A few odds and ends before tomorrow’s game…
- Hobspin has a great new article up on the buzz around a special team’s unit that currently ranks 15th in DVOA. Granted, Mike Nugent has nailed all ten of his field goal attempts all season, and after the joys last year of watching a guy named Clint Stitser spasm his way to two missed PAT’s and the whole unit work its way to the 28th rank in DVOA, this season appears a revelation. However, there are two problems with Hobspin’s point. One, as I’ll continue to proclaim to the day I die of multiple cleat-wounds to the chest, kicking accuracy is not consistent year-to-year and thus not an actual skill. Nugent, like all kickers with high field-goal percentages, will regress sooner than later. Second, Brandon Tate, he of the average kickoff and punt return numbers, really doesn’t seem like that explosive a returner. All he does on punt returns is make a bunch of fancy moves that make Bengals fans gasp with anticipation before realizing that he’s been taken down for a single-digit gain, and also that they’re still wasting their time watching Mikey Boy’s footballers. Hobspin’s implication that Tate will soon become a great returner because he’s an explosive player (which somehow hasn’t led to any results in 2+ NFL seasons) and is being coached by the immortal Darrin Simmons (whose credentials are lazily awed at by Hobspin because of the Bengals ’05 and ’09 playoff berths, during which his unit ranked 14th and 21st, respectively) really doesn’t make any sense. Special teams won’t be a struggle this season like last year—it just won’t be especially strong.
- Football Outsiders has some interesting data in a recent column, distinguishing early-season offensive sack numbers by whether they were given up long after the snap (3 seconds or more) or shortly after (2.5 seconds or less). So far, the Bengals have conceded the sixth-most “long snaps”. The Bengals' just below-average adjusted sack rate for this season, based on this, is a testament to the offensive line (mostly Andrew Whitworth’s elite play and the others’ non-Levi Jones-ness) and also the skill players like Jermaine Gresham and the backs who have stayed in to pass block. Many sacks have been due to Andy Dalton holding on to the ball and not porous blocking, showing that Dalton still has much developing to do (shocking) and that the Bengals offense might benefit from opening things up a bit. Right now, the Bengals receivers are having trouble getting open quickly, facing double-teams (especially AJ Green) without tight ends and backs to consistently take the attention away from them; this problem can be reduced by leaving less men in to block, which the o-line, especially with the return of Bobbie Williams, might be able to handle.
- The game against the Jaguars, like most of them at this point, serves as a barometer for where the Bengals are. Jacksonville has played like one of the worst teams in the league, with a decent defense but perhaps the worst offense in the NFL. For the Bengals to prove that they’ve made progress, that they actually aren’t a bottom-dwelling team, they need to not just win the game, but do so in a more convincing fashion than against Cleveland or Buffalo. As long as the Bengals can stop Maurice Jones-Drew and Dalton limits his mistakes, they should be fine; if the defense can’t stop the run even when facing a rookie quarterback and Dalton can’t avoid stupid plays even when the opposing offense can’t do anything, then it’ll be yet another close game. And yes, I do realize that the Jaguars are actually favored tomorrow, but I'm not sure how many people in Las Vegas watched Blaine Gabbert last week.
- Just a quick reminder, even though most people probably don’t need it: if the Bengals win tomorrow, getting above .500 and within half-a-game of first (because yeah, that’s a possibility), don’t go to any games this season. You want to watch Andy Dalton and AJ Green and Jermaine Gresham on good teams, playing in important and well-publicized games? Force change; force good ‘ole Mikey Boy to care about limiting our dissatisfaction with his mom-and-pop organization. This is the only way we can one day reveal we’re Bengals fans without making a self-deprecating joke!