AFC North: 2011 Week 9 coverage
November, 27, 2013
By Coley Harvey | ESPN.com
AP Photo/Rick OsentoskiThe Cincinnati Bengals are counting on Andy Dalton to return to the form that helped lead the team to a 4-1 record in October.CINCINNATI -- Earlier this week, Cincinnati Bengals players like cornerback Chris Crocker were adamant in pointing out the urgency they need to play with throughout the month of December.
"It's all about winning in December," Crocker said. "Let's win out and see where the chips lay. Why can't we win out? I don't see why we can't."
If you ask some Bengals fans and most NFL analysts, they'll give you one big reason why they don't believe Cincinnati will be able to go 5-0 to close out the regular season: No. 14.
That's right. To some, the primary obstacle in the way of end-of-season perfection for the Bengals is Andy Dalton, the player who has quarterbacked the franchise into the playoffs each of the past two seasons, and who constantly is trying to prove himself to those who consider him just another member of a mostly failed 2011 quarterback draft class.
For that reason, as the Bengals gear up for a stretch run that could give them a first-round bye and home-field advantage in the playoffs, an important question has to be asked.
Can December Andy mimic October Andy?
As we've written countless times in the past month, October Andy was indeed a dandy. Through the first four games of that month, Dalton threw for 1,243 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also completed 67.9 percent of his passes, won four games, had a passer rating higher than 116.0 and a QBR above 83.0. He was, quite simply, brilliant. His play was so sharp back then that on the final day of the month, hours before the Bengals were set to take on the Dolphins in a road Thursday night game, he was named the AFC's Offensive Player of the Month.
And, yes, even though, comparatively speaking, he didn't look as good overall against the Dolphins and ended up taking the game-winning sack for a safety in overtime, Dalton still had a rather special performance in the 22-20 loss. Aside from not completing a touchdown pass and getting intercepted three times, he threw for 338 yards, marking the fourth straight game he had gone over the 300-yard passing mark.
Overall, October Andy was Good Andy.
But now here comes December with all of its postseason potency. If Cincinnati hopes to set itself up for the type of playoff seeding Crocker believes it deserves, then it will have to play its best ball across the next five weeks. That's especially the case for Dalton and a Bengals offense that has looked rather anemic in the past three games.
One look at Dalton's previous December stats and it doesn't appear the third-year star should have any problem showcasing even a sliver of the success that made him and his team so good about two months ago.
After a rocky December as a rookie in 2011, Dalton was among the difference-makers last season when the desperate Bengals were in need of a strong final month just to secure a playoff berth. One year after going 2-2 in the month, Dalton went 4-1 during December 2012. The lone loss came after the Dallas Cowboys made a field goal in the final seconds to win 20-19.
While the level of desperation may be different this December, the Bengals are looking for Dalton to thrive under similar pressure-packed moments during this one. This time around, the pressure on Dalton mainly stems from the fact that so many are fed up with his play from the past three games. In them, he's thrown eight interceptions and been sacked 10 times. Across the latter two of those games, he's completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes and hasn't posted a QBR higher than 18.0.
Weather factored heavily in Dalton's inability to move the ball in those two games. Windy conditions at Baltimore and windy and rainy conditions against the Browns sent some of his passes sailing and forced others into the hands of defensive backs.
Although weather shouldn't be a concern this weekend in San Diego (the forecast calls for partly cloudy skies and a delightful high of 71 degrees Sunday), it could be the rest of the season. Farmer's Almanac projects cold, damp conditions for all of December in the Ohio Valley. It should be noted that after Sunday's game, the Bengals are home three of the next four weeks. Their only remaining road game is at Pittsburgh.
Throughout his career, Dalton has performed better in warmer games. In games with temperatures 50 degrees or higher, he has a 20-14 record, an 85.1 passer rating and a 52.5 QBR. In games with temperatures at 49 and lower, he has a 5-5 record, a 75.4 passer rating and a 32.9 QBR. Dalton's last three sub-49-degree wins came last December, though; a sign that perhaps he's turning a corner in cold-weather contests.
Whatever the conditions and whomever their opponents are, when it comes to the next five weeks, the Bengals can only hope that Dalton turns into the same man who torched through this October.
November, 6, 2011
PITTSBURGH -- Thoughts on the Baltimore Ravens' 23-20 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field:
What it means: Joe Flacco's 26-yard touchdown pass to Torrey Smith with eight seconds remaining allowed the Ravens (6-2) to complete their first season sweep of the Steelers (6-3) since 2006 and give them a share of first place in the AFC North with the surprising Cincinnati Bengals (6-2). This came after Baltimore failed to hold a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter and fell behind 20-16 with 4:59 remaining. It was the first time since 2006 that the Ravens beat Ben Roethlisberger at Heinz Field.
Flacco's comeback: Trailing by four points (20-16) with 2:24 left, Flacco led a 12-play, 92-yard drive that ended with the touchdown pass. It's the second time in three trips to Heinz Field that Flacco has delivered the comeback.
Bouncing back: Smith, the rookie second-round pick, redeemed himself with the touchdown catch. He had his third drop of the game four plays earlier when Flacco's pass went off his fingertips in the end zone.
James Harrison storms back: In his first game after missing the previous four, Harrison recorded three sacks, including a critical forced fumble in the fourth quarter. It led to Roethlisberger's go-ahead touchdown pass to Wallace.
Suggs steps up: Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs made his presence known in the third quarter with the Steelers driving in the red zone when he picked off Roethlisberger. Suggs anticipated the quick pass and leapt in the air instead of rushing to make that play. The Ravens converted that turnover into a Ray Rice touchdown to take a 16-6 lead.
What's next: The Steelers travel to Cincinnati to face the Bengals. The Ravens go cross country to play the Seattle Seahawks.
November, 6, 2011
Thoughts on the Cincinnati Bengals' 24-17 win at the Tennessee Titans:
What it means: The Bengals continue to validate themselves as playoff contenders. They came back from a 10-point halftime deficit to win their fifth straight game, their longest winning streak since 1988 (point of reference: quarterback Andy Dalton was 1 year old at the time). Cincinnati (6-2) will either share first place in the AFC North (if the Ravens beat the Steelers) or have sole possession of second place (if the Steelers beat the Ravens).
Thumbs up: Dalton. The rookie quarterback threw for 217 yards and three touchdowns, but the impressive part was how he threw the touchdowns. In rallying the Bengals, he threw two touchdowns -- a 15-yard pass to Jerome Simpson in the third quarter and a 5-yarder to Andre Caldwell in the fourth -- with high velocity. Unlike most first-year starters, Dalton isn't afraid with throwing in between the numbers.
Second-half shutdown: Dalton was able to bring back the Bengals because Cincinnati's defense dominated Tennessee in the second half. Titans running back Chris Johnson was limited to nine yards after halftime and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck had only 106 yards passing in the second half. The Bengals' defense nearly scored for the fourth straight week, but Carlos Dunlap's touchdown was taken away because replays showed it wasn't a backward pass.
What's next: The Bengals get back into AFC North play when they host the Pittsburgh Steelers. The game will mark the first sellout at Paul Brown Stadium this year.
November, 6, 2011
Thoughts on the Cleveland Browns' 30-12 loss at the Houston Texans:
What it means: The Browns cemented their position as the worst team in the AFC North with another painful first quarter (trailed 14-0 eight minutes into the game). Cleveland lost for the fourth time in five games to fall to 3-5. The Browns' average margin of defeat over that span has been 13.3 points.
Thumbs up: Kicker Phil Dawson. He provided all of the Browns' scoring for the first three quarters with field goals of 50 and 51 yards. This has become status quo for Dawson, who has six kicks of 50 yards or longer this season.
Thumbs down: Browns run defense. The NFL's 26th-ranked run defense looked worse, giving up 261 yards (Cleveland had given up 127.3 yards on the ground entering this game). Arian Foster (124 yards) and Ben Tate (115) outgained the entire Browns offense 239-172.
Running on empty: No one expected much out of the Cleveland running game with Peyton Hillis and Montario Hardesty sidelined. Chris Ogbonnaya fumbled on his first carry in his first start (which led to Houston's second touchdown of the first quarter) and finished with 28 yards on 13 carries (2.2 yard average).
What's next: The Browns return home to play the St. Louis Rams for their third game against an NFC West team in four weeks.
BACK TO TOP