Cincinnati is on pace to have one of the worst Red Zone offenses during the Marvin Lewis era, scoring only five touchdowns on 13 Red Zone opportunities (38.5%) so far this season. In 2008, the Bengals converted 45.5% of their Red Zone appearances, marking that as the lowest conversion dating back to 2003. And we know how awesome that offense was, right? During five of the past eight seasons, the offense was always good for at least a 50% conversion clip. While the struggling Red Zone offense hasn't proved to be a detriment through the first three games -- two wins and a blow out -- the points left on the board by not picking up touchdowns in the Red Zone will hurt this team.
No, it did hurt this team on Sunday during the Browns 23-20 win over Cincinnati.
Even though Cincinnati's offense had the breakout passing performance that we knew existed during a point in the game that it really mattered (unlike their second half domination against the Patriots), Cincinnati's Red Zone offense struggled in three opportunities against the Browns to convert for touchdowns. It would be fair to say that the players themselves are responsible for executing the plays that are called. It's also fair to question the play-calling.
With 8:52 left in the second quarter, the Bengals reached the Red Zone for the first time against the Browns at Cleveland's 13-yard line. After back-to-back runs by Bernard Scott on first and second down that picked up seven yards, Palmer threw an incomplete pass to Terrell Owens setting up Mike Nugent's 24-yard field goal. The question here is why do you run Bernard Scott, who isn't the Red Zone type of running back like Cedric Benson is, on back-to-back runs before setting up a likely passing situation on third-and-three from the Browns six-yard line?
With 3:15 left in the third quarter, the Bengals returned to the Red Zone at Cleveland's 11-yard line. After Palmer was sacked by Matt Roth on first down that lost six yards, the Bengals called for a run that only picked up two yards. This, of course, sets up a third-and-14 from the Browns 15-yard line. Is it any surprise that Palmer was forced to check down to Brian Leonard out of the flats for a limited eight-yard gain when the entire Browns defense knew a pass was coming? The sack hurt the drive most of all, but calling a run on second-and-16 really just shows that Cincinnati's play-calling will make it as difficult on the players as possible. Nugent converts a 25-yard field goal bringing Cincinnati's deficit back to 10 points.
For the final time, Cincinnati would reach the Red Zone with 11:38 left in the game at Cleveland's four-yard line. After an incomplete pass and a three-yard loss by Benson, Cincinnati nearly didn't reach the end zone after an incomplete pass to Jordan Shipley. T.J. Ward was nailed with a cheap shot personal foul, giving Cincinnati a new set of downs. Palmer completed a shovel pass to Brian Leonard who ran into the end zone for a touchdown, reducing Cincinnati's deficit to three points.
Twice against New England, the Bengals reached the Red Zone, scoring touchdowns on both opportunities from the Patriots one-yard line.
With 29 seconds left in the first quarter against the Baltimore Ravens, the Bengals entered the Red Zone, watching the drive stall after two incomplete passes and a no-gain run off the left edge by Cedric Benson. Nugent converts the 36-yard field goal to give Cincinnati a 3-0 lead. After Adam Jones returned the football to Baltimore's 35-yard line on an interception return, the Bengals would finally reached Baltimore's 16-yard line with 11:37 left in the second quarter. Cincinnati wouldn't pick up another first down after back-to-back Bernard Scott runs picked up a combined nine yards. On third down, Nate Livings was called for a false start and Palmer threw an incomplete pass to Chad Ochocinco on third-and-six. Nugent converts the 30-yard field goal to give Cincinnati a 6-0 lead.
The Bengals wouldn't see the Red Zone again until 26 seconds remained in the third quarter. After a four-yard run got Cincinnati to Baltimore's 17-yard line, Carson Palmer, under immense pressure, throws the football away that was flagged as an intentional grounding. Nugent converts a 46-yard attempt that gave Cincinnati a 9-7 lead. After Brandon Johnson intercepted a Pat Sims' tipped pass, the Bengals had the football at Baltimore's 11-yard line. Back-to-back runs by Cedric Benson left Cincinnati with a third-and-six. Palmer tried to connect with Jordan Shipley, which fell for an incomplete pass.
If you combined every Carson Palmer attempt in the Red Zone against Baltimore, he threw six straight incomplete passes, finishing the game without a completed pass inside the Red Zone.
Even though they scored a touchdown on the team's first Red Zone appearance, thanks to Cedric Benson's three rush attempts that ended with a touchdown and a pass interference on Jordan Pugh, the Bengals improved over their encounter against Baltimore. With two minutes left in the first half, Palmer checked down on his pass progressions to Benson, picking up two yards. On third-and-nine at the Panthers' 15-yard line, Palmer missed Chad Ochocinco near the right sidelines. Then with 15 seconds left in the half, Palmer completed a five-yard pass to tight end Jermaine Gresham to the Panthers' five-yard line. With no time outs and no way to stop the clock, the Bengals ran out of time without scoring.
After Robert Geathers recovered a Jonathan Stewart fumble with 9:34 left in the game, the Bengals reached the Red Zone two plays into the offense possessive after Palmer, Owens and Gresham picked up 30 yards, reaching Carolina's seven-yard line. Palmer hit Benson, who slipped out of the backfield into the right flats, for a seven-yard touchdown.
The truth is Cincinnati has scored a touchdown on 38.5% (5/13) of their Red Zone opportunities this season. Carson Palmer has attempted 22 passes inside the Red Zone, completing 11 passes for 67 yards passing and three touchdowns for a passer rating of 96.0. The inability to reach the endzone from the Red Zone ended up not being a factor during the team's first three games, but it absolutely kept Cincinnati from really taking advantage of a calmed down offense by the Browns in the second half, intent on milking the clock.