ReFo: Broncos @ Bengals, Week 9
Forget the arm; Peyton Manning (+5.1) is so much more than that. He’s a player so good he can legitimatize any team in the NFL as a contender. Year after year he took a significantly flawed Colts team into the playoffs. Dodgy offensive line? Not a problem, I’ll get rid of the ball on hot reads. Leaky D? We’ll just score more points.
The problem for other teams is that this is ostensibly the same squad that Tim Tebow got to the Divisional Playoffs — this is a line that pass protects so well Manning was hurried twice all day. Even when they went behind the sense of the inevitable was palpable. Obviously there are flaws (and we’ll explore those later) but this is a group that will scare any team.
The Bengals don’t have that aura because Andy Dalton (+1.7) is a long way from Manning’s level, but don’t think this is a poor team. There was a lot to be impressed about in this game and, after a shaky start, Dalton played as well as he’s done for a month. On defense, the way they played the run was genuinely excellent but this is a passing league and the way Manning exploited their weaknesses underneath was clinical. If Dalton can just play averagely this is a team that has enough weapons on both sides of the ball to still give Pittsburgh and Baltimore a run.
Denver – Three Performances of Note
Make or Break
This season we will find out if Eric Decker (+1.9) has what it takes to be an elite wide receiver in the NFL. Manning will demand a certain level of play and Decker will either deliver or fail. In this game he did a little of both, He caught two touchdowns, the game-winner on a fade being a super catch, but so was the first interception. Here he ran a slant but got beaten so badly to the inside by Terrence Newman the corner was able to make the pick. Its one thing allowing Newman to knock down the ball, but it’s inexcusable to give him so much leverage that he can actually catch it. He hung his QB out to dry.
Luckily he then got back on with the job of regaining trust — breaking a couple of tackles after picking up a first down, and then the aforementioned score. Was this a turning point or is the real Decker the one that’s fumbled, not broken a tackle and dropped seven catches before this game?
While Manning is the consummate quarterback, his life is made so much easier when he gets an armchair ride. While Ryan Clady’s exploits have been well documented this year Orlando Franklin (+1.5) is getting far less notice. Other than the game against Houston where he was abused by both J.J. Watt and Brooks Reed he’s played pretty well, and this is the third game in a row he’s given up nothing in pass protection. While that may have been expected against the Chargers and Saints, it was Carlos Dunlap he spent most of his time against here and he held the Bengal without a hit, sack or hurry for only the second time since Week 10 of 2010.
His run blocking is still a little iffy, watch how Dunlap gets inside him to make the tackle with 7:55 gone in the third, but the pass protection is probably a little more important at the moment.
Sheep in Wolfe’s Clothing
One of the issues for the Bronco’s is that their pass rush is really predicated on two people — Von Miller and (to a lesser degree) Elvis Dumervil. As the season wears on they will need help, and at the moment they’re not getting it consistently from Derek Wolfe (-2.0). So far, including the single hurry he got in this game, he’s had only 10 quarterback disruptions from a whopping 280 pass rushes. That places him right at the bottom of our productivity chart for ends, and 43rd even if you gave him the benefit of the doubt and called him a tackle. Maybe a good run stuffer you say? Not so much — 48th among ends, and we won’t embarrass him by comparing that number against tackles.
Cincinnati – Three Performances of Note
Ding Dong Duel
If you didn’t see A.J. Green’s (+4.1) matchup with Champ Bailey (-1.1) you missed a great individual competition. Apologies if the grades act as a spoiler, but I don’t think the disparity is really indicative of the quality of the battle. Sure Green won — four of six catches for 67 yards, a touchdown, a holding penalty (on 1st-and 20) and an interception into Bailey’s coverage — but it was tough and Bailey was able to do enough to stop Green going totally ballistic. People will play far worse against Green and come up with better numbers.
Gresham Delivers (at last)
There are few players in the NFL as infuriating to watch as Jermaine Gresham (+2.3). He clearly has the ability to be one of the elite tight ends in the league, but shows it about as consistently as Michael Vick throws touchdowns. Back in his rookie year I watched him play almost every position imaginable against the Dolphins and his blocking, particularly from fullback, was both fierce and dominant. Watching him line up in the slot in this game he just looks like a bigger version of Green — a smooth athlete, but with the untapped capability to deliver brutal force. His 52-yard run down the left sideline showed his ability as a receiver, with 42 yards of that coming after catch, but his blocking still needs application. The play with 10:35 in the fourth is typical. On 3rd–and-1, from a two-point stance, he pushes Wolfe back enough to let BenJarvus Green-Ellis pick up the first down, but then lets up and allows the DE to make the tackle.
While many Bengals fans are hugely excited by the emergence of Vontaze Burfict (-2.4), and his growing tackle count, there may be a reason other than his off-field issues that saw him go undrafted. While he’s a perfectly competent player coming forward, his work in coverage is highly suspect. There are times he looks lost and his stats over the past two weeks say it all — 12 receptions from 12 targets for 112 yards, with 54 of that coming after the catch. Watch him get sucked up by play action with 3:47 left in the second or how easily he gives up the first down to Lance Ball with 10:45 gone in the first.
All this wouldn’t be so bad if Rey Maualuga wasn’t worse. Somehow (Thomas Howard going on injured reserve didn’t help) the Bengals have ended up playing nickel with two of the least instinctive coverage linebackers in the NFL.
– Peyton Manning was under pressure on only 9% of drop-backs in this game. The NFL average is 32%
– Andy Dalton’s QB rating in the game was 81.3, but when blitzed it was an astronomical 137.3. Food for thought for the Giants?
– Linebacker Emmanuel Lamur, in just eight snaps in coverage, managed to do something neither Vontaze Burfict or Rey Maualgua have been able to do in 130 combined snaps the last two weeks; stop a ball being completed.
Much to the annoyance of Khaled Elsayed (who will probably ask for a recount) the game ball goes to Peyton Manning (once again).