AFC North: Steelers-49ers 121911
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.
December, 20, 2011
By Jamison Hensley | ESPN.com
SAN FRANCISCO -- Quick thoughts on the Pittsburgh Steelers' 20-3 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
What it means: The Steelers' offensive struggles cost Pittsburgh a prime opportunity to gain control of the division and the AFC's top seed, just like the Ravens did one night earlier on the West Coast. In order to win the division now, the Steelers (10-4) need the Ravens (10-4) to lose one of their remaining two games. Baltimore finishes out the regular season home against Cleveland and at Cincinnati. Pittsburgh was shut out in the first half for the second time this season and finished with a season-worst three points.
Not the same Roethlisberger: The high-ankle sprain hurt Ben Roethlisberger's accuracy and ability to throw deep. All three of his interceptions were on passes that traveled more than 10 yards. Roethlisberger then fumbled in the fourth quarter while getting sacked. The 49ers converted 13 points off those turnovers. Roethlisberger finished 25-of-44 (56.8 percent) for 330 yards. And since we're on the subject, why was Roethlisberger still in a 17-point game late in the fourth quarter?
Unexpected delays: The game was stopped twice because of power outages that caused Candlestick Park to go completely dark. Kickoff was pushed back 40 minutes, and the second quarter was held up by 10 minutes. The outages were caused by a transformer blowing outside the stadium, according to a 49ers spokesman.
Harrison factor: The absence of linebacker James Harrison, who was serving his one-game suspension, was felt in the lack of a pass rush. The Steelers failed to sack quarterback Alex Smith. Getting to Smith has been a key to beating San Francisco. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Smith has been sacked 20 times in three losses and only 19 times in 11 wins.
Bad cover-up: The game was broken open in the third quarter when the 49ers took advantage of the mismatch of the Steelers linebackers on San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis. There were completions of 31 yards (against James Farrior) and 21 yards (against Lawrence Timmons) to put the 49ers at the 1-yard line. Then, Davis was left wide open for a 1-yard touchdown as San Francisco extended its lead to 13-3.
What's next: The Steelers play their final home game of the regular season when they host the St. Louis Rams (2-12) on Saturday.
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