss-up, really.

Cowboys over Broncos
The Cowboys secondary isn't great, but their pass rush is, and their linebackers are great in coverage.  They'll be able to take away the short passing game, and the pass rush won't give Peyton a ton of time to go downfield.  I can see at least one Manning interception coming in this one.

Texans over 49ers
The Texans will be able to shut down the 49ers offense pretty well.  A low-scoring game.

San Diego over Oakland
Rivers continues his quest to remind everyone that he was a top 5 QB only a few years ago.

Falcons over Jets
I refuse to believe that the Falcons are suddenly not a good team.  They'll take care of business here.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Bengals vs. Browns: 5 Things

Five good things: 

1. The defense. The defense did a fine job holding a Browns team that dropped 31 on the road a week ago to 17 points at home. We were down Dre Kirkpatrick along with starters Leon Hall and Reggie Nelson. Adam Jones/Taylor Mays did about as well as expected in the starters absence. Despite bad field position due to the offense, the defense came up with more than a few good plays. Mays blew up a screen play to stop a third and short conversion, Geno Atkins/Carlos Dunlap each had a sack and a half and Vontaze Burfict is getting better by the game. They Browns averaged a shade under 3 YPC on the ground and only 4.7 yards per play on the day. The Browns did convert 9/18 of their third down chances, but something has to give when the defense is on the field the majority of the game. A nice performance by them, all things considering.

2. Coaching. Another game where I think the coaching staff did a nice job. Lewis chose to go for a 4th and 1 deep in the Browns territory (we didn't convert), but I don't know if that's a decision he makes in the past. I spoke of the defense above, but I thought the offensive gameplan looked good as well. The execution of it was another thing entirely, which we'll get to later. Gio Bernard's playing time continued to increase (He saw 50 snaps compared to BJGE's 18) and there were wide open receivers all over the field today. Can't ask for much more from your coaches.

3. Gio Bernard. 16 touches, 75 yards. Not great numbers but there were not a lot of good things this week. Still, Gio caught 6 of his 7 targets, and turned a couple of blown up run plays into gains of a yard or two. He got blown up on a pass blocking attempt by Paul Kruger that lead to a tipped pass on third down, but he's willing to mix it up with any linebacker. At his size, the cut block will become a fast friend.

4. Penalties. For a third straight week, penalties have declined. From 9/84 against Pittsburgh to 5/43 against Green Bay to 3/20 today against the Browns, the team is looking more disciplined and not giving up easy yards via dumb penalties. One added five yards onto a third down play the Browns converted anyway, one negated a 7 yard run on first down and the other turned a 1st and 10 into 1st and 20.

5. Team uniforms looked mighty sharp today. Dead ass, there were NOT many good things about this game from a Cincinnati perspective. Hats off to the uniform manager and whatnot.

Five bad things: 

1. Offense- Jesus Christ, this was bad. The Browns defense is legit, as is Barkevious Mingo, but there were so many opportunities we missed that had nothing to do with them. 4.8 yards per pass on 42 pass attempts. 3.2 yards per run on 20 attempts. Two turnovers. 4-14 on third downs. 1-3 on fourth downs. Worst showing of the young season.

2. AJ Green. He's been held to 51 yards or less in three straight weeks. Ike Taylor, Sam Shields and Joe Haden are all fine cornerbacks, but they shouldn't be holding Green to those numbers. A holding penalty brought back a 7 yard run by Gio on first down. I think body language is overrated, but I can tell Green is frustrated on the sidelines. And I can't blame him. In those three aforementioned games, Green has 17 catches...and 38 targets. He had eight passes of over 10 yards thrown his way on Sunday and only came down with one. I've seen AJ make some outstanding catches, but even he can't reel in passes that are consistently 10 feet over his head or 5 feet wide of him either way. The fine folks at Cincy Jungle break this down better than I can here. I think the "Green-Dalton were separated on the sidelines after a heated exchange!" clip that will be replayed 200 times is only a couple of weeks away. 

3. Andy Dalton. He's not the answer and I'm ready to admit that. He doesn't have the big arm to make defenses respect him so they play everything in front of him. However, he doesn't have the accuracy to consistently hit the short/intermediate routes. This makes him extremely easy to gameplan against. That safety can shade away from AJ Green and towards the middle of the field where all the rest of the action is. This leads to smaller passing windows for Dalton, who isn't an accurate passer. This isn't a death sentence for the season, as we still have a ton of talent, but this won't work against good teams. It's just too easy to scheme against. Dalton dropped back 42 times, and only threw for 206 yards. He threw 17 passes over 10 yards, but only completed four. A good defense can live with that all day. 

4. I'm not done talking Dalton. This offense is designed specifically to work around Dalton's weaknesses, and he still hasn't shown he can thrive here. I can't help but think about what other QB's would do in Dalton's shoes. Not even comparing him to the top dogs like Manning, Rodgers or Brady. I think above average guys like Schaub or Rivers would kill in a system like this. it actually reminds me some of what the Falcons do with Matt Ryan. Plenty of short routes to White/Gonzalez/Rodgers/Douglas, and a few longer routes to Julio once the defense creeps in. It works because Ryan has the short accuracy to work underneath and enough arm to keep safeties honest. It appears Dalton doesn't have either. Andy also lost a fumble when he couldn't escape the pressure and threw a pick on a pass where Tyler Eifert was blanketed. It's very frustrating to watch especially after all the perceived progress that I saw from him during the preseason.

5. Covering tight ends. Jordan Cameron caught 10 of the 12 passes thrown his way for 91 yards and a touchdown. Burfict is the best linebacker we have but he can only do so much. Rey Maualuga, who actually hasn't been as godawful this season as he has been in seasons past, has to step up though. There was a play where he literally jogged while watching Cameron haul in a pass right in front of him. If he hustles there, he either knocks away the pass or tackles him as soon as he catches it. As is, Cameron hauled it in and picked up 31 yards. We need a linebacker than can cover in the worst way.

Week 5: Home against the Patriots

1. I don't know if there could be a better time to play the Patriots. The injury bug has hit them hard, but hasn't slowed them from a 4-0 start. Vince Wilfork tore his achilles Sunday night and is out for the season. Rob Gronkowski is looking at a week 6 return, and Danny Amendola's status is up in the air. Tom Brady coming down with a severe case of whooping cough would be divine, but I wouldn't count on it. Hopefully, we catch the Patriots defense off guard while they are still adjusting to the loss of Wilfork.

2. The Wilfork injury could be our ticket to an upset. The Patriots defense is 17th in total yards allowed, and that was with Wilfork in the lineup. Hopefully our running game can get on track with Wilfork out, as we haven't broke 4 YPC as a team in any game this season.

3. Speaking of injuries, we have to get our own guys back on the field. Hopefully, Leon Hall and Reggie Nelson will be back on the field to push Jones/Mays back into reserve roles where they are best suited. Vontaze Burfict left the Cleveland game late with a neck injury, so I hope he'll be able to play Sunday.

4. AJ Green draws yet another tough assignment in Aqib Talib. I have faith that AJ will be able to get open, but will he get the ball when he does? The Patriots have only racked up 9 sacks (tied for 20th in the league) so Dalton should have plenty of time to go through his progressions. Outside of Talib-on-Green, we have some very favorable matchups that it will be up to Dalton to capitalize on. I have my doubts that he will.

5. After this game, we have Buffalo/Detroit/NY Jets on the schedule. All three are winnable games, so a win against New England could give us the momentum we need to put some separation between us and the rest of the teams in the AFC North. Even at 2-2, we're tied for first in this awful, awful division. Cleveland has games with Green Bay & Kansas City lurking while Baltimore has Miami and Green Bay coming up. It'd be nice to get a little breathing room at the top of the division. Or to not be completely out of the division race by Week 7. Whatevs.