Here are five things that the clobbering of the Jets showed us about the Bengals:
Marvin Jones Has Arrived
After wide receiver Marvin Jones missed two days of practice last week due to a shoulder injury he suffered in Week 7 on a touchdown score, his availability had to be in question. Perhaps the Jets didn't game plan so much for Jones, expecting that he might not be targeted as much when he did happen to be on the field.
Whatever the case, Jones showed up in a big way. The four TDs he scored marked the first time in franchise history that a Bengals' receiver caught four TDs in a game with the last to garner three being Chad Johnson in 2007. Jones won't match the career numbers that Johnson posted as the Bengals' all-time leading receiving in catches, yards and TDs, but he's certainly developing into a bargain as the 2012 fifth-round draft pick that the Bengals received when Johnson-then-Ochocinco was traded to the New England Patriots.
Jones now has seven receiving TDs on the year and clearly has the confidence of Dalton, who completed eight passes to Jones for 122 yards against the Jets.
Andy Dalton May Be Elite Enough
Ever since Dalton looked horrible laying an egg against the Cleveland Browns in Week 4, he has steadily progressed toward a return to Red Rifle form. He now has 11 TDs and two picks in the Bengals' last three wins and appeared not only under complete command of the offense against the Jets but also determined to improve in areas where he visibly lacks at times, like arm strength, touch and judgement.
Dalton will never throw the 70-yard perfect bomb like the long-gone Carson Palmer, but he's now making the case that he will be a better QB than Palmer ever was. That could be elite enough not only to advance the Bengals to the playoffs for the third straight year but advance them deeper into the postseason than they have been since the time of Boomer Esiason.
The Entire Offensive Line Can Pass Protect at a Pro Bowl Caliber
Anchored by Andrew Whitworth at left tackle and Andre Smith at the right book end, the Bengals' offense line excels at protecting Dalton. Although the record will show that Dalton was sacked once against the Jets, it really was nothing more than Dalton running out of bounds for a two-yard loss instead of throwing the ball away.
Counting that token sack, the Bengals' linemen (as well as the backs and tight ends) have given up just one sack in each of the last two games, which is a vast improvement over the two previous games (four sacks by the Patriots and three by the Buffalo Bills).
Backup left tackle Anthony Collins is also a seasoned veteran, who can be relied upon if needed. Starting left tackle Whitworth left the Jets' game early and is scheduled to have a MRI on his knee, which could press Collins into action in the near future.
If the Bengals' front four can maintain a shield of protection for Dalton, there is no limit to the damage that the Bengals' significant weapons on offense can do.
Offensive Juggernaut in the Making
The 49 points scored by the Bengals against the Jets was the most by Bengals' team since a 58-point outburst in 2004. The 40-point margin of victory was the largest since Sam Wyche ordered his 1989 squad to pulverize the Jerry Glanville led Houston Oilers (61-7) as payback for Glanville running up the score in a game against the Bengals the year prior.
The prolific scoring capability that the Bengals showed against the Jets may indicate that the expectations for the Bengals' offense at the beginning of the season are on the verge of being realized.
Defense is Resilient
If the Bengals' juggernaut offense can materialize every week, the Bengals' defense won't be forced to completely shut down the opponent every week to keep the offense in the game. The Bengals nearly squandered double-digit leads in the two games prior to the blowout of the Jets, but the defense on the whole is a bigger reason why the Bengals are 6-2 than the offense is.
However, injuries are starting to take their toll on the Bengals defense. The season-ending loss of starting cornerback Leon Hall will force the Bengals to rely more on Adam Jones and Chris Crocker (both of whom had pick sixes against the Jets), as well as Dre Kirkpatrick and Brandon Ghee.
The linebacking corps took a hit against the Jets with the loss of middle backer Rey Maualuga (knee and concussion) and weakside nickel LB Taylor Mays (shoulder). The severity of the injuries remains to be determined, but the short week with a Thursday night game against the Miami Dolphins will most likely force the Bengals' defense to show the same kind of versatility at LB that the team has shown at corner..
Both special teamer Vincent Rey and street free agent Michael Boley saw action in place of Maualuga and Mays, and both will likely share snaps on defense against the Dolphins in the absence of their injured LB teammates.
Robb Hoff has worked as a freelance researcher for ESPN's production and news departments for more than five years. He posts his NFL draft predictions each year at footballnostradamus.com.
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