The Bengals are very much alive after a gritty 20-16 win over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. Cincinnati overcame three turnovers and multiple injuries to improve to 2-3 on the season.
Here are five observations from Sunday's win over the Bills:
1. Bill Lazor and Andy Dalton work well together
The Bills were the best defense the Bengals have faced since Lazor became the offensive coordinator. Most expected a low-scoring game with not many big plays. Andy Dalton got in a rhythm early and connected with A.J. Green for a 77-yard touchdown. The offense is averaging nearly 23 points-per-game since Lazor took over as offensive coordinator. He's making sure playmakers like Green, Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard get a chance to have an impact. It's hard to imagine this team winning today if Ken Zampese was still calling plays.
2. A.J. Green, Andy Dalton and the rest of the team responded well to adversity
There were plenty of momentum swings during Thursday's game. Green dropped a ball that led to an interception. He also had a crucial fumble in the red zone. Dalton sailed a pass over Green's head (Green got a hand on it) that was intercepted. Dalton also played through a left ankle injury. There were multiple times when they could have put their heads down, but they responded well to adversity. This team lost games like this last season. Dalton never missed a play due to his injury. He extended plays with his legs and made a great throw on the run to Green at the end of the third quarter. That play set up Mixon's game-winning touchdown run.
3. Tyler is quickly becoming Andy's safety net
Tyler Kroft had four receptions for 38 yards. Before the season started I thought Tyler Boyd was going to be Dalton's safety valve. He hasn't gotten involved in the offense like I expected and left today's game with a knee injury. Kroft has made big plays for the Bengals over the past two weeks. Dalton went to him multiple times on the final drive that ended in a field goal. Kroft may not be as good as Tyler Eifert, but he's proving to be a reliable target in this offense.
4. The Bengals have one of the NFL's best defenses
The defense didn't allow a touchdown today (in my opinion). Yes, the Bills scored a touchdown, but that was after an interception gave their offense great field position. They were without Dre Kirkpatrick (right shoulder) and Adam Jones (lower back) for most of the game due to injury. George Iloka also missed time during the game due to injury. The defense bailed out the offense on two out of the three turnovers. This team has a legitimate chance to beat Pittsburgh in two weeks because of this defense. They finished with six sacks. They held LeSean McCoy to 63 yards on 19 carries. Vontaze Burfict led the team with 10 tackles, but plenty of players made BIG plays including Geno Atkins, Carl Lawson and Michael Johnson.
5. The running game needs to improve
I'm not sure how they will fix it with this offensive line, but the Bengals need to run the ball better than they are. Their longest run was a handoff up the middle to Mixon. He took it was 12 yards and a first down. It was one of the rare times Mixon didn't have to make a cut before he got to the line of scrimmage. He has the ability to be a game changer. Mixon turns negative plays into positive ones. The offensive line has been 'competent' in the passing game, but they need to play better for the rushing attack to work. It's also up to Bill Lazor to formulate a strategy to get it going after the bye week.
Bonus: This team needs John Ross
Brandon LaFell has 15 receptions for 108 yards through five weeks. Boyd's status is up in the air after he injured his knee. John Ross worked on the rehab field last week and should play in Week 7 against the Steelers. They need him out there. Bill Lazor has two weeks to tweak the offense to ensure Ross is set up for success. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers did some interesting things with DeSean Jackson on Thursday night.
Ross could transform the entire offense. His speed is extremely unique. I hope the Bengals unleash him in Week 7. If he's healthy, let him get a lot of reps. They've benefitted from rookies like Lawson, Mixon, even Jordan Willis and Ryan Glasgow have contributed. Marvin Lewis can't be afraid to give Ross a chance to have an impact the moment he gets back on the field.
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