AFC North: upon further review

Upon Further Review: Bengals Week 16

December, 23, 2013
12/23/13
9:00
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CINCINNATI -- An examination of four hot issues from the Cincinnati Bengals' 42-14 win over the Minnesota Vikings:

Mind-boggling Bernard: Bengals running back Giovani Bernard did it again. He wowed all those watching with yet another dazzling, tackle-breaking, defender-avoiding run. On one third-quarter run after the catch, he completely confounded the Vikings as he cut, spun, shook, stiff-armed and danced his way to a 41-yard gain off a short screen that began near midfield. On the next play, Mohamed Sanu's touchdown catch gave Cincinnati a 28-point second-half lead. In all, five Vikings missed tackles on Bernard's run that included a spin move, two jump-cuts and a stiff-arm. The play was reminiscent of a fourth-quarter 35-yard touchdown run Bernard had against the Dolphins on Halloween. That play was completed with a flip into the end zone. Asked Sunday what he said to Bernard after the latest run, offensive coordinator Jay Gruden smiled and said: "He should have scored." Bernard was wrestled down at the Minnesota 7.

Dalton
Dalton
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Bernard
Playmakers: Bernard wasn't the only Bengal with a head-turning play. Cincinnati's receivers got in on the act as well. It started with Marvin Jones' diving catch out of bounds and continued with Andrew Hawkins' leaping grab deep in Vikings territory to set up another score. At one point, the Bengals appeared in such a quarterback-receiver rhythm that anything thrown within a 15-yard radius of a particular pass-catcher was going to get caught. Quarterback Andy Dalton's completion percentage reflected that fact, too. He completed more than 70 percent of his passes for the fifth time this season. Along with those receptions, the Bengals had a quirky interception. As cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick went up to defend one pass -- he appeared to make contact with the receiver worthy of pass interference -- the ball hit his helmet and bounced in the sky. Safety George Iloka, who fell and was on his back, reached his hands out as the ball was falling. It fell right into his lap for his first career interception. It was one of three picks for the Bengals on Sunday.

Forty times four club: Thanks in large part to Dalton's four-touchdown, 366-yard passing effort, the Bengals hit the 40-point mark for a fourth consecutive home game. They also scored 42 points in the previous home game against the Indianapolis Colts. They scored 41 against the Cleveland Browns the home game before that, and hit 49 against the Jets a game before that. In most of those other games, Cincinnati had a better run-pass average than it had Sunday. On 37 total carries, the Bengals picked up only 81 yards for a 2.19 average. They didn't need to stay on the ground, though. An injury-depleted Vikings secondary had enough soft zones for Dalton to routinely find open receivers.

Powell does enough: When Kevin Huber was placed on injured reserve Tuesday following a hit that broke his jaw and cracked vertebrae in his neck, the Bengals were simply looking for a replacement who could do a good enough job. Shawn Powell may not have been exceptional Sunday, but he was strong. Of his four punts, only one was returned. That return only happened because the ball drifted into the middle of the field. With the rest of the punts booted toward the sideline, returner Marcus Sherels couldn't break away. Overall, the Bengals' special-teams units didn't play their best Sunday, but Powell kept field position mostly in Cincinnati's favor.

Upon Further Review: Bengals Week 15

December, 16, 2013
12/16/13
9:00
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PITTSBURGH -- An examination of four hot issues from the Cincinnati Bengals' 30-20 loss to the Steelers:

Huber's hit: On Cincinnati's final punt of the opening period, Bengals punter Kevin Huber was blindsided by Pittsburgh's Terence Garvin on a hit that left the kicker motionless on the ground a few moments, and that ultimately led him to have his jaw wired shut before he left Pittsburgh. On the play the NFL is expected to review this week, Huber broke his jaw, and likely ended his season. After the game, Bengals kicker Mike Nugent, who relieved Huber and punted for the first time since high school, said he was saddened by the sight of the hit.

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Slow start hurts run: That tackle wasn't the only thing that went wrong for Huber on Sunday night. During his first punt attempt of the game, he fumbled a wide snap near his own end zone and had nowhere to run as the Steelers gave chase. He didn't even have time to recover and get off an emergency rugby kick or sprint to the back of the end zone for a safety. Instead, he was tackled into the end zone and downed at the 1-yard line. A play later, the Steelers scored their first touchdown of the game. It was the first of three hiccups on special teams that had a hand in a 21-0 deficit the Bengals had a tough time climbing out from. The hole was so deep that Cincinnati really couldn't run the ball like it had hoped, and was forced to go to the air to try to quickly make up yards and scores. After going beyond the 150-yard rushing mark the previous two games, the Bengals were held to just 57 yards on the ground against Pittsburgh. Had they been able to run a little more regularly, they may have had a more balanced offensive attack, similar to the one they showed against San Diego and Indianapolis.

Dink, dunk, win: Eventually, the Bengals were able to get their passing game going, and they did so by throwing a lot of short underneath routes to receivers. Slants and screens were key components in their comeback bid that brought the wide early deficit to within a two-point conversion of being a one-score game with nearly six minutes remaining in the game. The dink-and-dunk style of passing was ripped from the Steelers' playbook. That's precisely the way they moved the ball on a Bengals defense that simply wasn't getting pressure on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and was back on its heels often in the play-action and short-route game. Roethlisberger was 20-for-25 for 191 yards overall. Half of his passes came on balls that traveled 10 yards or fewer in the air. He was 10-for-14 on such passes.

Miscues abound for defense: The Bengals believe one of the reasons Roethlisberger had that type of success was because they dealt with occasional bouts of miscommunication. Defensive end Michael Johnson said that was the case on a few plays, including the 12-yard touchdown pass Roethlisberger completed to Antonio Brown in the first quarter. On that play, only two Bengals rushed the passer and nine dropped in coverage. Johnson intimated that there should have been more rushers. Along with those communication issues, the Bengals also missed several tackles. They weren't happy with those, particularly after spending the week trying to correct more tackling issues that cropped up against the Colts last week.

Upon Further Review: Bengals Week 14

December, 9, 2013
12/09/13
9:00
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CINCINNATI -- An examination of four hot issues from the Cincinnati Bengals' 42-28 win over the Indianapolis Colts:

Whit's move should stick: Offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth proved Sunday afternoon that his move from left tackle to left guard should stick. Naturally, when you ask him about the switch, Whitworth just grins and says he's out to do what's best for the team. If offensive coordinator Jay Gruden wants to leave him on the line's interior, then so be it. If Gruden watched the same left-side blocking display that the rest of America witnessed, he'd be smart to keep his Pro Bowl left tackle at the new spot. Since sliding into the line's interior last week after left guard Clint Boling was lost for the season with an ACL tear, Whitworth has been part of two of the Bengals' best rushing performances of the year. Against the Chargers last week, they rushed for 164 yards. Against the Colts, they hit 155, paced by rookie running back Giovani Bernard's 99.

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Burfict
'Shifty dude' strikes: After one of his four catches that resulted in a weaving, winding 22-yard scamper, Bernard overheard an Indianapolis defender call him "a shifty dude." It has been a while since the "shifty dude" has had as productive a day as he did Sunday. He collected more than 100 total yards of offense for only the third time this season. The last time was when he went for 104 in the overtime loss at Miami on Halloween. Against the Colts, Bernard had a career-high 148 yards of offense, rushing for 99 yards and catching passes for 49.

Second-year defensive stars: Linebacker Vontaze Burfict once again led the Bengals in tackles. He has done that in all but one game this season. This time around, though, the tackle totals were relatively down. According to postgame stats given to media, he recorded eight. That's a little below his double-digit average of 10.7 tackles per game. Still, it's a sign that the second-year, former undrafted free agent was around the ball. Another class of 2012 signee who contributed greatly in the win was cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. The onetime backup continues making strides in the secondary as he gets awarded more playing opportunities. With another second-year player, safety George Iloka, as well as veteran corner Terence Newman going down with injuries, Kirkpatrick's role could increase if either is lost for any time.

Tate's returns: It can be easy for a return specialist's statistics to get lost in the shuffle in a two-possession game in which his team scored 40 points. (Quick side note: This is the first time in franchise history the Bengals have scored 40 or more points in three straight home games. They had done that in back-to-back home games four previous times.) Still, Brandon Tate was quite effective on the punt return team. His 18.3 yards per return average was his highest this season for games in which he has had multiple punt returns. His four returns also generated an average starting goal-to-go position of 63 yards, meaning the Bengals, on average, started at their own 37 after his returns. His previous season-best in a multi-return game was 61 yards -- the Bengals' 39.

Upon Further Review: Bengals Week 11

November, 18, 2013
11/18/13
9:00
AM ET
CINCINNATI -- An examination of four hot issues from the Cincinnati Bengals' 41-20 win over the Browns:

Rey shines again: While linebackers James Harrison and Vontaze Burfict dominated the postgame headlines because of their key turnovers, the third starting member of their unit shouldn't be forgotten. Vincent Rey, appearing in his third game in relief of Rey Maualuga, quietly had 12 total tackles. Only Burfict (15) had more. It marked the second straight game that Rey had double-digit stops, following his 13-tackle performance at Baltimore last week. He now has 30 tackles, three sacks and an interception in the three games he has started since Maualuga was shelved due to a knee injury. Sunday's game likely was Rey's last start for a while, as Maualuga makes his return to the lineup. Before the game, Maualuga was going through agility and ladder drills.

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Newman
Tone setting: Another unsung defensive hero was safety Reggie Nelson. He finished with nine total tackles and had a timely second-half interception that helped signal the end for the Browns' offense. All throughout the third quarter, the Bengals' defense set a tone that it wasn't going to allow a late-game comeback to take place. Against the Bills earlier this season, they did allow a comeback that ended with the game in overtime. Mike Nugent's 43-yard field goal in the overtime period won that game, though. One of the better tone setters of the second half was cornerback Terence Newman. Although he was beaten on the very first play from scrimmage after halftime -- a 24-yard pass to Josh Gordon -- Newman had two key deflections on that drive, even one on fourth down when Gordon had raced by him.

Sanu sighting -- finally: It took 11 games, but at long last, Mohamed Sanu has scored for the Bengals. After scoring four touchdowns last season, each coming in a three-game stretch, Sanu picked up his first score this year when he caught a 6-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Andy Dalton in the Bengals' record-setting 31-point second quarter. Three plays before, he got involved in the offense in a slightly different manner when he fielded a lateral from Dalton before chucking the ball downfield for a 25-yard completion to running back Giovani Bernard. The trick play was called at the perfect time. It came on the Bengals' first drive after their first score. Following Sanu's touchdown reception, Cincinnati took a lead it wouldn't relinquish.

Beat the blockers: There was no magic trick, no secret formula to the one blocked punt, one tipped punt and one near-block the Bengals had on their return unit, special teams coach Darrin Simmons said. According to him, and the key players involved, they just "beat the blocker." It was all about speed, quickness and sprinting through the right hole at the right time, they said. Whether you believe that to be the case or not, it is clear the Bengals got into a great rhythm of sprinting past Cleveland's line virtually unabated in an effort to get their hands on Spencer Lanning's punts. After the game, Lanning said he wasn't operating too slowly. He felt the snap and approaches on his kicks were executed well.

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