Out with the old, and in with the new. What started off as Tennessee looking to build on their victory over the Colts, descended into an advertisement for the ‘look at how good Andy Dalton can be’ show.
In fairness to the Bengals, this win was about more than their rookie quarterback, and owed a great deal to an offensive line that constantly won their battles at the point of attack. With efficient performances like this it really shouldn’t surprise anyone that Cincinnati has managed to put together the kind of win streak nobody saw coming.
Looking at the Titans, this game more than any other, represents what kind of team they are: limited. The line is playing better than it has in the last two years, but they’re hurt by a lack of options at the skill position spots and by a quarterback who necessitates getting rid of the ball quickly given how much he struggles under pressure. Ultimately that was the difference in this one, and it’s why the Bengals are in contention for the playoffs and the Titans will continue their transition to the closer-by-the-day Jake Locker Era.
Now, let’s break down some performances.
Cincinnati – Three Performances of Note
Cook-ing up a storm
Normally our praise for members of the Bengals’ offensive line has been reserved for Andrew Whitworth or Bobbie Williams. They are, and have been, the stand out performers over the past three years. But Sunday was Kyle Cook’s (+3.3) turn to earn himself some internet ink, with a near flawless (two negatively-graded plays) performance. He had particular joy against Sen’Derrick Marks, constantly turning the defensive tackle away from the point of attack and leaving gaping holes for his backs (such as the back-to-back success he had on plays with 2:47 to go in the third). He may not be the star of the unit, but on any given Sunday you can shine the brightest, and this was Cook’s Sunday.
Where’s the pressure?
It’s not often that you can look at a team’s entire starting defensive line and say they got absolutely no pressure between them, but that’s what happened for the Bengals. The closest their starters got to getting pressure was a late hit by Geno Atkins (-1.9) that drew a roughing the passer penalty. Outside of them it was left to Jonathan Fanene (one hit and one pressure), Michael Johnson (two pressures), and, surprise, surprise, Carlos Dunlap (two sacks, one hit and one pressure) to bring the heat. I understand the concerns with Dunlap (he scored a -1.5 for his run defense and can struggle with tight ends one on one), but we’re at the stage now where you simply have to work him into more base defensive fronts.
Making himself a contender
I’ve been slow to heap praise on Andy Dalton (+5.7) in my weekly Race for the Rookie of the Year column. I figure in a year with so many outstanding candidates, doing things the Sam Bradford way (dink, dunk, safely, safely) isn’t necessarily the wrong way for a rookie QB to play, but nor is it capturing hearts and minds. Then Dalton comes out and plays like this. It was far from perfect, but he rifled in a number of big time throws, particularly impressing on a drive near the beginning of the fourth quarter. It says something that his touchdown throw was possibly his simplest one on this drive, with completions to A.J. Green (13:56 and 12:02) being the kind of throws you want to see your franchise QB making. 56.4% of passes complete for 217 yards don’t tell the story of how good the man from TCU was in Tennessee.
Tennessee – Three Performances of Note
Playing it the way it should be played
Remember when Cortland Finnegan (+5.2) had his breakout year? The feisty cornerback was something of a revelation, but somewhere along the way the talk got into his head. We all know how it can be, when people label you something, you play up to it, and so it seemed to be for Finnegan. It was less about what got him recognized, and more about the sideshow; the trash talking and after the play stuff. Well, this year Finnegan seems resolved to do less of that and more of the playmaking and this game was a fine example. It wasn’t just his two pass break-ups, or the QB pressure he picked up, it was his intensity in run defense that saw him get into the backfield to make tackles for losses. On his day he’s the kind of every-down defender teams need, and the move into the slot in nickel (he spent 46 of 77 snaps there) seems to be working wonders. Long may it continue.
Redemption, thy name is Roos
Let me let you in on a secret. Michael Roos (+5.1) hasn’t been all that good the past two years. He hasn’t been terrible, but he’s not the player that was so dominant in 2008. No, instead he’s been a player living off that reputation, perpetuated by a media that fell in love with the idea of praising a lineman who nobody has heard of. This year however, we seem to be going back in time and getting that 2008 version of the giant left tackle, and nowhere was that more evident than against the Bengals. He gave up a pressure to Michael Johnson, but nothing else, and absolutely manhandled Frostee Rucker and Co. in the run game. A fine day for a guy making himself an All-Pro candidate.
One of the greatest modern mysteries is the love that Ahmard Hall (-1.5) receives for allegedly being a top-tier fullback. I say allegedly because I’m yet to see any proof that backs this statement. He may be nifty with the ball in hand, but as a lead blocker, he stinks, and always has. The Titans seem to agree judging by him being limited to 15 snaps, and can you blame them? He gave up a penalty, failed on a cut block so badly Manny Lawson was able to tackle Chris Johnson for a loss, and, with 2:24 left in the second quarter, did a better job of running up the backside of his own man as opposed to picking up Thomas Howard (who was on his way to making a tackle for a short gain). Essentially, Hall isn’t a very good fullback. Watch him and you’ll have no choice but to agree.
– Rookie receiver A.J. Green caught all seven balls thrown his way. He also committed another penalty which makes it seven for the season.
– The Bengals and Titans each gave up eight combined sacks, hits and hurries. Putting that in perspective, James Harrison managed nine on his own on Sunday Night Football.
– The Titans didn’t miss a single tackle.
PFF Game Ball
On the scale of rookie performances, this was far more Matt Ryan in 2008, than Sam Bradford in 2010. That’s good enough for Andy Dalton to walk away with this award.