Let me state the obvious first - we sucked against the Browns. Embarrassingly so. Yes, they have a good defense and some hard to cover players on offense like Jordan Cameron or Josh Gordon. But our roster is way more talented on both sides of the game. We ARE a better team. We just didn't PLAY better than them.
Sure, looking at the first 3 games of the season, there were lots of good things to be said on offense and defense but we have also been extremely inconsistent. On top of it, when you think about this Bengals team, do you feel that they want to win bad enough? Ask yourself honestly. Yes, they play hard but on top of playing hard, there has to be some X-factor which in my opinion is attitude and emotion. Playing with emotion. I feel that this is sorely missing, even when we did play good - because we don't need this team to just play good, we need them to play great.
Take a look at the Sun night game between the Falcons and Patriots. See how Gonzalez catches the ball in double traffic in his face. This is the type of want that our offensive players need to have. Is the future HOF too high a pedestal to compare our players to? Ok, how about Julio Jones catching a long ball with a DB stuck to his back? Do you feel our players are fighting for the ball thrown to them like these examples? The person on our team that comes closest to it is Gresham. He needs to fix his drops some more but I really like his attitude. I need to see this type of killer attitude even from AJ. Don't get me wrong. I love AJ but for all his amazing catch radius and double moves and sure hands, I would like to see AJ assert himself against DBs like Joe Haden and Ike Taylor and win on route running and create the gaps into which Dalton can throw the ball. Dalton clearly had one of his worst games of his career against the Browns last week but I am confident he'll bounce back. He needs to settle down quicker each game and be his natural self. He has gotten comfortable with his play calling and managing the team and the other players do seem to be responding but his play needs to go up several notches. He needs to move a lot better within the pocket and make calm confident throws. All other receivers need to win their one-on-one battles a lot more. We need to establish our running game better and play good old smashmouth football which seems sorely lacking. Too pass happy IMO. Let's see some big runs.
On the defensive side, I would like to see the front four create even more pressure and frankly feel that Zim is playing more conservatively than needed to avoid giving up big plays and that is costing us a lot in terms of pocket pressure (or the lack of it). I would at least like to see more passes deflected / defended if not intercepted like the GB game. Does the Bengals defense bring fear? Hardly IMO. We are respected and our defense has bailed out our offense many a times but I want to see a nasty attitude that would take us to the next level.
Special teams play has been inconsistent as well which is disappointing considering how we played last season.
All in all, I feel it is the attitude and emotion that is missing. I include both the players and the coaches here. The thirst to win and win bad is missing. Find a way to make plays, when one person is having a bad day, let's see others step up!
Lastly, despite the inconsistent plays and playcalling, despite the up and down year we have had from these 4 games, I have faith that THIS IS THE TEAM. The question is can the players and coaches in this team lay it ALL on the line and want it bad enough? This will determine whether we are going to be a playoff winning SuperBowl team or a team that is going to limp along with enough wins for a wild card or a team that disappoints the talent that we have on both sides of the ball.