The Cincinnati Bengals had an uphill battle against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos after coming off of their bye week and three consecutive losses. The Bengals played valiantly, but they fell to the Broncos 31-23.
Cincinnati now stands at 3-5 on the season and are set to play Peyton’s brother Eli Manning next week in Cincinnati.
The Bengals certainly made some adjustments during their bye week, as they utilized different personnel on both sides of the ball and adjusted schemes on offense by going to the no-huddle.
There were some standout players for Cincinnati during their loss on Sunday, and there were also players that seemed to be lost at times on the field. Let’s break down the winners and losers for the Bengals after their performance against the Broncos.
Winner: Andy Dalton
Dalton seemed to right the ship and kept pace with Manning for a good portion of the game. Unfortunately for Dalton, his offensive line was not on point, as the Broncos pass rush sacked him five times and pressured him constantly.
Dalton did throw another interception against Denver, but he was hit as he attempted to go deep to A.J. Green down the sidelines. The ball fluttered and fell short into the waiting arms of Champ Bailey.
Dalton was impressive for the most part, as he used his arm and his legs to make plays. He was able to scramble away from the Broncos pass rush at times and make accurate throws on the run.
His deep ball is much improved, as he was hitting Green right on the numbers for a gain of 37 yards early on and had another go right through Green’s hands.
Dalton finished 26-of-42 for 299 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Winner: A.J. Green
A.J. Green had a tough matchup against All-Pro corner Champ Bailey who, despite his age, remains one of the best cover corners in the NFL.
Green seemingly got the best of Bailey, as he ended up with seven receptions for 99 yards and a touchdown. This is Green’s seventh straight game with a receiving touchdown this season.
Green, like Dalton, took criticism after the Pittsburgh game when he recorded only a single reception for eight yards and a score.
Also, like Dalton, Green silenced his critics against Denver as he proved once again that he is one of the NFL’s elite wide receivers.
Loser: Offensive Line
The offensive line seemingly had their worst game of the season today, as they allowed pressure to get to Dalton early and often. Dalton was sacked five times and was under constant pressure throughout the game.
Penalties also weighed heavily on the offensive line late in the game, as they were called for two holding penalties and a false start on a crucial drive in the fourth quarter.
The line also had trouble run blocking, as BenJarvus Green-Ellis was not given any gaping holes to run through. The Bengals' running game once again fell flat, leaving added pressure on their second-year quarterback.
Winner: Jermaine Gresham
Gresham had a career day against the Broncos, as he recorded six receptions for 108 yards on the day. This was the first time in Gresham’s career that he has gone over the century mark.
Gresham showed that he can be a very reliable target for Dalton and can also be a second receiving option on offense after Green. Gresham showed that he can create yards after the catch as well. He showcased this on his 52-yard reception from Dalton on a scrambling play.
Look for Cincinnati to utilize Gresham more often for the remainder of the season after his performance against Denver.
Winner: Rush Defense
The Bengals rush defense was stout from the beginning of the game, as they held Willis McGahee to 66 yards on the ground for the game.
The linebackers had a lot to do with this as well, as defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer constantly rotated them in and out of the game to keep them fresh. For the most part, the linebackers stayed in their lanes and closed down gaps nicely.
Loser: Pass Rush
The Bengals' dynamic pass rush was quelled by the Broncos offensive line, as they failed to get to Manning a single time. Not only did they not sack Manning, but they got very little pressure on the quarterback for the duration of the game.
Manning had enough time to get through his progressions and find an open receiver even after his intended targets were blanketed early on by the secondary.
Cincinnati will have to get their pass rush in order going forward and apply more pressure than they did against Denver. The "Fisher Price Package" consisting of Carlos Dunlap, Michael Johnson and Geno Atkins needs to get back on track.
Winner: Terence Newman
Terence Newman easily played his best game of the season against Denver. He intercepted Manning twice on the day and was constantly in good position in coverage.
Newman had a crucial pick in the end zone by jumping a route and prevented the game from getting out of hand early on.
Later in the game he had his second interception on an overthrown ball by Manning, as he was in great position to prevent the deep pass. If Newman can continue this play, he will be a solid counterpart to Leon Hall going forward.
Loser: Rey Maualuga
Rey Maualuga actually started the game off strong by staying in his lane during rushing plays and wrapping up the ball carrier nicely. Unfortunately, Maualuga fell into his old ways as the game progressed.
Maualuga missed a crucial tackle in space to prevent a Denver first down in the third quarter. In the same quarter, he also seemed to be incapable of getting off his block on rushing plays and became a non-factor.
McGahee’s success late in the game was partially a derivative from Maualuga’s poor play. McGahee gashed the interior of the Bengals defense and broke off some decent gains to sustain a Broncos drive in the fourth quarter.
The Bengals may finally want to consider a change at the middle linebacker position after another poor performance by Maualuga against Denver.
Winner: Emmanuel Lamur
Emmanuel Lamur was activated from the practice squad this week and proved every bit of his worth. Lamar was constantly seen flying around the ball and showed good form when tackling.
Lamur seems to be the Bengals' best coverage linebacker going forward, as he dropped back into coverage and was in position to make a plays on the ball. He had a key pass breakup in the second quarter to stall a Denver drive.
Lamur proved to be a good contributor on special teams as well, as he made a great tackle on a kickoff and stuffed Trindon Holliday inside the 15-yard line. Holliday had a 105-yard kickoff return for a touchdown earlier in the game.
Loser: Special Teams
There were a couple of bright spots on special teams against Denver, including a nice 43-yard kickoff return by Brandon Tate. However, there was more bad than good with this unit against the Broncos.
Mike Nugent uncharacteristically missed a 46-yard field goal as time expired in the first half when he pushed the ball wide-right.
On the opening kickoff of the second half, the Bengals kick-coverage unit was seen out of position as they slowed down and left their lanes as they expected the kick to be downed in the end zone.
That kind of undisciplined behavior can not be tolerated, as they paid for it dearly by giving up a 105-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to Denver’s Trindon Holliday.
There were also some miscues on Adam Jones’ part when returning punts. Twice Jones failed to signal for a fair catch, and twice Jones was drilled just as he caught the ball. Luckily for Cincinnati, Jones did not fumble either time.
Winner: Coaching Staff
There seemed to be some nice adjustments made over the bye week by the Bengals coaches.
Marvin Lewis had his team ready to play against Denver, as everyone came out with a proverbial chip on the shoulder.
Mike Zimmer had his defense hitting harder than they have been all season long and rotated personnel out with precision as his players were seen to still have fire in them late in the game.
Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden also made some necessary changes to his schemes. He utilized the no-huddle offense often and was willing to take some deep shots down the field to Green.
None of these things were prevalent in the weeks leading up to the game against Denver.
The coaching staff should be applauded for the way they prepared for the far superior Denver Broncos, as the Bengals remained in position to win for the duration of the game.
Judging by the fire that was seen in Bengals players against the Broncos, it is tough to completely count them out this season despite their 3-5 record. We will see what they have in store for Eli Manning and the New York Giants next Sunday.