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The Bengals might as well punt on third-and-short

As expectations go, the Bengals both fulfilled and exceeded them, providing relative questions with typical answers; such as, "we're going to lose" and "how badly would we lose?" Losses are are an eventuality with the Cincinnati Bengals, ranging from 21-point leads obliterated by 42 points allowed in the second half, or simply ineffective offenses (actually severely incompetent and inept) that spend time on the bench deep in states of meditation, contemplation, mindlessly wondering how their next three-and-out will look.

Some called last night tough, a slow death, scrappy early, confusing. After the Bengals scored their touchdown in the first quarter on an 11-play, 62-yard drive that had this blogger cluelessly wondering if we'd pull it off saying things like "we came to play", the Bengals went:

Plays Yards Result
3 7 Punt
5 20 Punt
4 5 Downs
3 6 Punt
3 0 Punt
3 0 Punt
3 8 Punt
11 37 Field Goal
7 58 Interception

There's things I don't understand, though my comprehension of basic football stuff is often challenged by coaches. Why did the Bengals rush Chris Perry on third down (or at all)? Why did the Bengals kick a Field Goal late in the fourth quarter, down by 13 points with seven minutes left in the game? "In hindsight after they take the ball and drive it down the field," Lewis said during his post-game opening comments to avoid the question, "it doesn't look very good taking the field goal there but I thought we had an opportunity kicking the ball off to have a play we had with that and get them stopped and get the ball back to the offense again and kind of hold their position there. But obviously when they drive and score it doesn't work out that way."

Right. As shown in the drive chart above, even if the Bengals had multiple possessions, guided by our tiring defense late in the game, there was absolutely no reason to believe the Bengals would drive on the Steelers two more times, like the 11-play 37-yard drive that scored a field goal. The team left four points on the field easing the scoring differential at the end of the game.

We're not tough, might as well punt on third-and-short. Blaming the game on a bad decision to kick a field goal that made all of us conclude that Lewis was giving up, reducing the deficit for better box score numbers, is short-sided. Third downs murdered this team, which is partly blamed on Ryan Fitzpatrick staring down his receiver, Glenn Holt dropping easy critical third down receptions and play calling that forced Chris Perry to convert on a dive, against guys like Casey Hampton with ineffective centers like Eric Ghiaciuc.

With 8:18 left in the second quarter on third-and-one at the Cincinnati 48-yard line, Chris Perry took the handoff and ran off Bobbie Williams. James Farrior and LaMarr Woodley stuffed Perry at the line of scrimmage forcing the Bengals to punt. On the two plays before, Cedric Benson rushed for nine yards behind Andrew Collins and Nate Livings; including a 7-yard pickup on second down. So after successive runs that gained more than the required yardage on third down by rushing Benson to the left, why do you rush Perry to the right?

Then again, Benson's number was called with 14:26 left in the fourth quarter on third-and-one, and was stuffed behind the line of scrimmage. Bengals punt. It's painfully obvious to opposing teams when the Bengals are stuck with third and short, their tendencies. Twice the Bengals needed only one yard on third down, and twice they were forced to punt afterwards. On the other hand, the Steelers had a third-and-one with 7:31 left in the second quarter, rushed up the middle and picked up six yards. Night and day depending on wins and losses, characterizes how far apart these teams perform.

It was the third downs that killed this team, converting an embarrassing 26% (4/15) that forced the defense to play nearly 11 more minutes than the offense.