Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton is struggling. You don't need animated GIFs or screen prints to highlight the obviousness of those conclusions. Whether the football is sailing over receivers heads, banking hard left down the straightaway, or miscommunication with his favorite target; whatever the case is, it's not working.
Maybe it's just a matter of figuring out how to use the team's personnel.
Jermaine Gresham, Tyler Eifert, and Giovani Bernard were targeted 17 times during Cincinnati's 17-6 loss to the Cleveland Browns. All three combined to generate 130 yards receiving on 12 receptions. There you go. That's the core of your offense this season.
Gresham and Eifert have already posted the second and third most yards receiving on the team and Giovani Bernard is one 80-yard swing pass away from topping both. When Gresham is monstrously stomping over defenders like the genocidal Mario or Tyler Eifert exposes a significant gap in zone coverage, the Bengals are at their best. True match-up problems are exposed and defenders are reminded that Cincinnati's receivers aren't really that big of a threat.
Threat? More like nonexistent, if not on a completely different planet than their quarterback. Of the 25 times that Dalton targeted a wide receiver, 11 were caught for 76 yards receiving. A.J. Green alone was targeted 15 times, hauling in seven of those passes for 51 yards and a meager 7.3 yard/reception.
Bad throws, overthrows, underthrows, or dropped passes were all contributors. However, I don't buy the argument that defenses are focusing more on Green. Wouldn't that argument also be made with Calvin Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald? Isn't Green supposed to be close to that level of production? And this wasn't just a case of Joe Haden suffocating Green in coverage either (though he had an excellent game). Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones combined for three receptions and 19 yards receiving on nine targets.
Perhaps it's the play-calling.
Until the five minute mark in the fourth quarter, Cincinnati was never down by more than a possession. Yet in the end, the Bengals called 17 runs and 47 passes (42 attempts, two sacks, three scrambles). Is that a case of play-calling, the ghosts of Bob Bratkowski seeking vengeance on our tormented souls? Clearly confidence in BenJarvus Green-Ellis has been rattled after a third down fumble against the Packers and a failed fourth down attempt against the Browns on Sunday. But have you seen the Football Ninja, Giovani Bernard?
Alright, alright. Cincinnati struggled to establish a running game and it didn't help that the chemistry of their offensive line was disrupted with Kevin Zeitler's second quarter injury. And let's give some credit to the Cleveland Browns, who clearly had the balls and the tenacity to complicate our fanatically comfortable world in late September.
Maybe it's on us.
We do that to ourselves; exponentially increasing a player's worth based on our jaded perspectives with homer goggles and the coolest shades from the 1980s. It's probably why most of us view with Andy Dalton so favorably. You know what; that's probably the frustration speaking; let's cross that off the epic overreactions sheet... for now.
We're not just reacting to Cincinnati's issues against Cleveland either.
There's the four turnovers and nearly 20 minutes without a first down before Cincinnati picked it up against the Green Bay Packers in the third. Remember the pass-heavy philosophy against the Pittsburgh Steelers and how ineffective it was until Cincinnati balanced out with more runs? What about Chicago where the Bengals pieced together two 90-yard touchdown drives, only to turn the ball over three times and end the game with a punt (three-and-out), fumble, and punt (three-and-out) to lose by three points -- of which most was blamed on Rey Maualuga's personal foul at the end of the game.
Whatever this is, it's not working.
But there is a positive that one can feed off of. Despite losing a division game and falling back to .500, the Bengals are in first place in the division with the Baltimore Ravens and Browns. And there is time to make those corrections; provided you have the patience to fight through the bad to celebrate the good. Whether it's the play-calling, reducing Dalton's overall influence with the offense (not really sure how you do that with a quarterback), or reducing risky plays for more conservative power football with field position goals, these things can happen before the urge to jump a bridge becomes too irresistible.
This is a life of a Bengals fan in week four.