When one diagnosed the schedule for the Bengals early on, it seemed as if there was going to be a string of surefire victories coming their way before the daunting second half. After winning three in a row against the Browns, Redskins and Jaguars, respectively, the next opponent up was the Dolphins and that looked like a promising "W" as well. As we found out Sunday, that wasn't the case.
Now, it's simply unrealistic to expect a team to win every game on their schedule. Team are going to have weeks where they are "off" and sometimes it just happens. I think for right now, most analysts and fans are chalking up the Dolphins loss as such. Should we, though?
This Sunday there were reappearances of issues that began to bubble back to the surface. While the season could still be deemed "young", we are also coming up on having one-third of the regular season's games being played after this week. As I mentioned earlier in the week, the Dolphins were a quality defensive opponent and Andy Dalton once again worries us with the lack of an ability to beat those quality defenses. Dalton has thrown at least once interception in all five games (two of the six interceptions were "pick sixes") and that simply has to stop for this team to continue to win games.
But, it's on more shoulders than just Dalton's. As Josh mentioned earlier on Thursday, the running game has done nothing to act as a crutch to lean on for the second-year quarterback. As if the fumbles weren't enough, BenJarvus Green-Ellis is now running tentative and isn't getting much help from his linemates up front. To make matters worse, backup running back Bernard Scott was recently lost for the year with a knee injury, so it appears that we won't be seeing much overall improvement in the running game. It's the second consecutive year that that aspect of the offense has struggled and las Sunday was no exception.
Things have tightened up on defense over the past two weeks, as players have begun to come back healthy. Still, an inability to cover any player that doesn't play the wide receiver position, namely backs and tight ends, still haunts this team. Against Jacksonville a couple of weeks ago, Marcedes Lewis caught a touchdown and last week against the Dolphins, rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill carved the Bengals defense with big gains to running backs and fullbacks. All of the AFC North teams like to utilize those players in the passing game to some degree, so they'll need to remedy that issue.
Look, any time you can go on a three-game winning streak in the NFL, it's something to take notice of and get a pat on the back for. However, those three opponents currently sit at a combined record of 3-12, so how much stock can we truly take out of those three wins for the Bengals? Last Sunday's game against the Dolphins should have pushed that win streak to four, but all of the above-mentioned issues bubbled back up to the surface and we pumped the brakes on the optimism a bit.
The loss against the Dolphins makes the next two games against division foes (Browns and Steelers) absolutely crucial ones. Perhaps the team was a bit fatigued and didn't focus hard enough on the game against the Dolphins, overlooking them to these two games coming down the pike before the bye. It's definitely possible. But, perhaps this loss told us a bit more about the Bengals that we refuse to admit--that they're not ready to play with the big boys and/or against the top-tier defenses, yet. We'll see. These next two weeks will be a great gauge to where the Bengals are really at, what their character is really like when it comes to rebounding, and what their playoff positioning will be going into the second half of the season.