ReFo: Bengals @ Bills, Week 6
Coming off a home victory over the Patriots last Sunday, the Cincinnati Bengals avoided a letdown defeat a week later as they traveled to upstate New York and edged the Buffalo Bills in overtime. This game could, and should, have been more comfortable for the Bengals after they established a two-touchdown lead, but the Bills, behind Thaddeus Lewis, fought their way back into this game to push the Bengals far closer than many would have expected.
In an object lesson of how the inches can transform a game, the Bengals came up just short of a third-down conversion around halfway inside of three minutes left, punted the ball away and the Bills drove 86 yards in just a hair more than 90 seconds to tie the game. The Bills’ comeback was helped in no small part by big gains surrendered in the passing game that had as much to do with poor scheme and execution by the Bengals’ defense as it did with excellent execution and play-making by the Bills.
However, in overtime the game was essentially settled by a Bills’ three-and-out in their own end which Brandon Tate followed up with a game-changing punt return. For the Bengals the positives are easy to see — another victory and the sole lead of the AFC North after Week 6 as they prepare to head to Detroit next Sunday. For the Bills there are still positives to draw in spite of a defeat that drops them to 2-4 and the foot of the AFC East. A team growing under Doug Marrone was not derailed by starting a quarterback who was on their practice squad just over a week ago, as Lewis played a key role in the comeback along with strong performances all over the roster.
Cincinnati – Three Performances of Note
Atkins Continues to Re-find His Form
After getting off to a slow start by the standards he set last season, Geno Atkins has re-discovered the form we are more akin to in recent weeks, and continued that in both run and pass defense against the Bills on Sunday. As a pass rusher, Atkins set his second-best mark of the season with six pressures (2 Ht, 4 Hu) to earn a +3.2 pass rush grade, consistently generating pressure against the Bills’ interior offensive line even if he never quite made that big splash play as a pass rusher that we have seen him make many a time. Against the run he got off to a fine start, driving back Kraig Urbik to force Fred Jackson wide, preventing him from turning upfield on his first carry of the game as Carlos Dunlap cleaned the play up for a loss. He may not have been active in the tackle column this week, with just two, but Atkins got through plenty of good work stacking blockers and re-directing runs to allow others to make a play. In the past three weeks Atkins has earned a +15.8 overall grade, much more like what we’ve become accustomed to.
Impact Performance from Marvin Jones
Seeing the field on just 26 of the Bengals’ 88 offensive snaps, Marvin Jones’ playing time was down, having played in excess of 50% of Cincinnati’s snaps the Past three weeks, but he certainly made an impact when he was on the field. Earning the highest single game grade of his short career (+3.3) Jones made an impact both as a runner, a receiver, and as a blocker in an outing where, for the number of times you noticed him pop up you’d have assumed he played more than 25% of the Bengals’ snaps. He got himself started with a 34-yard gain on a reverse which put Cincinnati into field goal range on their opening drive, taking advantage of a breakdown in contain by the Bills to get into the open field and beat a tackle by Jerry Hughes. He followed this up with a 42-yard gain on the second drive which also sent the Bengals into field goal range and, like his reverse, featured a clear intent from Jay Gruden to get the ball into Jones’ hands early. Turning back for a quick screen that Andy Dalton just got over Mario Williams’ outstretched hands, Jones showed a nice burst to get through the first level before following the ever active and eager open field blocking of Andrew Whitworth (not his only lung-bursting run on a screen in this game) up the left side, running through an arm tackle from Stephon Gilmore to take the Bengals inside the Bills’ 30. After those two impact plays early on, Jones came back in the second half to throw a good block on a 12-yard gain by Mohammed Sanu, before finishing that drive with a touchdown in front of Leodis McKelvin. The Bengals are short of a consistent second receiving option and more performances like this from Jones will give Andy Dalton more to work with, and pile the pressure on the Bengals’ signal-caller to take that next step.
A Game of Contrasts for Giovani Bernard
When you think of Giovani Bernard’s performance in this game you will doubtless, and quite rightly, think of his work as a receiver — especially his electrifying 20-yard touchdown reception weaving through Buffalo defenders. Bernard forced four missed tackles as a receiver, proving to be a live-wire in space, but struggled to find that same space as a runner. His offensive line consistently ground out to a stalemate up front against the Bills’ talented defensive line, and as a result Bernard was struggling to find the creases he looks for to quickly get upfield away from the bigger bodies. In total, Bernard got only 4 yards before contact in this game, compared to 54 for BenJarvus Green-Ellis on only three more carries. Bernard also featured in more short-yardage situations than you might have expected, and was found a little wanting — often getting stung by first contact and not finding the second effort this week to spin off that contact. Bernard is an exciting work in progress, and it is pleasing to see the Bengals so willing to get him on the field and grow as a player rather than leave him on the sideline in key situations for fear that a young back might make a key mistake. This marked the third time this season Bernard has registered more snaps than Green-Ellis, and he now holds the season lead on snaps with 215 compared to 199.
Buffalo – Three Performances of Note
Hughes’ Redemption Continues in Buffalo
After failing to make his impact in Indianapolis, Jerry Hughes has got a second chance in Buffalo and, aside from one performance, he is grasping that opportunity with both hands. Featuring in a career high 76 snaps off the bench, Hughes had an impact as both a pass rusher and run defender, overcoming his early missed tackle on Marvin Jones’ long gain on a reverse. He recorded three pressures as a pass rusher against the Bengals’ tackle pairing, one of the better in the league, while also drawing a holding penalty from Andrew Whitworth on a spin move that would have negated a key third-down conversion for the Bengals had A.J. Green’s left foot landed just infield. The theme with all of Hughes’ pressure was working to the inside of Whitworth and Andre Smith. It can be easy for pass rushers who come in as speed rushers to get too concerned with trying to tear past opposing tackles every play, but Hughes used that speed to set up his inside work this week. Hughes also added a batted pass and three stops in probably the most complete performance of his career to date.
Nearly but not quite for Thaddeus Lewis
Had he completed that comeback then Thaddeus Lewis’ one-week journey from practice squad to winning quarterback would have surely been one of the better stories of the season. As it was, Lewis fell just short, but his performance ensures he will be retained on the roster even when E.J. Manuel returns from injury. After an excellent start on the opening drive, finding T.J. Graham deep down the left side for a 47-yard gain before capping the drive with a dive to the end zone on a scramble, things went off the boil a little for Lewis through the middle of the game. After the Bills’ drove down to the Bengals’ goal line with option running from a spread formation, they went conservative and were turned back, with Lewis forced into taking a sack on fourth down. Before the late comeback, Lewis would have a fumble as a result of poor ball security and take another sack as the offense failed to generate much through the second and third quarters. Lewis came alive late and profited from some questionable play calling and execution from the Bengals’ defense. Only blitzed five times on his 41 drop-backs, two of those were Lewis’ fourth quarter touchdown passes to Scott Chandler and Marquise Goodwin — the pass to Chandler with Carlos Dunlap as the only man to track the Bills’ dangerous tight end was an easy mismatch to exploit. However, backed up in the shadow of their own uprights on their sole overtime drive, Lewis couldn’t hook up with Chris Hogan, leaving his throw low and behind, as the Bills’ came up short in the end.
Branch Maximizes his Run Snaps
He may be a fairly one dimensional defender but when he plays that one dimension as well as he did yesterday and the Bills can juggle his snaps as they did to exploit that strength you can always find room on your defense for a player like Alan Branch. Of his 48 defensive snaps Branch was defending the run on 31 of them (64.6%) and responded with five stops against the run, his most since Week 15 of the 2011 season in Chicago. Branch worked on both sides of the line getting the better of every member of the Bengals’ line except for Andrew Whitworth. This is Branch’s second “impact” game as a run defender having matched his +2.0 run defense grade against the Jets in Week 3, if he can provide more consistent displays like this then the Bills will be much tougher to run on.
– Second-year linebacker Nigel Bradham registered more snaps (41) in this game than he had combined (40) in the first five weeks of the season.
– James Harrison (+1.6) continues to have an impact on limited snaps, registering three stops on only 12 snaps, his second-lightest workload of the season.
– Pressured 11 times, Thaddeus Lewis attempted only four passes (zero completions) and was sacked five times with two scrambles.
PFF Game Ball
His playing time was down, but Marvin Jones had a big impact in many different ways in the best performance of his career to date.
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