Week 16 was a powder keg of emotions for the Bengals. They were crowned champs of the AFC North, making it their second championship in the last three years. A wild playoff-inspired weekend left the Bengals with an opportunity to become the No. 1 seed in the AFC. The only thing that stood between Cincinnati and that reality was a win over the reeling Denver Broncos. That dream came crashing back to reality, when they lost 20-17 in overtime. Were the 5 major keys utilized? Some were and others were just overlooked.
Protect AJ McCarron
Once again, the Bengals O-line did a wonderful job of protecting the Alabama champ. Although Denver was able to get to AJ McCarron twice, the damage was minimal. Jackson has done a good job of getting the young signal-caller ready for the different defensive fronts. One good sign of the protection was the third down conversion rate. Under McCarron’s management, the Bengals were able to convert 10 of 17 third down situations. Having 58.8 percent conversion rate is not too shabby for a quarterback starting his second game. The two sacks were acceptable, since they were the alternative to passing into disguised coverages.
Come out fast
The offense came out and marched down the field against the league’s best defensive unit. McCarron led them on long drives of 80 and 90 yards. Each consumed more than seven minutes on the clock. He threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green, and Mohamed Sanu walked in from six yards out on a direct snap. The fast start was just what they needed to get ahead of the fierce Denver defensive unit. The lead would have been more if Mike Nugent made a 45-yard field goal before the half. The offense took it to the Denver defense and kept slugging. On a third-and-five play in the second half, A.J. Green hesitated on his route and didn’t catch what may have been a winning TD. The killer instinct was lost as the game went on.
Find the running game and use it
The running game for the Bengals has been like the proverbial needle in a haystack. According to stats from ESPN, the Bengals had a balanced offensive attack. The problem was in the execution of that balance. The play calls became predictable and blocking schemes were out-of-sync. O-coordinator Hue Jackson had mentioned that the running game was not clicking because it wasn’t being used as much. This was a battle that needed the ground game to be smash mouth approved. For the most part, the ground attack was used but it was largely ineffective and shut down by the Broncos. Hill having a 3.3 average and being used as a speed back was inexcusable.
The shining effort put forth by the Bengals defense deserved a better fate. Batting in the thin air of Sports Authority Field, they performed admirably. They contained Brock Osweiler and shut him down the first half. Outside of two breakdowns in the second half, the Bengals played like the stingy defensive unit ranked No. 1 in scoring defense. Reggie Nelson could have done major damage on a poorly thrown Osweiler pass that slipped through his fingers. Paul Guenther and the defense came through with a strong effort and timely sacks. They played well enough to leave with a win.
Stay clear of more injuries
That’s always easier said than done. With that being said, the Bengals had two potentially serious chinks in the armor. The major blow came to FB/TE Ryan Hewitt who suffered a knee injury. Preliminary reports are that it’s a sprain and he’s under evaluation. His full status won’t be known until practice starts Wednesday. AJ McCarron dodged a bullet and has a mildly sprained wrist. His status is day-to-day.
[Feature Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images]