It is games like this the Bengals need to win to be for real by the end of the season. Winning at San Diego in their current guise is no mean feat, but it’s a game a contender needs to be able to come away with. That’s exactly what Cincinnati did, executing well enough to stomp the life out of the game when it looked as if the Chargers might find a way back into it.
It wasn’t without hiccups along the way, with turnovers giving San Diego more chances than they perhaps deserved, and injuries that forced re-shuffles on the O-line making for some interesting sub plots to the game.
In the end the Bengals got the ball back and just ran the same play over and over to chew the remainder of the clock as the Chargers just couldn’t stop it.
Cincinnati: Three Performances of Note
Changing of the Guard
When LG Clint Boling went down after five snaps the Bengals were forced into a re-shuffle on the line, and they elected to kick Andrew Whitworth in to LG from LT. Whitworth actually started his Bengals career at that very spot, so it shouldn’t be hugely surprising that he was perfectly adept at locking the spot down in a time of need. In fact, he did better than that, putting in a +4.5 graded performance thanks to some dominant run blocking. It wasn’t perfect, and he surrendered a couple of hurries as well as missing a couple of blocks when asked to pull around on power plays, but overall this was an excellent display from Whitworth asked to do a job on short notice. His LT spot was taken by Anthony Collins who had been given the start at RT over Andre Smith in this game. Smith came back into his RT spot and had arguably his best game of the season (the other contender being Wk 5 against the Patriots) with a +4.5 grade. Collins held up perfectly in pass protection but wasn’t the force in the run game of the two bigger men.
Dalton Can’t Afford These Mistakes
Andy Dalton doesn’t have anything going for him from a physical standpoint at the NFL level. He doesn’t have elite arm talent, speed, size or crazy athleticism. He needs to be good at the little things that players who don’t have any of the above need to be good at in order to be successful. Joe Montana didn’t have any of that either, but he had everything else nailed. Dalton doesn’t, not even close. He continues to air-mail passes three yards over his receiver’s heads on routine throws that he has to make, and his interception may as well have been a punt the way he just heaved it up for grabs to Eric Weddle playing FS deep down field. He may have completed 60.9% of his passes in this game, but the way it panned out that number should have been more like 70, and on a relatively comfortable outing Dalton should have been looking to have posted an efficient 300 yards with very few mistakes. Instead he was a large reason behind the game being as close as it was.
The Bengals didn’t give up a whole lot on defense, but they did manage to blow a couple of plays wide open, including one for a San Diego touchdown up the seam. The blame for that play is definitely shared amongst a few defenders, though DC Mike Zimmer was certainly directing his wrath on the sideline primarily at LB Rey Maualuga for not getting to his mark sooner. Safety Reggie Nelson also took an ugly mis-step and failed to stay over the top of both receivers on his side of the field, taking himself essentially completely out of the play by guessing on the pass. Adam Jones was also the victim on a few plays, though more often than not by failing to limit the damage and missing a tackle after he had already allowed a catch.
San Diego: Three Performances of Note
Fluker at LT
On the face of it, things don’t look good for Fluker. A -4.0 grade and surrendering seven pressures is a fairly ugly looking product of his day, but it had a death by a thousand paper cuts vibe about it. Fluker was rarely badly beaten, but rather kept surrendering pressure just at the end of plays and falling just short of doing enough to keep the pocket completely clean. For a guy going up against an impressive pass-rusher in the form of Michael Johnson that in itself is not a terrible achievement, especially for a guy playing essentially out of position on the left side. Fluker had a few nice plays, particularly in the passing game, and did keep Philip Rivers clean in terms of sacks and knockdowns despite the seven hurries. The grade and stats aren’t pretty, but all things considered this could have been a lot worse for the big tackle.
The Chargers just couldn’t stop the Bengals running all game long. Nobody in the front seven stood up to be counted consistently and though players took turns in making plays here and there, the Bengals just regrouped, set up again and ploughed the road once more. They averaged 4.3 yards per carry, which isn’t particularly special, but they ran the ball 38 times, 35 by design, and their running backs kept dragging defenders for extra yardage and key first downs to extend the drive by moving the chains. It spoke volumes that when they needed to run the clock down in the dying minutes they just reloaded the same play half a dozen times and gained chunks of yardage on each occasion. LB Donald Butler struggled particularly badly with a -5.3 grade, but he was not alone. Manti Te’o was also routinely blasted out of the hole at the second level and rarely was the defensive line able to hold its ground.
Finally an Interception
At times it does look as if Eric Weddle is a school teacher, trying to keep control of a group of unruly kids that don’t really know what they’re doing. His play at times feels very much as if he is trying to do too much to patch up the mistakes of others, but when he just plays his own game he still plays like one of the league’s best safeties. This game saw him rewarded with an interception on a deep pass down the middle. It was one of the easier picks he will get in the NFL, for while he had to travel a reasonable distance to get there, the ball was hung up for an age by Dalton and gave him plenty of time to cover the ground. Weddle also generated pressure the one time the Chargers sent him on the blitz.
– Dalton’s passer rating without pressure was 119.7, but when he felt heat it was just 22.2
– Of BenJarvus Green-Ellis’ 20 carries, 7 went for either a first down or a touchdown.
– Philip Rivers went deep (20+ in the air) just once all game, throwing incomplete.
PFF Game Ball
It’s tough to look beyond Andrew Whitworth for swapping positions and dominating, but he’s going to have to split the award this week with Andre Smith, who came off the bench and had a fine game.
Follow Sam on Twitter: @PFF_Sam