To be more competitive, the Bengals need better starts

Bengal Stripes break down the game game this Sunday against the Eagles predicting a two touchdown loss. Alan Cutler this morning made one interesting point about Donovan McNabb in his last three games; specifically, getting off to really slow starts.

Opponent 1st Quarter Result
NY Giants 0-3 L, 31-36
@ Seattle 3-13, 57 yards, INT W, 26-7
Atlanta 2-6, 13 yards W, 27-14
  5-21, 70 yards, INT  

As the game progresses, Donovan McNabb finds his efficiency-mojo, scoring five touchdowns in the past two games, save for both first quarters.

Opponent Rest of Game Result
NY Giants 17-33, 194, 3 TD, INT L, 31-36
@ Seattle 25-30, 292, 2 TD W, 26-7
Atlanta 17-28, 183 yards W, 27-14

Getting off to a quick start is critical in any ballgame, in any sport, importantly dictating the game to force the opponent to shift their gameplan to more undesirable plays; big-risk turnover-prone plays. When the Bengals got off to a 21-3 start on the Jacksonville Jaguars, it negated their strong running game, placing the game on David Garrard (and he nearly accomplished the challenge) because the team's quick start forced a shift in the Jaguars gameplan.

As only Bengals fans can concieve, either historically, telepathy or obviousness, being outscored 66 points (98-32) in the fourth quarter, means that if you don't get off to a quick start in the first quarter (or the first half at the very least), then the Bengals give themselves virtually no shot at winning. If they continue to allow that many points in the fourth, then they have to get off to better starts in the first. Allowing 44 points, scoring only 20 points, just won't cut it.

How have the Bengals have faired against the opposing quarterback in the first quarter?

Opponent Quarterback 1st Quarter Result
Jacksonville D.Garrard 4-7, 31 yards W, 21-19
Houston M.Schaub 3-3, 38 yards L, 35-6
Pittsburgh B.Roethlisberger 7-12, 92 yards, TD L, 38-10
NY Jets B.Favre 9-11, 62 yards, TD L, 26-14
Dallas T.Romo 5-7, 52 yards L, 31-22
Cleveland D.Anderson 2-5, 13 yards L, 20-12
NY Giants E.Manning 3-4, 21 yards L, 26-23 OT
Tennessee K.Collins 2-6, 18 yards L, 24-7
Baltimore J.Flacco 4-6, 33 yards L, 17-10

It's not like the defense has been dreadful in the first quarter; those opposing quarterbacks tend to be very efficient; but in only two contests did the defense allowing a passing touchdown. Furthermore, our defense started great, allowing only 10 points in the first quarter through the first four games. Then they went on a stretch against the Cowboys, Jets, Steelers and Texans allowing 34 points in the first quarter. Trends be damned: save for the loss against the Titans, those four games are the only games that the Bengals lost by more than one possession.

Opponent 1Q D Pass Rush 1st Downs Points Result
Jacksonville 12 - 42 31 11 2 0 W, 21-19
Houston 6 - 41 38 3 2 7 L, 35-6
Pittsburgh 21 - 131 92 39 7 10 L, 38-10
NY Jets 21 - 74 46 28 7 7 L, 26-14
Dallas 18 - 141 89 52 6 10 L, 31-22
Cleveland 17 - 77 13 64 6 3 L, 20-12
NY Giants 9 - 30 21 9 1 0 L, 26-23 OT
Tennessee 12 - 28 18 10 2 0 L, 24-7
Baltimore 14 - 100 33 67 4 7 L, 17-10

Offensively in the first quarter, scoring 20 points is relative to the offense's lack of sustaining drives. They've recorded less than 50 yards total offense in the first quarter seven times; the last two games they've recorded 196 yards total against the Jaguars and Texans with 11 first downs. Points are still a problem though. Chinedum Ndukwe returned a first quarter fumble for touchdown, which means the offense is only responsible for 13 points in the first quarter; 10 in the past two games.

Opponent 1Q Offense Pass Rush 1st Downs Points Result
Jacksonville 15 - 94 47 47 6 7 W, 21-19
Houston 19 - 102 58 44 5 3 L, 35-6
Pittsburgh 8 - 10 1 9 0 0 L, 38-10
NY Jets 3 - 10 8 2 0 7 (D) L, 26-14
Dallas 10 - 33 28 5 3 0 L, 31-22
Cleveland 10 - 26 8 18 2 0 L, 20-12
NY Giants 14 - 43 7 36 4 3 L, 26-23 OT
Tennessee 16 - 47 17 30 3 0 L, 24-7
Baltimore 14 - 24 -2 (10 yards lost on sacks) 26 2 0 L, 17-10

Bengals quarterbacks in the first quarter have to be more productive in the first. The following chart shows that during the team's first seven games, Bengals quarterbacks didn't even record 30 yards passing in any game, throwing two picks and no touchdowns.

Opponent Quarterback 1st Quarter Result
Jacksonville R.Fitzpatrick 7-8, 47 yards, TD W, 21-19
Houston R.Fitzpatrick 8-11, 58 yards L, 35-6
Pittsburgh R.Fitzpatrick 2-4, 8 yards L, 38-10
NY Jets R.Fitzpatrick 1-1, 8 yards L, 26-14
Dallas C.Palmer 3-7, 28 yards, INT L, 31-22
Cleveland R.Fitzpatrick 1-3, 13 yards L, 20-12
NY Giants C.Palmer 4-6, 16 yards L, 26-23 OT
Tennessee C.Palmer 5-7, 17 yards L, 24-7
Baltimore C.Palmer 1-3, 8 yards, INT L, 17-10

Once you review these charts, it's not terribly difficult to realize when the Bengals struggle the most. Even though they're outscored badly in the fourth quarter (see chart below), when the Bengals need to get off to a quick start (when the game is mostly competitive), they've failed to.

I believe if this team can just perform each quarter evenly and consistently, they're much a much more competititve group; though I'm not sure if it will help them win more games simply because our fourth quarter defense. In eight straight games to start the season, there's at least one quarter where the team gives up double-digit points; the defense allowed double-digit points in multiple quarters in three games (Giants, Cowboys, Steelers). Offensively they've scored double-digit points in only two quarters (both against the Giants).

Points allowed by the defense in the fourth quarter.

Opponent Points Allowed
Jacksonville 16
Houston 7
Pittsburgh 21
NY Jets 6
Dallas 14
Cleveland 17
NY Giants 10
Tennessee 7
Baltimore 0

As long as their unstable quarterly production remains in such a screwed-up flux, then the Bengals won't compete much the rest of the season. Though they've done better getting off to quick starts in the past two games, they've gotten worse as the game wears on.

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