With a daunting task ahead, the Cincinnati Bengals were able to accomplish the first part of their hectic mission. The Bengals, historically, don’t perform well on the west coast. But they were able to defeat the San Francisco 49ers 24-14. In the process, they clinched their fifth straight playoff berth and moved closer to clinching the division. There were a few moments during the game when it seemed like the momentum would turn to favor the Niners. But the Bengals survived. Here’s a look back at the keys, to see how they did.
Protect AJ McCarron
This was almost a nightmare situation waiting to happen. Going into the game, protection was the main concern facing a Bengals O-line that is ranked as one of the best in the league. The 49ers aren’t slouches on defense. The Niners defense may be suckers for the ground game, but they still have a decent front four. Coordinator Eric Mangini was dialing up blitzes to keep McCarron off-balance. For the most part, the young signal-caller was able to recognize some of the looks. But the O-line was subpar with his protection. The four sacks they allowed were unacceptable. Two of them were coverage sacks. It’s better to eat the ball than throw into super-tight coverages. But the number to strive for is zero.
AJ to A.J.
McCarron didn’t fail to produce on this gem. But the Bengals scheme didn’t feature him as much as it could have. The connection was good for one catch that netted the Bengals a beautiful 37-yard gain. Other than that deep bomb, McCarron tried to target him on another pass that was dropped. Green eventually left the game because of a back issue he suffered in warm ups. But the duo has shown the promise of being a lethal option. Look for this to be the big gun in remaining games.
The running game
Fans have been whispering about the running game all year. The O-line players have stated how they like to push the pile and utilize the run. So, what happened when it was time to run? The Bengals could move the ball on the ground. The run game was so inept, the Niners looked like the Steel Curtain from days gone by. Entering the game, part of the Bengals game plan was to take pressure off McCarron by stepping up the run. Hue Jackson gave the 49ers a heavy dosage of Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill. The nice stats guys at ESPN crunched the numbers, and they don’t look good. The Bengals rushed 36 times for 68 yards. That’s not going to cut it, in the NFL. Playoff football demands a better performance.
The Bengals defense was mad. They were ready to prove they could be a better unit with a healthier product on the field. Other than a few mental letdowns, the Bengals’ defense put the pressure on and performed like a playoff bound team. Niners quarterback Blaine Gabbert tossed the ball for 295 yards. Most of that yardage was due to the shutdown of the run. The Bengals’ front seven did an excellent job on the ground game, allowing only 55 yards. Gabbert was harassed the whole game and forced to eat turf four times. Geno Atkins was a recipient of half of the sack total.
Thankfully, the Bengals came away from the game with nothing major. Green’s tweaked back may be nothing more than tightness. But that’s something to keep an eye on. He’ll be missed, if anything further develops. Adam Jones looks to be almost 100 percent recovered from his foot situation. But Jones has looked completely healthy in the past and admitted to being hurt. Going forward, things look relatively positive for the Bengals. Week 16 should bring the return of Tyler Eifert.
[Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images]