ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — It was after the Cincinnati Bengals‘ final drive of the third quarter when a subtle message was sent to the remaining defensive coordinators on their schedule:
Try and figure out, oh wise coordinators, which players on this versatile and explosive offense are worth your attention.
Will A.J. Green earn your double-teams? Or might they be directed toward Tyler Eifert? Will you try to stack the box to stop the run? Or should you just play back in coverage and put it on Bengals speedy, playmaking running back Giovani Bernard to beat you?
Buffalo defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman and his defensive-minded head coach, Rex Ryan, tried to solve this confounding conundrum on Sunday. They couldn’t. Cincinnati’s 34-21 win was powered in large part by its offensive diversity.
On the 12-play, third-quarter touchdown drive that effectively put the game out of reach, five different Bengals playmakers touched the football. Along with Eifert, who scored, Bernard, Jeremy Hill, Green and Mohamed Sanu had key runs or receptions. On the drive before, receiver Marvin Jones caught four passes.
The efforts of those playmakers is a big reason why the Bengals are 6-0 for the third time in franchise history.
What it means: Sunday’s win means the Bengals’ run toward the postseason continues. At 6-0, they remain well in control of the AFC North. At this point, the division is theirs to lose. In two weeks, they will try to reassert their supremacy over the division when they travel to Pittsburgh for their fourth road game of the year. That contest will come on the heels of their bye week. If they win at Pittsburgh, the Bengals will be 7-0 for the first time in team history.
What were they thinking? There’s very little to criticize about the Bengals, but they did have problems on their first drives on offense and defense. Both groups came out flat, with the defense allowing a touchdown, and the offense putting in only its second three-and-out on an opening possession this season. That’s about the only thing to criticize.
One reason to be excited: Bengals fans have good reason to be excited about this ballgame because of the fact that Cincinnati ended up winning a difficult game on the road. Sure, the Bills were playing a quarterback who hadn’t started a game this season, but this was a real challenge. Buffalo entered at 3-2, and seemed to be feeding off its large and vocal home crowd early in the game. The conditions weren’t a plus, either, as the Bengals played their first game of the year in inclement weather. Lake-effect snow hit Ralph Wilson Stadium early in the contest before eventually fading.
One reason to panic: We’ll get more into it in the “Ouch” portion of this post, but there ought to be genuine concern over the Bengals’ injured players. Two defenders left the game after being banged up in the second half.
Fantasy watch: Andy Dalton entered Week 6 as the highest-scoring fantasy quarterback in the league, according to ESPN’s standard scoring system. He continued his reign of fantasy dominance against the Bills by collecting 21 points. His three touchdown passes certainly aided his efforts. Jones tied his best fantasy showing this season, earning his owners 15 points.
Ouch: Cincinnati’s defense received a blow in the third quarter when linebacker Vincent Rey suffered a right ankle injury after getting tangled up during an inside Bills run. When trainers evaluated him on the field, Rey kept touching his right ankle. Moments after being helped to the sideline, Rey was loaded onto the back of a cart to undergo further testing in the locker room. He did not return. If Rey’s injury causes him to miss any games, it comes at a comparatively good time, nonetheless. Not only are the Bengals off next week, but Pro Bowl linebacker Vontaze Burfict is eligible to come off the physically unable to perform list, and could play during the next game at Pittsburgh. Defensive end Michael Johnson also left with a lower leg injury in the fourth quarter.
Positive position: Field position was the big first-half headline Sunday, with the Bengals starting in Bills territory or very close to it on their first five drives. Their worst field position of the five was from their own 45-yard line. The Bengals were able to score on only three of those series to claim a 17-14 lead.