Rapid Fire: Bengals Dominate Jags, Move to 3-1

Here are some rapid-fire thoughts after the Cincinnati Bengals’ dominated the host Jacksonville Jaguars to the tune of 27-10 on Sunday.

AJ Green is one of the top-5 WRs in the NFL and it’s not even a legit debate: It’s amazing to make such a bold statement so early in his career, but it’s absolutely true. In fact, I might go top-3 if you really wanted to drill down on it: Calvin Johnson, Larry “I Wish I Had A Real QB” Fitzgerald and Green. In that order. (Roddy White is not too far behind and Mike Wallace’s incredible speed also puts him on the short list.) That’s some impressive company. Green is a freak of nature with his size and speed, but what makes him really elite is his ability to adjust to the ball and catch nearly anything in his time zone. Green has six receptions for 117 yards and a touchdown against the Jags. For the season, he already has 27 receptions for 428 yards and three TDs. That means he’s on pace this season for 108 catches for 1,712 yards and 12 scores. Will he keep up that pace? Highly unlikely. Is he one of the clear young stars of the NFL? Absolutely.

Jay Gruden is the man: Can’t talk about it enough. He’ll be a head coach in the NFL eventually; no question about it. If it came down to Gruden or Marvin Lewis as head coach (because another team wanted to hire Gruden as their head coach) I’d take Gruden over Lewis in a heartbeat. Chucky’s younger brother is a rising star. He’s innovative and mixes things up well with his playcalling, without being out-of-control with it. It’s fun to watch. Especially after the dreadful, predictable Bob Bratkowski decade.

The pass-rush is impressive: Fourth-year defensive end Michael Johnson is having a breakout year (was AFC Defensive Player of the Week last week when he racked up three sacks in the win over the Redskins). It’s also good having Carlos Dunlap back. In addition, the DTs are excellent with Geno Atkins and Domata Peko. Atkins being the better pass-rusher of the two by far, but Peko collected a sack against the Jags. Atkins’ quickness for a DT is off-the-charts good and he got two sacks against Jacksonville, giving him a team-leading five for the season. In addition, there are so many times when Atkins doesn’t get a sack, but immediately forces the QB out of the pocket. Or hits the QB just as he’s throwing to force an incompletion. Aktins was an absolute steal of a pick in the fourth round in 2010.

Rey Maualuga is terrible: He’s in his fourth season and he still looks like a lost rookie most of the time. He’s extremely physical; that’s not the problem. It’s just that he’s … how can I put this mildly … less-than-intelligent. One thing is clear: Linebacker will be a huge focus in the draft. So will safety. The Bengals have one good safety in Reggie Nelson who is locked up through the 2015 season … and then a bunch of CFL players trying to fill the other safety spot. The fact that they had to re-sign Chris Crocker this week tells you everything you need to know. Although, to Crocker’s credit, he had a game-clinching interception against Blaine “I Was Drafted Ahead Of Andy Dalton Even Though I Shouldn’t Have Been” Gabbert.

Andrew Hawkins continues to impress: Every game the diminuative, speedy receiver makes a big play or two. Not bad for a guy the Bengals plucked out of the CFL prior to last season. Armon Binns was also a nice find off the street, even though he didn’t do anything against the Jaguars. Rookie fourth-round tight end Orson Charles looks good and it was good to see fifth-round WR Marvin Jones get some action (and a reception) as well.

Pacman Jones is a complete joke as a cornerback: He has value as a return man and that’s it. He’s horrible in coverage and is afraid to tackle. (Also, he occasionally has a member of his posse shoot and paralyze a bar bouncer.)

BenJarvus Green-Ellis has been a bit of a disappointment: And I’m not just talking about his fumble today (more on that in a moment). To be clear, I liked the signing of Green-Ellis in the offseason because there was such a need at the position and I’m still glad he’s on the team, but let’s not confuse him with a good starting NFL RB or anything of the sort. He’s average-at-best. He’s great at taking what the defense gives him and going north-south – which is an underrated quality for a back to have – but you don’t see him break many tackles. He’s not elusive and you don’t see him power through many tackles (although he does fall forward most of the time, which is another good trait for an RB to have). His lateral quickness is especially poor. He does show good straight-line burst through the hole at times, but that’s it. That said, overall he’s solid and was a good addition to the team. Bernard Scott has turned out to be a disappointment; for whatever reason he’s always been a guy the Bengals have been unable to count on. And we’re not talking about a young player anymore. He’s in his fourth season. That’s a long time for a RB. As for Green-Ellis’ fumble, he sure coughs it up a lot for a guy that “never fumbles.” Two weeks in a row? Really? The Bengals had a chance to put the game away at 24-7 early in the third quarter, but Green-Ellis lost a fumble at the goal line. It ended up being a 10-point swing as the Jags drove down a kicked a field goal to make the score 17-10 Bengals. Fortunately, led by Andy Dalton and Green, the Bengals offense marched right down and took a 24-10 advantage and Green Ellis’ blunder didn’t matter. Green-Ellis almost lost a fumble in the fourth quarter as well, but was able to recover himself.

I was skeptical of the whole Vontaze Burfict thing, but… he looks really good. Every once in a while he’ll look like the undrafted free agent that he is, but quite often he shows flashes of brilliance. (To be clear, the only reason he was undrafted is because of off-field issues. He was always considered a talented prospect.) Burfict had a handful of impressive plays against Jacksonville, including the first sack of his young career. With the sorry state of the Bengals’ linebackers – especially following the season-ending injury to Thomas Howard (who is a solid player) it’s been huge that Burfict has been able to step up and play well.

I’m encouraged with what I’m seeing out of third-year TE Jermaine Gresham: If the former first-round pick can cut down on the stupid pre-snap penalties, he’s going to be one of the elite tight ends in the NFL. He’s a big, athletic guy with good hands who runs with fearless abandon after making a grab.

The Bengals have a good chance at going 4-1: A really good one. They host Miami next week – which is a better team than many expected, but you still have to like the Bengals’ chances of winning that one. In fact, if we want to get way ahead of ourselves, the Bengals could be looking at a 5-1 record because they travel to Cleveland the following week. (Then they host Pittsburgh and then they’ll have their bye week.)