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The Cincinnati Bengals have struggled this season, especially lately converting third downs and completing sustained drives.
A noticeable trend from the Cincinnati Bengals isn't so much an inability to score points; they're just outside the top-ten averaging 25 points per game. Through the opening five games into the season, the Bengals have scored 13 touchdowns, five of which originated from outside of the redzone; thanks to big-play big-time wide receivers. Vertical threads by A.J. Green or the serpent path negotiated by Andrew Hawkins following a reception, Cincinnati's deep threat is very real for opposing defenses. It's an exciting form of football, blissfully anticipating unexpected touchdowns from any spot on the field.
Yet it was evident against the Miami Dolphins that when the big play was forcefully crossed off the team's menu, the Cincinnati Bengals offense struggles. Of their 13 possessions against Miami, six crossed into Dolphins territory with the offense managing two field goals, a touchdown, a missed field goal and two punts.
At this point in the season, the Bengals have 60 offensive possessions (five ended with a knee or end of either half) and only eight have reached the ten-play milestone. Unfortunately the Bengals aren't capitalizing on those rare sustained drives, scoring five field goals, punting once, turning the football over on downs and scoring one solitary touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens.
Prior to Monday Night Football, the Bengals currently rank No. 31 converting only 25 percent of their third downs, including a miserable six conversions during their last 25 opportunities against the Jaguars and Dolphins.
"It has been this way two weeks in a row now," said head coach Marvin Lewis after the game. "I think getting better on first and second down would help that some, but I think we’re just a tick off on third down." The Bengals averaged over six yards to go on third downs against the Dolphins.
The rushing offense isn't helping at all. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is generating a 2.8 yard/rush average during all first downs, though a "tick" better on second down at 4.1. And of the 52 rush attempts on first and ten (non-goalline situations), Green-Ellis is averaging just 3.0 yards/rush.
Penalties have issued additional frustrations, with five false starts (four from Jermaine Gresham) and nine offensive holds that's stalled at least four possessions alone.
Yet when the Bengals are forced into third down scenarios, the team's passing offense simply isn't coming through. Through five games Dalton is only completing 45.9 percent of his third down passes with a 53.2 passer rating. Broken down further he's only completed one of six passes and sacked three times on third (or fourth) with two yards or less to go.
"Third down is a big down and we have to get it done," said Andy Dalton. "There isn’t one thing that’s happened that is a reason why we aren’t converting. It just comes down to execution; we have to be better and find ways to throw the ball and catch the ball and run for a first down. We didn’t get that done today and we are going to try to get better at that; we have to."
As Cincinnati pursues a major milestone to become the first Bengals squad to make the postseason in consecutive seasons in 30 years, they desperately need to become more consistent on offense. Eliminate the penalties and mental mistakes, find efficiency on third downs and reduce the amount of yards needed on the downs prior. Otherwise performances similar to Miami will truly be offensive.